By now, you've probably seen the Islam debate on Friday night's Real Time with Bill Maher. In case you missed it, Banter's Tommy Christopher posted a solid recap on Saturday. The primary participants in the debate were Maher, author Sam Harris, Gone Girl and Batman v. Superman actor Ben Affleck and columnist for The New York Times Nicholas Kristof. The topic: whether all of Islam should be negatively perceived based on the actions of jihadists and extremists.
You can probably guess who said what.
Obviously, Maher was as stridently anti-Muslim as he is anti-Christianity and, generally, anti-religion. Harris was a little more nuanced, suggesting that a not insignificant percentage of Muslims are made up of either jihadists or Islamists, believing in ideas such as death for anyone who leaves the religion. Harris seemed to suggest that while it shouldn't negatively taint all Muslims, it should be a factor when evaluating the nature of the religion. On the opposite side, Affleck directly accused both Maher and Harris of being racist, while Kristof wasn't quite that extreme but was certainly on Affleck's side of the debate.
On one hand, it's a huge mistake to believe that all Muslims are extremists, likewise it's a huge mistake to believe that all Christians are fundamentalists. On the other hand, Affleck (who was fantastic in Gone Girl, by the way) was completely off the rails in accusing both Maher's and Harris's views as "racist."
Frankly, all four participants were off the rails at one point or another, but Harris had arguably the most salient point of the debate, and this is it:
Liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy. They'll criticize white theocracy, they'll criticize Christians.
I like where this is headed, but the following is just stupid:
They'll still get agitated over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984.
Snarky. I get it. But as Tommy Christopher pointed out, there have been "18 bombings and other attacks on clinics since then, in addition to eight murders and hundreds of shootings and assaults." But otherwise, Harris has an interesting point. Let's continue:
But when you wanna talk about the treatment of women and homosexuals and free-thinkers and public intellectuals in the Muslim world, I would argue that liberals have failed us.
The audience applauded for this, though I'm not sure they understood that Harris was calling them out for being hypocrites on religious tolerance.
We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people.
While Christianity and organized religion in the West has been a perennial villain to a considerable chunk of the progressive movement, relentlessly teased as childishly worshiping bearded sky deities, yet anyone who calls out Islam and Islamic theocratic governments are immediately castigated as being Islamophobic or, as Affleck said, "racist."
What Harris said, and what Maher defended, is mostly true. Liberals are quick to pile onto the beliefs of Christians of various denominations, but whenever anyone speaks out against Muslim beliefs, they're relentlessly hectored with accusations of Islamophobia and racism for doing so.
First of all, it's impossible to be literally "racist" against the second most populous religion in the world, with members of various races, though bigotry against Muslims -- or Christians -- is definitely possible. But that label must then be applied to anti-Christian remarks as well. Either that, or criticism of religion must be equal-opportunity and consistent, while making sure to not condemn all members of a religion as reflective of its worst offenders. This is generally where my views land.
There are particular aspects and members of all religions that I find to be illogical and ridiculous. However, in spite of its most horrendous (or hilarious) tenets, whether we're debating Islam or Christianity or any point between, I still believe liberals would do well to be more considerate and less antagonistic toward people-of-faith, seeing as how not everyone who self-identifies as religious is busily condemning same-sex marriage or assassinating OB/GYNs or beheading journalists in the Syrian desert.
Generally speaking, even though I take pride in my Catholic upbringing, I've evolved to be nearly as suspicious of religion as Harris and Maher, though I make an effort to be laser-specific with both my criticisms and, yes, compliments as well. Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller, is a mad man and a homicidal maniac. So are the inhuman monsters who beheaded Alan Henning last week. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Pope Francis and, say, Sister Joan Chittister are inspirational, and nowhere in the same universe as the crackpots and zealots who blame tornadoes on gay marriage and who stone women to death for allegedly committing adultery.
It's not my place to scold inoffensive rank-and-file people-of-faith for worshiping a supreme being, or for believing what they believe -- that is until they exploit that faith and those beliefs as an excuse to harm others. That harm includes altering secular laws to reflect religious dogma; it includes barbarism and unspeakable atrocities against dissidents, minorities and women; and it includes attacks and impositions upon my personal values. And whether those attacks come from Muslims or Christians, you better believe I'm going to say something negative about it, and I frankly don't care if I'm labeled by certain progressives as Islamophobic. It's as kneejerk and it is inaccurate and hypocritical, especially when the labelers turn around and tweet zingers about Christians worshiping an invisible man who lives in the clouds #spaghettimonster.