The level of dishonesty to which some critics of Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and other atheists critical of Islam have stooped wouldn’t be so discouraging were it not for the eagerness with which the deceit is received and proliferated. There is no shortage of examples, especially since Maher and Harris had a now infamous exchange with Ben Affleck on Real Time, which I've already recounted. What makes these misrepresentations even more menacing is that they either explicitly or implicitly involve accusations of racism or bigotry – charges which have a troubling tendency to become “fact,” not because they are true, but because they are repeated with great frequency.
On Monday, Max Fisher of Vox published a viral piece designed to pluck all the low-hanging fruit in social media's vineyard of liberal guilt. Twice he calls Maher "bigoted," and the very title hints at the hit job to come: “The perfect response to people who say all Muslims are violent, in one tweet.” Sure enough, here’s the opening sentence:
"Comedian and HBO talk show host Bill Maher sparked a major debate last week over Islam, arguing that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are actually not extremist outliers but represent the inherent violence and intolerance of Islam itself, and by extension its 1.6 billion followers."
At no time has Maher said that all or even most Muslims are inherently violent. In fact, he has acknowledged that most are not violent. He has, however, pointed to polls showing that alarmingly high numbers of Muslims in Muslim-majority countries want sharia and the accompanying draconian punishments for apostasy, adultery, homosexuality, and other acts which the Quran and Hadith speak harshly of. He has also criticized these holy books for their blatant violence.
And what is this tweet Fisher is talking about? It’s a collage of photos showing the five Muslims who have won the Nobel Peace Prize since 2003. The tweet’s Muslim author concludes, “So according to Bill Maher, we’re all Peace Prize winners!”
It’s a cute conclusion, but it’s wrong. Maher’s argument isn’t that some Muslims are violent and so therefore, all Muslims are violent. The tweet implies that he’s committed the association fallacy when in fact nothing of the sort has occurred. It’s also important to note that the most recent Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, earned her recognition by promoting education for females living under Islamist rule – an offense for which she was nearly killed when a would-be assassin shot her in the head in 2012.
Another egregious distortion happened Sunday on twitter when a Harris quote was taken grossly out of context from his book, The End of Faith. The tweet would have gone mostly unnoticed were it not for the fact that it was retweeted by longtime Harris critics Glenn Greenwald and Reza Aslan, who's fresh off a New York Timesop-ed in which he accused Maher of "bigotry." Harris has already defended himself on his website against this defamation, noting, “The larger context of this passage is a philosophical and psychological analysis of belief as an engine of behavior — and the link to behavior is the whole point of the discussion.” (Emphasis Harris’.) Worse, he says, Aslan and Greenwald knew that the sentence was being taken out of context when they retweeted it. No matter, Harris is a "genocidal fascist maniac," according to detractors.
Another instance of slander occurred on Friday's episode of The Young Turks. That display featured atheist C.J. Werleman denouncing Harris and Maher as "dangerous." Werleman's cowardly body of work makes it clear that he's completely comfortable wailing away on Christianity while he treats Islam with kid gloves. On the show, he began by noting the out-of-context Harris quote, which, since this occurred just two days before, could have served as the inspiration for the aforementioned tweet that was retweeted by Aslan and Greenwald. After drawing a parallel between Harris, Stalin, and Mao -- yes, he really did that -- he turned his attention to Maher:
"Bill Maher and his acolytes are as historically, and culturally, and geopolitically ignorant as any Christian fundamentalist that you will ever meet."
Please pay attention to the very next thing Werleman says about New Atheists:
"They really do see the world--that if you don't believe in their way, if you don't believe in the Enlightenment and the progress of science and nonbelief, then you're somehow ignorant and retarded."
Werleman just trashed the ignorance of Christian fundamentalists, which is rooted in their aversion to the Enlightenment and the progress of science (like Evolution and climate change research), but then proceeds to scold New Atheists for calling people who don't believe in the Enlightenment and science, "ignorant." Apparently, he wasn't listening to himself just seconds before. It should also be said that anyone who rejects Enlightenment principles, human reason, and science, is, ipso facto, ignorant.
Then he says this:
"And they really believe firmly that.... if only we can get rid of Islam and radical religious ideologies, then the world is going to be a better place. For them their ideal is suited for people--their question, why bad things happen in the world. Well, their answer is a bumper sticker: 'It's Islam. And if we get rid of all of that, then the world will be eradicated of its problems.'"
No atheist I know thinks that if Islam disappeared, "the world would be eradicated of its problems." It would, however, be rid of a significant source of oppression and suffering for hundreds of millions of people, most of whom are actually Muslims.
The above distortions, defamations, and straw men are signs of an increasing desperation on the part of Islam’s apologists. While atheists like Harris, Maher and Richard Dawkins have noted that most Muslims do not behave in violent fashion, their critics press on with charges of "racism" and "bigotry." Meanwhile, some of the worst bigotries imaginable were condoned or even carried out by the very man who founded Islam. Anti-Semitism, anti-Christianity, misogyny, hatred of apostates, hatred of homosexuals, and hatred of infidels, are all on tap in the founding texts of Islam. And right now, groups like ISIS, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda are furnishing violent but plausible interpretations of the faith for which moderate Muslims have yet to provide an effective answer.