I hate to say it, but America needs Bill Maher’s help–now.
Maher is set to address graduates of the University of California at Berkeley during the winter commencement exercises this Saturday, and is determined to do so, despite threats of protests by Muslim students who are offended by his strident criticisms of Islam.
In his speech, Maher has a unique opportunity to stand up for free speech–not just on Berkeley’s campus, but in America itself, where freedom of expression has had a terrible week.
Consider the events of the past few days.
Last Wednesday, students and community activists protesting against police shut down a speech at the Berkeley Forum by gay libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel. They burst through the doors of Wheeler Hall, where the university had just observed the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, and stormed the stage. Thiel–who likely agrees with many of the protestors’ political views–was forced to flee from the ignorant, brutish horde.
This Wednesday, Sony canceled the release of The Interview, a comedy targeting North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. It did so after hackers released the private emails of Sony executives and threatened a 9/11-style terror attack if the movie was ever screened. Not even an A-list liberal celebrity like Oscar winner George Clooney could muster any support for the studio and for freedom of expression in general once Sony CEO Amy Pascal’s private racial jokes about President Barack Obama leaked.
The same day, President Obama signed a deal with the Cuban dictatorship that not only traded convicted Cuban spies for a U.S. hostage, but also offered the Castro regime normalized relations in exchange for virtually nothing. In his speech to the American people explaining the sudden shift in U.S. policy, Obama all but gave up on the idea of democratic change in one of the worst dictatorships on earth, blaming the U.S. embargo, not the Castros’ repression, for Cubans’ lack of access to media.
Maher’s political incorrectness has never been more urgently needed.
Though Maher has insisted he wants the focus of his Berkeley appearance to be the graduating students themselves, and sources have indicated to Breitbart News that he is not likely to raise the issue of Islam in his address, he could–and should–make some very important points about the value of free expression, on a campus where the administration seems more committed to that freedom than many of the students.
One important lesson Maher can impart in this “teachable moment” is that freedom of speech is there to protect views you don’t like.
Maher himself is a case in point. Personally, I dislike most of what he says and does. He is infamously vulgar about conservatives, and violated his purported libertarian principles to support the statist policies of the Obama administration. Worst of all, he has used political correctness to attack others–such as Andrew Breitbart, whom he falsely accused of racism.
But free expression needs an anti-hero–not the likes of Steven Colbert, who was fêted Thursday for his nine-year career of lampooning Republicans, the safest target in human civilization.
And presumably, even an war critic like Maher understands that free speech is a right for which generations of Americans have fought and died. It is worth fighting for still, not least because the new threat comes from a communist tyranny in an era that has forgotten why we resisted communism at all.
In a year that has seen more commencement speakers “disinvited” from campuses across the nation than ever before, when Hollywood liberals who routinely congratulate each other on their bravery fled in fear from their own computers, Berkeley’s administration deserves credit for sticking with Maher.
Now Maher has a chance to say what Berkeley, and the nation, needs to hear: that we didn’t fight a Revolution so that a tyrant could tell us what not to watch, or a mob tell us what not to think.