Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

An awesome bit of sophistry

Bill Maher centre with Sam Harris on the right and Ben Affleck on the left

By Johan van den Kerkhof

THE debate on mainstream American media on Islam, ISIS et cetera has totally gone off the rails. When Bill Maher, the supposed progressive likens Islam to the Mafia, you know something ain’t right. A certain mental recalibration is called for lest we all slip into certifiable insanity.

First things first: I’m no apologist for Islam, nor for any religion for that matter, and readers may trace previous ramblings for my atheist/agnostic/whatever credentials.

But when folks paint an entire religion – and nations – with the same black brush without evidence to back that up – then Houston we have a problem. This kind of irresponsible dialectic borders on hate speech. That sweeping generalisations are tantamount to bigotry goes without saying.

Bill Maher’s recent show featuring Sam Harris and Ben Affleck made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Maher wrapped up by going after Liberals for being silent about the violence and oppression that goes on in Muslim nations.

Maher said, quote: “One reason that they don’t speak out is that they’re afraid, because it’s the only religion that acts like the Mafia that will f*** kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.”

His star guest Harris – a neuroscientist, philosopher and atheist – chipped in: “I would argue that Liberals have failed us and the crucial point of confusion is that we have been sold this meme of Islamo-phobia where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people. That is intellectually ridiculous.”

See what this clever beaver is doing? According to Harris, inability to criticise Islam must be branded intellectual terror. If he dares to criticise Islam, then he’ll be called a racist. His right to free expression is being stifled, poor baby.

An awesome bit of sophistry if ever I heard one. Kudos. Except, is he really fighting for his right to free speech? Well, the masks soon came off. A few moments later, Harris the great free-thinker dropped this bombshell: “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas.” Maher nodded approvingly.

At this point with Affleck nearly blowing a gasket, Harris delivers the knockout punch: “Just imagine some concentric circles here,” he smugly tells Affleck, gesturing with his hands.

“At the centre you have jihadists. These are people who wake up in the morning wanting to kill apostates, wanting to die trying…outside of them we have Islamists…people who are just as convinced of martyrdom and paradise and wanting to foist their religion on the rest of humanity but they want to work within the system, they’re not going to blow themselves up on a bus…they want to use democracy against itself. Those two circles arguably are 20 per cent of the Muslim world.”

Wow, where does he get this stuff?! Hey Sam Harris, whatever ganja you’re on, I want some. So 20 per cent of 1.5 billion Muslims globally works out to 300 million people, who by virtue of being Muslims are potential terrorists, jihadists in-the-making or “radicals.” Harris had just got done whining about conflation; yet if his own brand of conflation is not racist talk, it comes pretty darn close. You are so busted.

Affleck then came back, challenging Harris to say what he was basing his claim on.

Harris: “A bunch of poll results that we can talk about.”

A bunch of polls. Hmmm. Here’s an idea Sam: next time you grace us with your insight, how’s about you get off your hind and actually go do some real research. Like, maybe talk to some actual Muslims or go live among them. Flipping through television channels and reading “a bunch of polls” hardly makes you an authority.

The overwhelming proportion of Muslims are just like everyone else, peaceful folks trying to put food on the table. Normally we shouldn’t have to state the obvious, but this is what it’s come to. Did you know for example that a comedy series poking fun at the Islamic State is now running on Iraqi state television? It’s called “State of Superstition,” go check it out online.

I suspect that Sam Harris and his ilk – like Richard Dawkins – are sneakily plying atheism as a tool to knock Muslims. I might be dead wrong and that’s not their intention at all, but the outcome is the same.

Something else: Western ‘critics’ of Islam just don’t get it. If Muslims cannot abide people making fun of the Prophet Muhammad, that’s their prerogative and you ought to respect that even if you may think it’s backward. What gives you, an outsider, the right to tell them otherwise?

Projecting your own values and standards onto other people is the apex of intolerance and pig-headedness. Worse, not only do some Westerners demand the ‘right’ to poke fun at Muhammad, but go beyond that and draw cartoons of the Prophet like that Danish newspaper did. The publication was deliberately out to foment trouble, and that’s nothing short of criminal. They then had the cheek to complain about Muslim riots.

Here’s a hypothetical analogy. Say I hail from a big city where’s it’s alright to cuss someone else’s mother, no big deal. You come from some podunk village where that type of crass behaviour is a no-no. If I know that insulting your mother will offend you, I won’t do it, out of respect – and common sense. And if I try to “talk it out,” explaining why you’re uptight and “can’t take a joke,” is that going to square things between us? Not likely.

Let the Muslims work out their religious issues for themselves. Unless it directly and tangibly affects you, you’ve got no business telling them how to live or what to believe. Who anointed you Grand Reformer of the World?

I used to like Maher. Not anymore. He may kid himself he’s a liberal, but when it comes to Islam he can be as closed-minded as they come. You can’t cherry-pick when to be liberal. To me, liberal/progressive has to do with being tolerant above all else. It’s a state of mind. Given Obama’s appalling human and civil rights track record, the ‘liberal’ Maher ought to be suffering seizures live on television. He’s not, and that may be because Obama is a Democrat.

On the one hand you’ve got your obnoxious TV thugs, the likes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, a disgrace to the news profession. Then you get Maher and his ‘progressive’ cohorts peddling a far subtler and sophisticated repertoire, but one which can be no less insidious. This takes a bit more work to spot.

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