HBO host Bill Maher criticized Charlie Hebdo’s detractors as engaging in “the soft bigotry of low expectations” during a discussion on PEN giving an award to Charlie Hebdo and the shooting at the Mohammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, TX on Friday’s “Real Time.”
Maher said that Charlie Hebdo was “very courageous.” And that while he thought Pamela Geller is “kind of a loon,” and the cartoon contest “obviously was a provocation,” “this is America. Do we not have the right to draw whatever we want?”
Former Rhode Island Senator and Governor and prospective 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee and ESPN commentator Will Cain agreed that people have the right to draw what they want. Chafee added that people who objected to PEN giving Charlie Hebdo an award also had the right do so, and that “this chasm between Muslims and the rest of the world, just we need too address it. It’s — tap down some of the divisions.” Maher interjected, “But not everything can be a moral equivalence, can it?” Chafee did make clear that you can’t prohibit people from drawing cartoons that might be offensive to some.
Maher then read from some of Gary Trudeau’s speech criticizing Charlie Hebdo, and accusing them of “punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings…Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world.” Maher then argued that “this assumes that we just have to accept that Muslims are unable to control themselves, the way we would ask everyone else in the world. To me, that’s bigotry, that’s the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Cain jumped in that Trudeau and those who protested PEN giving an award to Charlie Hebdo “cowards,” which Maher agreed with.
MSNBC host Alex Wanger then asked, “Isn’t the whole point of free speech to not judge people based on what they say?” Cain responded, “No…you judge, you just don’t censor.” He continued, “When someone’s position ‘is if you offend me, I will kill you,’ it becomes virtuous for you to offend that person. You need to offend that person, shock them out of their horrible position.”
Chafee objected, “Listen to your language. You’re talking about hatred and you’re talking about all the — harsh language here. We live in a world of nuclear weapons, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. We need to tamp down the language here.”
Wagner then said that even people with “repugnant” views like the Westboro Baptist Church have free speech rights, and Charlie Hebdo should continue writing what it wants to write. She added, “I don’t think it’s fair to say that all Muslims are warmongering, bloodthirsty –” Maher then quickly jumped in to point out that that wasn’t his argument, rather that was what Trudeau’s critique of Charlie Hebdo assumes. Cain also slammed other media outlets, such as CNN, the New York Times, and Fox News for promoting a similar viewpoint “They forward the argument of ‘well, if you wear a short skirt, don’t be surprised when you’re raped.’ They have laid this on the victim.”
Maher then argued that many Muslims ignored Geller’s event altogether to avoid giving it attention, and stated, “why don’t we get on the side of those Muslims? The ones who want to live in the 21st century, instead of making excuses for the ones who want to live in the 7th?”
Later, Maher declared, “it should be for liberals, the First Amendment, what the Second Amendment is for conservatives.”
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