The most offensive thing in Bill Maher’s public debate with Ben Affleck wasn’t his characterization of radical Islam, which attempted to stick to facts, it was his assumption that liberals and only liberals should be able to offer facts in public debate without being labeled hate-mongers.
The exchange between Maher, Sam Harris, Ben Affleck and Nick Kristof barely got going before Maher said the following (video below):
Affleck: You’re saying that Islamaphobia is not a real thing? That if your critical of something…
Maher: Well it’s not a real thing when we do it.
Maher: It really isn’t.
Maher doubled down on this point in an interview he gave to Salon which was published Monday.
Salon: I want to ask you how you felt the Ben Affleck/Sam Harris segment went. Did you feel frustrated as it was happening?
Maher: Ithink Sam and I and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie and everyone whois basically making the same point, I think we all feel frustratedbecause I think we feel like the people who are arguing with us are notlistening.
We’re liberals! We’re liberals. We’re not crazytea-baggers, y’know…We are not bigoted people. On the contrary, we’re trying to stand up for the principles of liberalism!
Maher is saying that there is an intellectually honest place from which to criticize Islam but that only liberals can occupy that space. Other people–the “tea-baggers”–can not offer any intellectually honest arguments, despite being classical liberals themselves.
This is offensive and shows a stunning lack of self-awareness. Offensive because it assumes all conservatives operate on the basis of something other than reason. If Maher were the kind of honest broker he claims to be, he would have to admit that plenty of conservatives, even some Christians, agree with his take on Islam not because they hate Muslims but because there are entirely secular reasons (polls, violence, theological convictions, etc.) to do so.
Maher’s take also shows a complete lack of self-awareness. Having just experienced an angry, irrational reaction, he ought to be more aware of how faulty knee-jerk reactions can be. He should know, from Affleck’s reaction alone, that the quality of an argument can quickly be lost the moment someone across the table decides to inject race. Instead Maher merely attempts to shift the burden to someone else, i.e. “it’s not a real thing when we do it.”
Maher makes exactly this point in his Salon interview, “we’re just saying we need to identify illiberalism wherever we find itin the world, and not forgive it because it comes from [a group] peopleperceive as a minority.” Yes, and there are many conservatives who make these same points for the same reason but who are tuned on by progressives making the same misleading arguments offered by Ben Affleck.