My recent collision with Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s show, Real Time, has provoked an extraordinary amount of controversy. It seems a postmortem is in order.
For those who haven’t seen the show, most of what I write here won’t make sense unless you watch my segment:
So what happened there?
I admit that I was a little thrown by Affleck’s animosity. I don’t know where it came from, because we hadn’t met before I joined the panel. And it was clear from our conversation after the show that he is totally unfamiliar with my work. I suspect that among his handlers there is a fan of Glenn Greenwald who prepared him for his appearance by simply telling him that I am a racist and a warmonger.
Whatever the reason, if you watch the full video of our exchange (which actually begins before the above clip), you will see that Affleck was gunning for me from the start. What many viewers probably don’t realize is that the mid-show interview is supposed be a protected five-to-seven-minute conversation between Maher and the new guest—and all the panelists know this. To ignore this structure and encroach on this space is a little rude; to jump in with criticism, as Affleck did, is pretty hostile. He tried to land his first blow a mere 90 seconds after I took my seat, before the topic of Islam even came up.
I have to agree with Harris. I watched the show and first thought that Affleck was pulling a publicity stunt for his forthcoming movie. Aside from the brutish behavior and body language, he actually stopped listening (by interrupting) then commented on what he hadn’t heard. It was as if he had a running spiel that he had to deliver and tuned out to anything else. Wasn’t it a bit like a ‘performance’ when you think of it? Certainly outside the concept of civilized debate and I’m disappointed that Maher didn’t call him on that.
PS I’m writing from Australia where Real Time doesn’t even air – the story made every newspaper front page, radio talk show and TV bulletin!
I commented on this earlier this week. Like Harris, I was surprised at how animated–actually overheated Affleck became–in this segment. He was prepped for an offensive, no doubt about it. At the same time, I’m not sure he grasped Harris’ argument. The argument, as I understand it, is that liberals, while defending liberal values, should not, in their zeal to be multicultural and pluralistic, be unwilling to criticize those who, at times, are oppressed if they too are acting illiberally. Harris chafes at the idea that if you criticize any aspect of Islam, especially the tendencies among many of its practitioners for violence or the subordination of human rights, you will be accused of religious bigotry. Some, like Affleck, can’t seem to hold in tension the idea that you can criticize certain practitioners of a religion without essentializing everyone who practices that tradition.