If you have HBO and have ever watched the television show ‘Real Time’, you will recognize Bill Maher, an individual who is never afraid to say what exactly is on his mind. Whether it comes to his views on religion (specifically religious fundamentalism), marijuana legalization, support for LBGTQ rights, etc. Bill Maher is never one to shy away from controversial discussion, as reflected by his assorted guest panel. Bill Maher would say that he is not a liberal, even though he often voices vociferous contempt towards the Republican Party, and also donated $1 million to an Obama supporting super PAC. Bill Maher also has the support of most progressives and liberals on the left, many of whom find him funny, outspoken, and intelligent. While I personally would not accuse Maher of being an idiot, he has said some racist, Islamophobic, and dangerous things in the past. Such things I would not usually associate with Progressivism, but progressives still seem to excuse Maher for his often belligerent bigotry.
Racist? Islamophobic? It can’t be, especially from a liberal/progressive because they are incapable of being racist or prejudiced. This is something that is actually said, and it is quite sad. There is actually a belief among many in the US that Liberals cannot be racist because they stand against conservatives. One ideology just happens to be more openly racist than the other. This “moral high ground” that liberals think they possess in life is highlighted in this article speaking about Liberal exceptionalism when it comes to various socio-political issues, in particular Liberal Sexism (something Maher himself is also guilty of).
Bill Maher has never been shy about his atheism or his opposition to all forms of religion. This is highlighted in his movie ‘Religulous’, which is a documentary that shows Maher having conversations with people of various religious beliefs (Abrahamic religions in particular) attempting to show how illogical the belief systems are. As an atheist myself, I have my own views on atheism and religion, and I wrote about my disagreement with the type of atheism that Maher represents. My problem with Bill Maher and his supposed equal opportunist criticism of fundamentalism in religion is his bias against Islam. Maher in his extreme anti-Islam rhetoric has marginalized it compared to other religions, as well as spouted racist, orientalist language when describing the people of Islam and their culture, like when he referred to their politics as “desert stuff”. That kind of generalization towards Islam and Muslim people has been responsible for the exaggerated picture of Islam in the west since the colonial period. To see why that kind of language is problematic, see this video series discussing how such language was used as a tool for colonialism.
Maher doesn’t stop there with his biased anti-Islam rhetoric. Bill Maher basically said it was “liberal shit” to say that all religions are capable of producing equal violence and that Islam is a naturally more violent religion. This behavior hasn’t been without scrutiny. There have been media outlets that have criticized Maher’s biased rhetoric against Islam, like this Al-Jazeera op-ed here. Glenn Greenwald took his shot at Maher in his column for the Guardian, after debating with Maher directly on his show, where Greenwald proceeded to expose Maher’s lack of knowledge on history when it comes to religious involvement in political conflicts, especially when it comes to the role of Islam and Christianity. Abby Martin of RT America called Bill Maher out on his flip-flopping on certain views when it came to 9-11, as well as his bias against Palestinians and his support of drones.
This next thing really puzzles me, especially because liberal supporters of Maher everywhere are avoiding this conversation like the plague. We know that Bill Maher often uses brash language when discussing subjects, but that does not excuse him from making racially insensitive remarks about people. Some have heard of the controversy surrounding Bill Maher and Wayne Brady, which started with Maher making a statement on Real Time where he said “I thought when we elected the first black president, as a comedian, I thought that two years in that I’d be making jokes what a ‘gangsta’ he was. You know. And not that he’s President Wayne Brady, you know, I thought we were getting Suge Knight.” Besides the obvious flaw with that logic (being that black people will be one or the other extreme as caricatured by Knight and Brady) he probably thought he was in a safe zone when he said that, because most liberals think they have this safe zone to say what they want because of that aura of them not being racist. That was not the case…
Wayne Brady did not let that one slide, as he took it to Maher in interviews to make it known that Bill Maher has no such safety when saying such things. On this HuffPost live interview, he made it clear that Bill Maher could not question his blackness, and that Maher would never have the black experience in America. Maher never responded to Brady, which prompts a question that was posed here asking why Maher is okay with responding to white people, but not Wayne Brady (he is always okay with taking shots at people like Donald Trump or Sarah Palin).
Whether it is the ignorant orientalist rhetoric, or the racial identity politics, Bill Maher, segments of progressive/liberals, still have much to learn, especially considering such rhetoric is the same type of rhetoric that is espoused by people in the Republican Party or the Tea Party. The only difference is that the sentiments on the Liberal side of the spectrum have become more subtle. So progressives, can you tell me why someone like Maher is worth supporting? I would be interested in knowing your reasoning.