BERKELEY, California — Mixed opinions greeted Bill Maher’s controversial appearance at Berkeley’s Saturday winter commencement. Sentiments ranged in favor of the self-proclaimed far-left talk show host and comedian to literal hatred for him and his beliefs.
In October, Maher said Islam is the “only religion that acts like the Mafia that will f***ing kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book. There’s a reason why Ayaan Hirsi Ali needs bodyguards 24/7.” On Saturday, it was Maher’s appearance that resulted in amplified security.
Berkeley’s Public Information Officer Mark Decoulode told Breitbart News that the additional security presence was both as a result of Maher’s arrival, as well as several violent protests in Berkeley and Oakland over civil unrest stemming from grand jury decisions about suspect deaths at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri and New York.
“He said some stuff about Muslims; not the greatest of things…there might be some people trying to possibly hurt him or do something not very nice because of what he said about Islam and Muslims,” said high school student Miriam Simon, whose family business Campus Flowers was on site providing a wide array of flowers for purchase to the families of graduating seniors.
Students, particularly from the university’s Muslims Students Association, vowed to block Maher from speaking on Saturday. But that aim was quickly extinguished, with no more than two dozen actually protesting outside the school, and six who silently held up brightly-colored placards in the auditorium during Maher’s actual speech.
Nima Mirali, who is of Iranian descent, said he was not bothered by the incident surrounding Maher’s speaking engagement. He said that his mother, however, was so “disturbed” by Maher’s remarks on Islam that she demanded Nima remove his name from the list of students vying to speak on behalf of his graduating class. “My mom asked me to drop off [the list].” Breitbart News spoke briefly with Mirali’s mother, Parvin, who said she actually likes Bill Maher–aside from his statement on Islam.
Regarding Maher’s controversial comments, Mirali added: “I would say that in the same way that a stereotype differs from racism–in the fact that it’s somewhat factually-based–I would say his claims are relatively factually based and statistically we see Islamic individuals having much more violent acts than other religious [individuals].” Mirali told Breitbart News that although he was raised Muslim, he does not consider himself to be a religious person.
A psychology graduate by the name of Farrah Al-Zireeni took on the same line of reasoning as the Muslims Students Association, although she told Breitbart News that she had not attended any of their meetings. “I definitely think it’s insensitive on the school’s part [to invite him] because his free speech really borders on hate speech.” Al-Zireeni, wearing a white and black Palestinian Keffiyeh (or scarf) suggesting that Maher “paints all Muslims with the same brush” and has “made a lot of sexist comments that women would find offense.”
Al-Zireeni told Breitbart News that she was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and that she is of Palestinian descent. She plans on attending law school to become a human rights lawyer.
“We have a cafe for that,” said Art History graduate Patrick Lau, suggesting the protests on campus should have been directed solely to the designated Free Speech Cafe on campus. “I don’t believe in censorship [of Maher] for that.” Lau told Breitbart News that he considers himself to be “politically conservative. I am pro-Israel. Here on campus, the Israeli Students Union hands out fliers, that have a lot of statistics…Whereas, the Palestinian Union sells baked goods. I mean, it’s an emotive kind of presence, if that makes sense.”
Yet, Maher’s name was not known by all. “I don’t actually know who Bill Maher is. I think he’s a comedian?” said Max Dorofiyenko, who graduated in applied mathematics as part of Saturday’s class. Dorofiyenko has secured a job with AdRoll in San Francisco, working in analytics.
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