Bill Maher deserves some credit for sticking to his positions on Islam, jihad and Sharia, despite enormous pressure and an increasing torrent of abuse from his Leftist former friends and allies. In this interview, however, he reveals some of his own limitations: he has only a glancing knowledge of the subject matter, and is ill-equipped to answer challenges because he doesn’t realize the fallacies inherent in those challenges, any more than do those who are giving him the challenge.
Marlow Stern of the Daily Beast charges that he makes “generalizations about Islam,” and then Maher answers by arguing that it is perfectly reasonable to make generalizations about Muslims. Maher’s point is sound, but both he and Stern are failing to distinguish between Islam and Muslims. What people continually fail to grasp is the distinction between the texts and teachings of a faith, which are matters of record, and the many different ways in which people understand those texts and teachings. To say that all the schools of Islamic law teach violent jihad and the subjugation of unbelievers under the rule of Islamic law is simply a statement of fact. It can be proven or disproven with reference to the actual teachings of the schools. But if they do all teach this, and they do, that doesn’t mean that every Muslim follows those teachings, any more than the fact that the Catholic Church teaches against contraception means that every Catholic opposes contraception. There is a spectrum of belief, knowledge, and fervor among Muslims as there is among believers in every belief system, religious or not.
What I object to is the violent, authoritarian, aggressive and supremacist program of jihad that is codified in Islamic doctrine. All too often any examination or discussion of this doctrine is waved away with a reference to things Christians did hundreds of years ago, and to passages in the Bible that are purportedly as violent as those in the Qur’an. But these doctrines are actually the problem, for they can and do incite Muslims to hatred and violence. Of course many Muslims are not thus incited, and many couldn’t care less about these doctrines. But that doesn’t change the fact that some Muslims are attempting to implement this deeply traditional supremacist program. The longer we don’t address this, or caricature pointing it out, as Stern does here, as tantamount to saying that “all Muslims are generally bad,” these texts and teachings will continue to incite jihad violence, with no one even considering any ways to stop this. (It is, of course, a staple of the Leftist/Islamic supremacist response to foes of jihad terror to claim that they’re saying that “all Muslims are terrorists.”)
Finally, there is in this another example of the low level of the public discourse today: not only does Stern caricature Maher’s position as “all Muslims are generally bad,” but he also offers as a counter to this the fact that five of the last twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners were Muslim. Given that Barack Obama and Yaser Arafat are Nobel Peace Prize winners, this is not an impressive argument: the Nobel Peace Prize is notoriously politicized. But what are we supposed to make of these Muslim Nobel Peace Prize winners? Did the Qur’an and Muhammad inspire them to take the actions that led them to win the Peace Prize? Does their existence somehow make it improper or wrong or bigoted to point out that jihadis worldwide repeatedly point to the Qur’an and Sunnah to justify their actions and make recruits among peaceful Muslims, and that something should be done about this?
“Bill Maher: Yes, I Can Generalize About Muslims,” by Marlow Stern, Daily Beast, October 16, 2014:
The Ben Affleck episode on Real Time was just great television. On no other show would you see an A-list actor from a newly released blockbuster like Gone Girl getting fired up over Islam. What did you make of that heated exchange? He seemed pretty fired up the moment Sam Harris sat down.
Well, I’m done talking about it. My view is I’ve said what I had to say about it the week before, when I did a formal monologue at the end of the show that I wrote very carefully, and they were responding to that. I will say that we legitimately started a national debate on something that needs to be talked about, and it’s very gratifying to finally see that a heck of a lot of liberals understand that the real liberals in this debate are people like me and Sam.
But when you do make generalizations about Islam…
…It’s not a generalization! First of all, this is nonsense—this idea that you can’t make generalizations. All of knowledge is based on generalizations. No one can interview all 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. It’s a dumb argument. Read any history book and it’ll use the word “Christendom,” but they didn’t interview every Christian in the 1600s. We’re talking facts. We’re talking polls that have been done over decades, time and time again telling us what people are thinking about the world. So this idea that we are making generalizations? It’s just stupid. We understand that 1.5 billion people don’t all think alike and that there are differences from country-to-country, but you can’t advance any sort of knowledge without making generalizations and it doesn’t mean they’re inaccurate. To say that it’s a widespread belief in the Muslim world that death is the appropriate response to leaving the religion is just a statement of fact. We should stop arguing about that and move on from it and figure out what we can do about it. To dismiss that is just like saying, “Global warming doesn’t exist.”
If all Muslims are generally bad, then where does five of the last twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners, all of whom are Muslim—people like Malala Yousafzai—fit in?
Man, I’m done talking about this. I just don’t want to keep talking about this. I’ve said my piece, now the rest of you talk about it.