The debate triggered by Bill Maher’s comments about Islam on his HBO show Friday night, alleging that it is inherently violent and intolerant, continued on Hardball last night. Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, Howard Fineman of Huffington Post, and host Chris Matthews all condemned Bill Maher’s and Sam Harris’s comments about Islam– on a show in which Ben Affleck argued for Islam.
Robinson: “It’s only like three non-Muslims talking about Islam– with a familiarity with the religion which frankly they don’t have. So as a debate per se I don’t put much stock in it or take it that seriously.”
Fineman: “I think what Sam Harris said was outrageous. You don’t call a religion of 1.6 billion people on the planet the mother lode of bad ideas.”
Matthews: “I’m with you–”
Fineman: “You just don’t. I don’t claim to have read the entire Koran. I’ve read a fair amount of it. I have lots of Muslim friends and I know something of the religion. And I think it’s fair to say that terrorism, that ISIS, the people we’re responding to do not represent a great Abrahamic religon and if I were a Muslim I would be completely outraged, however worried I was about a bad face of my faith being shown.”
Matthews: “When you say stuff like this, you are basically condemning a religion, and that’s a loser, because all it will do is just rile up people against you and it won’t change a single person’s religious commitment.”
Fineman: “Also it’s not true.”
Robinson: “It’s not true. It’s a ridiculous statement.”
Surprise: Michael Tomasky lines up with Maher at the Daily Beast, says he’s on to something:
Debates about multiculturalism are appropriate to a later stage of development of the infrastructure of rights and liberties than one finds in some other parts of the world. That infrastructure has existed in Western countries for a century, and it is the very fact that it was so solidly entrenched that opened up the space for us to start having debates about multiculturalism in the 1970s and ’80s.
But in much of the Arab and Muslim world, that infrastructure barely exists. So—and how’s this for a paradox?—to insist that our Western standards that call for multiculturalist values should be applied to countries that haven’t yet fully developed the basic rights infrastructure constitutes its own kind of imposition of our values onto them. A liberated woman or a gay man who lives in a country where being either of those things is at best unaccepted and at worst illegal doesn’t need multiculturalism. They’re desperate for a little universalism, and we Western liberals need to pay more attention to this.
Tomasky doesn’t address Maher and Harris’s claims about Islamic violence. As for the cultural critique of traditional values, fair enough; and I can think of other societies that need some more universalism.