Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill Maher

Debating Islamism: How Far We’ve Come

In a viral video that just about everyone has seen by now, movie star Ben Affleck butted heads with Bill Maher about radical Islam on the latter’s HBO show. The subject was about those calling attention to the not inconsiderable support that radical Islamists like the terrorists of ISIS get from mainstream Muslims around the world. But what’s interesting about this controversy is not so much the specifics of the conversation but the way it resonated with the public. The uproar seems to show that more than 13 years after 9/11, Americans are now willing to start talking about what’s motivating terrorists.

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In a viral video that just about everyone has seen by now, movie star Ben Affleck butted heads with Bill Maher about radical Islam on the latter’s HBO show. The subject was about those calling attention to the not inconsiderable support that radical Islamists like the terrorists of ISIS get from mainstream Muslims around the world. But what’s interesting about this controversy is not so much the specifics of the conversation but the way it resonated with the public. The uproar seems to show that more than 13 years after 9/11, Americans are now willing to start talking about what’s motivating terrorists.

The crux of the argument was about whether, as Affleck passionately argued, it is racist to say that ISIS’s ideology is backed by a vast number of Muslims. The actor believes this is just prejudice. He believes that instead of calling out the Muslim world for the actions of the terrorists, we should be merely condemning the individuals involved. Like many others on the left who have promoted the myth that America responded to 9/11 with a backlash against Muslims, Affleck seems to imply that the bigger threat to the country comes from the demonization of the faith of 1.5 billion people.

In reply, Maher, ably assisted by author Sam Harris, pointed out that while there are many Muslims who oppose terrorism, the truth is that ISIS’s Islamist beliefs are shared by at least 20 percent of adherents of Islam around the world and many more than that share the same mindset even if they are not eager to don a suicide vest.

Who won? It was not so much that Maher, who is a bitter opponent of all religions, had the better argument as that Affleck had none at all. Used to operating in the liberal echo chamber of Hollywood—which shares many of Maher’s positions on most other issues—he was out of his league when forced to defend an indefensible position. His was an expression of an attitude in which facts that do not conform to leftist prejudices are ignored, not disputed. When confronted with a position that asserted the reality of contemporary Muslim political culture, he simply yelled racism, the ultimate argument decider on the left, and declared the facts unacceptable if not irrelevant.

Yet the point of interest here is not so much that Affleck, who was applauded by liberals for his stance, spoke nonsense or that Mahr had a rare moment of total clarity, but that this sort of discussion struck a nerve throughout the country.

In the aftermath of 9/11 Americans were told ad nauseam that Islam was a religion of peace, a line that has been said as much by Barack Obama as it has by George W. Bush. Indeed, Obama doubled down on this by repeatedly declaring that ISIS is not Islamic, an odd and rather debatable point of theology for an avowed Christian to make.

But in the wake of the latest ISIS murders and the years of atrocities by other Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Boko Haram that followed 9/11 many Americans have awakened to the fact that tracing the roots of terror requires us to confront the faith for which these killers fight. It is true that not all Muslims are terrorists and that all people should be judged for their actions not as a member of a group. But the willingness of vast numbers of Muslims to subscribe to a version of Islam that is rooted in hatred of the West, America, and Israel cannot be wished away or edited out of the movie as a politically incorrect fact. Vast numbers, especially in the Third World, not only subscribe to 9/11 truther myths but also support the terrorists’ war on the West. Others are leery about the war but share the religious beliefs that are its underpinning.

To confront these facts is not an act of prejudice or Islamophobia. Nor does it serve to foment hate. Rather, it is part of an effort to support and empower those Muslims who believe that the Islamist approach is abhorrent to them but who are often silenced or intimidated by radicals and their supposedly more moderate fellow travelers. A Muslim world in which radical beliefs are part of the mainstream needs to be reformed from within. This is necessary precisely because it is the not the desire of the West or of sane people anywhere to be at war with all Muslims.

While the shouting that is part of such cable scream fests does not make for an edifying spectacle, it says something about how far we’ve come in our thinking about this subject that a prominent liberal—even a professional provocateur like Maher—is willing to publicly enunciate obvious truths even if it means being called a racist by a popular actor. It can only be hoped that this can be the start of a more rational discussion of Islam and those who use it to justify terror. If not, we will remain locked in the same state of denial about the cause of the problem in which Obama, Affleck, and much of the nation remain trapped.

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Does Maher Have the Guts to Call Out Media Matters on Anti-Rush Campaign?

The progressive movement is really squeezing every last drop out mock outrage out of this increasingly-stale controversy:

Rush Limbaugh’s opponents are starting a radio campaign against him Thursday, seizing upon the radio star’s attack of a Georgetown law student as a “slut” to make a long-term effort aimed at weakening his business. …

Media Matters is spending at least $100,000 for two advertisements that will run in eight cities.

