There’s an interesting video making the viral rounds. Bill Maher on his excellent show, Real Time, had on author Sam Harris, actor Ben Affleck, writer Nicholas Kristof, and political operative Michael Steele as guests. The discussion, debate is a better term, was about Islamophobia.
Maher and Harris argued that criticizing Islam is necessary and is not bigotry or discrimination. As is the tendency when accusations of racism and intolerance are flying, the debate got a bit heated.
Affleck said that Harris’s “argument is, ‘You know, black people, they shoot each other'” and “gross and racist.” Kristof said that Maher’s criticism of Islam has “a tinge of how white racists talk about African-Americans and define blacks.”
It is a bit frustrating to watch because the two sides are talking past each other. Maher and Harris are clearly correct. Affleck, Kristal and Steele are making valid points, but not against the arguments Maher and Harris raised.
“Maher and Harris are clearly correct.” Because they say that a significant portion, though not always a majority depending on which country you ask, of Muslims sometimes — that’s all the poll said, not “always” — support killing random strangers in the name of religion.
A majority of Americans, according to the last poll I can find, support drone bombing. Drone bombing, as the CIA and Pentagon have admitted, targets random strangers. All of the targets are in Muslim countries and are presumably Muslim, which means that it is not plausible that religion is not a root cause.
How can anyone possibly claim moral superiority for Americans — like Harris and Maher — under those circumstances? If anything, by the logic of Harris and Maher, Americans must be WORSE, because the support remains consistently above 55% despite repeated admissions that drone bombing is random and is actually counterproductive.
I think Seidel is spot on here. Affleck was attacking a proposition (all Muslims represent anti-liberal values) but that really wasn’t the proposition being presented by Harris and Maher.
Religion might be classified as an “idea” but I would also say that “race” is an idea too that began as a descriptor for differences in human skin color but, in the hands of the nineteenth century scientists and philosophers intent on supporting colonialist aspirations began to use the term to suggest deeper, essential differences among peoples and, in fact, to suggest subspecies. It’s an “idea”, inherited from the nineteenth century that still haunts us today.