Bill Maher created a stir during a panel discussion on his show the other day: Real Time with Bill Maher: Ben Affleck, Sam Harris, Michael Steele, Nicholas Kristof and Bill Maher Debate Radical Islam.
He and Sam Harris were called out by the other three panelists – Ben Affleck, Michael Steele (a former chairman of the Republican National Committee) and Nicholas Kristof (a New York Times columnist) for generalizing about Islam and blaming the entire religion for the acts of its radical fringe.
Was the radical Islam kerfuffle caused by cocktails?
Kristof devoted a column to the subject entitled The Diversity of Islam. Some excerpts.
“A few days ago, I was on a panel on Bill Maher’s television show on HBO that became a religious war.”
“Whether or not Islam itself inspires conflict, debates about it certainly do. Our conversation degenerated into something close to a shouting match and went viral on the web. Maher and a guest, Sam Harris, argued that Islam is dangerous yet gets a pass from politically correct liberals, while the actor Ben Affleck denounced their comments as “gross” and “racist.” I sided with Affleck.”
The 10-minute exchange on the show was far from a religious war, but Kristof then took a breath and downgraded it to a shouting match. I wonder what he would say about parental behavior during a children’s soccer game.
Washington Post columnist, Fareed Zakaria, must have felt left out because he was not on the panel. To catch up, he too wrote a column on the exchange entitled Let’s be honest, Islam has a problem right now. Again, some excerpts.
“I know the arguments against speaking of Islam as violent and reactionary. It has a following of 1.6 billion people. Places such as Indonesia and India have hundreds of millions of Muslims who don’t fit these caricatures. That’s why Maher and Harris are guilty of gross generalizations. But let’s be honest. Islam has a problem today. The places that have trouble accommodating themselves to the modern world are disproportionately Muslim.”
“The stakes are high in this debate. You can try to make news or you can make a difference. I hope Maher starts doing the latter.”
None of the five panelists followed the admonition: “You were given two ears and one mouth. There was a reason.” Had anyone actually been listening rather than burnishing his image, a larger point might have emerged.
Who better to curtail the bad behavior of the few than the many who are being blamed for it? Unfair? Perhaps. But who is more likely to get the job done? There are a few better ways to motivate a group to discipline its own than to make the group suffer the consequences of not doing so.
The vast majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims, who do not think it is necessarily a good idea to behead people on YouTube, might actually be better positioned to do something about ISIS than infidels with drones.
As Zakaria says, “The stakes are high in this debate. You can try to make news or you can make a difference.” Perhaps by endeavoring to motivate the Muslim community to discipline its own, Maher was “doing the latter.”
But nobody was listening. Not with images to be maintained.