The ads use Limbaugh’s own words about student Sandra Fluke, who told congressional Democrats that contraception should be paid for in health plans. Limbaugh, on his radio programs, suggested Fluke wanted to be paid to have sex, which made her a “slut” and a “prostitute.” In return for the money, he said Fluke should post videos of herself having sex. Under sharp criticism, Limbaugh later apologized.

In one of the anti-Limbaugh ads, listeners are urged to call the local station that carries Limbaugh to say “we don’t talk to women like that” in our city.

Media Matters is placing the radio ads in cities with strong progressive activist networks and place where it believes Rush Limbaugh is particularly vulnerable. The group says it’s modeling this after its “Stop Beck” campaign, but that’s a little misleading. While Media Matters did target Glenn Beck’s advertisers, the main reason he was dropped from Fox News was because of his plummeting ratings. That had more to do with conservatives tuning out than anything Media Matters orchestrated.

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The progressive movement is really squeezing every last drop out mock outrage out of this increasingly-stale controversy:

Rush Limbaugh’s opponents are starting a radio campaign against him Thursday, seizing upon the radio star’s attack of a Georgetown law student as a “slut” to make a long-term effort aimed at weakening his business. …

Media Matters is spending at least $100,000 for two advertisements that will run in eight cities.

The ads use Limbaugh’s own words about student Sandra Fluke, who told congressional Democrats that contraception should be paid for in health plans. Limbaugh, on his radio programs, suggested Fluke wanted to be paid to have sex, which made her a “slut” and a “prostitute.” In return for the money, he said Fluke should post videos of herself having sex. Under sharp criticism, Limbaugh later apologized.

In one of the anti-Limbaugh ads, listeners are urged to call the local station that carries Limbaugh to say “we don’t talk to women like that” in our city.

Media Matters is placing the radio ads in cities with strong progressive activist networks and place where it believes Rush Limbaugh is particularly vulnerable. The group says it’s modeling this after its “Stop Beck” campaign, but that’s a little misleading. While Media Matters did target Glenn Beck’s advertisers, the main reason he was dropped from Fox News was because of his plummeting ratings. That had more to do with conservatives tuning out than anything Media Matters orchestrated.

And Media Matters also risks overreaching with the anti-Rush campaign. Not all liberals are comfortable with the idea of trying to push Limbaugh off the air. In the New York Times today, Bill Maher writes:

The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not “make them go away forever.” We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program. The only time I hear him is when I’m at a stoplight next to a pickup truck.

When the lady at Costco gives you a free sample of its new ham pudding and you don’t like it, you spit it into a napkin and keep shopping. You don’t declare a holy war on ham.

I don’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. That’s why we have Canada.

Maher makes good points, though he also places far more emphasis on the fake outrage from conservatives than he does on the fake outrage coming from liberals. Sure, conservatives overreact to comments and demand apologies from their political opponents all the time, welcome to politics. But the major campaign to shut down a talk show host for disagreeable language is being orchestrated and funded by the left. Maher should at least have the guts to call out Media Matters by name.

As an aside, would it even matter anymore if Media Matters somehow managed to get Rush kicked off the air (an extremely unlikely possibility at this point)? Sure, it would be a symbolic victory for the left and set a disastrous precedent for entertainers. But Rush has a massive, devoted audience and could probably maintain similar ratings on an online-only platform. The biggest loser in that scenario would be radio, which needs hosts like Rush far more than he needs the medium.

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Can’t Explain Team Obama’s Positions? Neither Can Axelrod.

Yesterday Bret Baier of Fox News did an interview with President Obama’s senior advisor, David Axelrod. I thought it was a devastating one for Mr. Axelrod.

Now Axelrod may well be a bright fellow for all I know. But he comes across as rather dull and insipid in this exchange. If that judgment seems overly harsh, see for yourself what Axelrod says on the Keystone Pipeline (he blames Republicans for “rushing the decisions”), the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget for the last three years (he blamed it on something called the “theater of politics”), and on not returning the $1 million donation by Bill Maher despite his vicious assault on conservative women (he doesn’t really offer an explanation).

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Yesterday Bret Baier of Fox News did an interview with President Obama’s senior advisor, David Axelrod. I thought it was a devastating one for Mr. Axelrod.

Now Axelrod may well be a bright fellow for all I know. But he comes across as rather dull and insipid in this exchange. If that judgment seems overly harsh, see for yourself what Axelrod says on the Keystone Pipeline (he blames Republicans for “rushing the decisions”), the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget for the last three years (he blamed it on something called the “theater of politics”), and on not returning the $1 million donation by Bill Maher despite his vicious assault on conservative women (he doesn’t really offer an explanation).

I understand that some decisions are impossible to defend. But one might expect the top political aide for the president to at least offer some serious counterarguments and a plausible defense of his administration’s policies. But we saw none of that. What was on display was a third-rate political hack trying to bluff his way through an interview. It bordered on being embarrassing.

