Actor Ben Affleck, star of the hit film "Gone Girl," recently appeared on Bill Maher's HBO show along with Sam Harris, author of the book "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion." Maher and Harris accused Affleck of ignoring the extent of intolerance within Islam.
Maher said: "Liberals need to stand up for liberal principles ... like freedom of speech, freedom to practice any religion you want without fear of violence, freedom to leave a religion, equality for women, equality for minorities -- including homosexuals. These are liberal principles that liberals applaud for. But then when you say, 'In the Muslim world, this is what's lacking,' then they get upset."
Harris concurred: "Liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy. They'll criticize white theocracy. They'll criticize Christians. They'll still get agitated over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984. But when you want to talk about the treatment of women and homosexuals and freethinkers and public intellectuals in the Muslim world, I would argue that liberals have failed us. ... The crucial point of confusion is that we have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people. That's intellectually ridiculous."
Affleck, who informed us that our rights came from our "forefathers," called this analysis "racist." He sniffed: "Are you the person who understands the officially codified doctrine of Islam? You're the interpreter of that?"
For the record, Affleck dropped out of University of Vermont after one semester, and Occidental College after one year. Harris has an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from UCLA. On the other hand, Harris never starred in "Argo," a film about rescuing American hostages held in Iran, which apparently makes Affleck an expert on Islam and Middle Eastern politics.
Harris agreed that not all Muslims want to strap on bombs and blow things up. But he said: "Just imagine some concentric circles. ... At the center, you have jihadists -- these are people who wake up in the morning wanting to kill apostates, wanting to die trying. They believe in paradise; they believe in martyrdom. Outside of them, we have Islamists -- these are 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 change governments. They want to use democracy against itself. Those two circles arguably are 20 percent of the Muslim world. ... But outside of that circle you have conservative Muslims who can honestly look at ISIS and say, "that does not represent us; we're horrified by that." But they hold views about human rights, and about women and about homosexuals that are deeply troubling."
Affleck grimaced as if he'd just seen the box office returns for "Gigli."
Maher added: "One reason (Muslims who oppose jihadists and extreme acts) don't get exposed is because they're afraid to speak out, because it's 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."
"It's racist," Affleck insisted, no different from stereotyping Jews or blacks.
Maher responded: "I can show you a Pew poll of Egyptians. They are not outliers in the Muslims world. It's like 90 percent of them believe death is the appropriate response to leaving the religion. If 90 percent of Brazilians thought that death was the appropriate response to leaving Catholicism you would think it was a bigger deal."
Poor Affleck --- not so easy without a script.
Conservative pundits have praised Maher for "telling the truth" about Islam. Maher, they applaud, effectively explained how Islam -- at least how many followers interpret Islam -- makes their religion disturbingly different than any other dominant religion.
But Maher's made a career out of attacking all believers as equally moronic and manipulated, steeped in superstition and hocus-pocus whether Jew, Christian or Muslim.
Just six years ago, Maher made a documentary called "Religulous." In an almost Borat-like fashion, Maher interviews and then mocks Christians and other believers, but mostly Christians. Maher mocked the Christian belief in the rapture as intensely as he mocks Osama bin Laden for his belief in a global caliphate.
Maher ends his film with an exhortation for rational thinkers of the world to disavow all religions as vehicles used by bad people to exploit the mindless for their own purposes: "The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having key decisions made by religious people, by irrationalists. ... And those who preach faith and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction."
Note the distinction Maher made between Christianity and other faiths and radical Islam? What, no distinction?