I should add that one cans see how wholly unprepared Mr. Axelrod is for an interview that actually asks of him tough questions. He’s clearly used to being pampered by people like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, and it shows.

If this interview reflects the precision and professionalism of Team Obama, then this election might be easer for the GOP to win than I had imagined.

It’s clear to me that when it comes to substance and governing knowledge and ability, the president isn’t the only one in over his head; so is his senior political adviser.

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Bristol Palin’s Challenge to Obama

Bristol Palin has weighed in with her thoughts on Barack Obama, the GOP’s supposed “war on women,” and the president’s hypocrisy.

Ms. Palin indicates that she has yet to receive (as Sandra Fluke did) a call of encouragement after Rush Limbaugh referred to Ms. Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

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Bristol Palin has weighed in with her thoughts on Barack Obama, the GOP’s supposed “war on women,” and the president’s hypocrisy.

Ms. Palin indicates that she has yet to receive (as Sandra Fluke did) a call of encouragement after Rush Limbaugh referred to Ms. Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute.”


Here’s Bristol Palin:

But here’s why I’m a little surprised my phone hasn’t rung.  Your $1,000,000 donor Bill Maher has said reprehensible things about my family.  He’s made fun of my brother because of his Down’s Syndrome. He’s said I was “f–d so hard a baby fell out.”  (In a classy move, he did this while his producers put up the cover of my book, which tells about the forgiveness and redemption I’ve found in God after my past – very public – mistakes.)

If Maher talked about Malia and Sasha that way, you’d return his dirty money and the Secret Service would probably have to restrain you.  After all, I’ve always felt you understood my plight more than most because your mom was a teenager.  That’s why you stood up for me when you were campaigning against Sen. McCain and my mom – you said vicious attacks on me should be off limits.

Yet I wonder if the Presidency has changed you.  Now that you’re in office, it seems you’re only willing to defend certain women.  You’re only willing to take a moral stand when you know your liberal supporters will stand behind you.

But … What if you did something radical and wildly unpopular with your base and took a stand against the denigration of all women… even if they’re just single moms? Even if they’re Republicans?

I’m not expecting your SuperPAC to return the money.  You’re going to need every dime to hang on to your presidency.  I’m not even really expecting a call.  But would it be too much to expect a little consistency?  After all, you’re President of all Americans, not just the liberals.

This is a powerful rebuke to the president, just as this new RNC web ad, titled “Obama’s War on Women,” is. And it underscores the blinding hypocrisy of liberals when it comes to their supposed solidarity with women.

Now I’m not in favor of people loosely throwing around terms like “war on women,” especially when the United States is engaged in real wars. But since those on the left are the ones who started this campaign to portray Republicans as anti-women, I suppose that turnabout is fair play.

I also can’t help but wonder if this whole effort isn’t going quite according to script. Despite the efforts of liberals to push their “war on women” narrative, which has been aided by many members of the media, it doesn’t seem to be working that well. For example, last week’s New York Times poll showed Mr. Obama losing a dozen percentage points of support among women compared to its previous poll (which was taken before this campaign has begun). And the Times poll showed that on the question of whether “religiously affiliated employers, such as a hospital and university,” should be able to opt out of offering coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and contraception, women support this stand by 53 percent to 38 percent.

The left thought it had found a convenient political weapon to use against the GOP in the form of Rush Limbaugh’s disturbing attack of Ms. Fluke. But it’s own double standards, and Bill Maher’s million-dollar contribution to Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign; seem to be ruining all that.

Mr. Obama could have used Bill Maher’s contribution to his Super PAC as a “teachable moment” and returned the money. But the president decided to keep it, even as his top aides and allies make fools of themselves trying to justify it. I wonder what Malia and Sasha must think of all that.

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Liberal Double Standards

Kirsten Powers is a woman of liberal leanings but impressively independent judgments. That was demonstrated again with her recent column in The Daily Beast, in which she takes to task what she calls “the army of swine on the left” who are engaging in a “war on women.”

In the words of Powers, “Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher, Matt Taibbi, and Ed Schultz have been waging it for years with their misogynist outbursts.” She provides chapter and verse on all five men, but declares that the “grand pooh-bah of media misogyny is without a doubt Bill Maher.” That would be the same Bill Maher who has given $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. So I wonder: Do you think Obama, who has placed himself in the middle of the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy, will be hounded by the press about Maher’s comments in light of his contributions? And why, by the way, are Limbaugh’s comments getting so much media attention while Maher’s comments have been overlooked, accepted, or even bring a knowing smile to the faces of some journalists, many of whom seem eager to appear on his program?

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Kirsten Powers is a woman of liberal leanings but impressively independent judgments. That was demonstrated again with her recent column in The Daily Beast, in which she takes to task what she calls “the army of swine on the left” who are engaging in a “war on women.”

In the words of Powers, “Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher, Matt Taibbi, and Ed Schultz have been waging it for years with their misogynist outbursts.” She provides chapter and verse on all five men, but declares that the “grand pooh-bah of media misogyny is without a doubt Bill Maher.” That would be the same Bill Maher who has given $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. So I wonder: Do you think Obama, who has placed himself in the middle of the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy, will be hounded by the press about Maher’s comments in light of his contributions? And why, by the way, are Limbaugh’s comments getting so much media attention while Maher’s comments have been overlooked, accepted, or even bring a knowing smile to the faces of some journalists, many of whom seem eager to appear on his program?

It’s not sufficient to say that Limbaugh is far more prominent than Maher, especially as Maher is now one of the larger financial supporters of President Obama.

We all know what’s going on here. The left, by and large, can say things about their political opponents that are cruel and defamatory and mostly get away with it, while those on the right are called on the carpet. That’s not true in every case, but it’s certainly true often enough to draw a reasonable conclusion.

What we have a right to expect is even-handedness rather than glaring double standards. My guess is that for many journalists and commentators, what’s happening is less a conscious bias than a sub-conscious one. When conservative women are savaged by liberal men, it’s boys will be boys/politics ain’t beanbag/sticks and stones may break my bones. But when liberal women are savaged by conservative men, it’s an assault on reason, decency and civilized standards. This is what Powers seems to be arguing, and for a woman who leans left to make that case in such an ironclad way is a tribute to her even as it’s an indictment of many in her profession.

 

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Bill Maher’s Money and Democracy

Comedian Bill Maher made headlines yesterday by announcing he is giving $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. The donation to Priorities USA Action was, Maher said, “the wisest investment I think I could make,” because he considers that living in a country governed by Obama rather than the Republicans is “worth a million dollars.” Anything a person like Maher does must be seen as a publicity stunt. but it will likely also be treated as proof of the absurdity of a system that allows wealthy people to use their money to promote their views. Maher’s million-dollar check will be seen as a sacrifice on the altar of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened up the floodgates for private groups and individuals to put their money where their mouths are.

But though his intent may be to satirize or to undermine existing law, Maher’s action is not only entirely appropriate; it is proof that the high court’s ruling was correct. If Maher believes Barack Obama should be re-elected, then neither the government nor those of us who disagree with him should have any right to stop him from spending his money in this fashion. Donations to candidates or causes, whether large or small, are a form of political speech. He is as entitled to his right to promote his side as a Republican like Sheldon Adelson or a fellow leftist such as George Soros.

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Comedian Bill Maher made headlines yesterday by announcing he is giving $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. The donation to Priorities USA Action was, Maher said, “the wisest investment I think I could make,” because he considers that living in a country governed by Obama rather than the Republicans is “worth a million dollars.” Anything a person like Maher does must be seen as a publicity stunt. but it will likely also be treated as proof of the absurdity of a system that allows wealthy people to use their money to promote their views. Maher’s million-dollar check will be seen as a sacrifice on the altar of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened up the floodgates for private groups and individuals to put their money where their mouths are.

But though his intent may be to satirize or to undermine existing law, Maher’s action is not only entirely appropriate; it is proof that the high court’s ruling was correct. If Maher believes Barack Obama should be re-elected, then neither the government nor those of us who disagree with him should have any right to stop him from spending his money in this fashion. Donations to candidates or causes, whether large or small, are a form of political speech. He is as entitled to his right to promote his side as a Republican like Sheldon Adelson or a fellow leftist such as George Soros.

Hindering the right to donate funds to candidates and causes does not prevent the use of money in politics. It just causes it to be funneled into the system in different ways. Moreover, any system that makes such donations onerous merely enhances the power of those who have no such legal restrictions. This includes the news media, whose right to report about the campaign or various issues from a left or right wing slant and to shape public opinion is rightly protected by the Constitution.

Every attempt at campaign finance reform dating back to the initial surge of legislation after the Watergate scandal has only served to worsen the system. Instead of money flowing to candidates and parties, it must now be channeled to independent groups that are even less accountable. Unfortunately, stifling the free speech rights of independent groups is exactly what opponents of the Citizens United decision want to do. But so long as there is a majority on the court willing to defend the rights of citizens to individually or collectively express their views in this manner, such efforts will fail. In a country where flag burning is a constitutionally protected act of free speech, the idea that so-called “good government” types would have the right to prevent Adelson, Soros or even Bill Maher from promoting their views via expenditures is absurd.

I may not consider Bill Maher to be funny and view his political views with even more distaste than his attempts at humor. But I — and anyone else who cares about democracy and free speech — ought to be prepared to defend to the death his right to spend his money on any causes or candidates he likes.

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