Bill Maher’s demagogic slurry of Islam-bashing continues to resonate. On October 31, Rula Jebreal appeared on Maher’s HBO show to defend a campaign to disinvite him as a commencement speaker at Berkeley in December. Jebreal said that Maher was generalizing about Islam in negative and abusive ways that would never be tolerated if he were speaking about other groups.
Maher: “All I’ve ever done is basically read facts.”
Jebreal: “What facts did you read?… You are comparing Jihadists, Salafis, Sunnis. You don’t know the difference…It’s offensive and some people feel threatened.”
Maher: “You are a Palestinian…. Can you be gay in Gaza?”
Jebreal: “Yes you can.”
Maher: “And live? Because I’ve heard different.”…
Jebreal: “You are comparing the majority of Islamic states with Saudi Arabia…. The Muslim community in this country, you are treating them like a fifth columnist… And they are underepresented in the media and underrepresented in political avenues.”
Maher: “They’re here all the time… I want to stop talking about this. I can’t.”
Jebreal: “If you want to have a serious discussion about Islam… What I want is not a war on Islam, I want to win the war on terror. You are saying the same things that actually Al Qaeda says… Zawahiri and bin Laden used tos ay, This is not a war on terror, it’s a war on Islam… For you we are all jihadists… If you would have said some of the things you… said about African Americans and Jews, you would be fired.
Maher: But African Americans and Jews don’t belong to a religion that wanted to kill Salman Rushdie for writing a book.”
Jebreal: “You are representing the whole group as one. You are actually viewing Islam as jihadists do, in a literalist way.”
Two weeks after that appearance, Salon took a strong stance against Maher’s casual prejudice by publishing an interview with Jebreal. But Salon has now run a piece trashing Islam as a religion of “ridiculous” beliefs. It’s interesting to watch author Jeffrey Tayler (who’s written a book about a group of topless women who take on fundamentalism in Europe) jump from atrocities that Muslims perpetrate to an attack on their religion per se.
The need for frank talk about religion is … urgent concerning Islam, the canonical texts of which inveigh against “unbelievers” and advocate violence and even warfare against them, with, at best, subservient dhimmi status and a special tax, the jizyah, imposed upon Jews and Christians — a species of “tolerance” stemming only from Islam’s roots in both faiths. Buddhists, Hindus and nonbelievers receive no such largesse. In view of this, atheists in secular countries can hardly be expected to exempt Islam from criticism. Loathsome iniquities such as female genital mutilation, honor killings and domestic violence, which are all problematic in Muslim communities in the West, also call Islam into question. More, not less, open discourse about these outrages is just what is needed to end them.
And it turns out that a lot of Islamic beliefs are “untrue” and “ridiculous.”
Did Jebreal really think she would help her cause by chastising Maher for speaking his mind and thereby reminding us of the intolerance that has so frequently characterized Islam? (To wit: the longstanding Muslim-led campaign to make blasphemy against Islam an international crime.) The rush among Muslims to condemn their faith’s critics discloses a valid underlying fear — that possibly those critics are onto something, that maybe the religious beliefs in question are untrue and even ridiculous.
Yes what about the virgin birth, the parting of the Red Sea, the angel staying the binding of Isaac, the burning bush, the slaying of the first sons…. All true?
Jebreal– a friend of our site– gives the lie to Tayler’s claims in that interview she did with Salon two weeks back. I don’t know why Salon is retrenching on this issue. It needs to defend this position:
even if you’re a secular Muslim or Sufi or Sunni Shafi’i who looks at the jihadis and is appalled by them – and look at the father, the Nigerian father of the Christmas bomber, who actually denounced his own son – and look at the rise of ISIS with a lot of concern and worry – then hear on TV shows that this is Islam, it’s a sweeping generalization. It’s collective. There’s no nuance. No history.
To say that the rise of ISIS is Islamic is simply wrong. There is a theology that’s wrong and needs to be reformed. But also, unfortunately, the rise of ISIS is a byproduct of the Iraq War and the terrible way that Iraq was administrated
I’d point out that anti-Zionists seek to distinguish Israel’s actions from Jewish religious ordinance. The religion and the ideology are often and sloppily confused, including by Zionists themselves; and that’s a form of anti-Semitism. Jebreal distinguishes between Islamic radical interpretations and Islam:
If he focused on Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, I would be with him on that. If we would focus on going against extremists – jihadists, the Haqqani network in Pakistan, al-Qaida in Yemen. It’s true that there’s an ideology called Wahhabism that is extremist, that fights the pluralistic Islam of which I’m a product.
I’m married to a Jew and have a Catholic daughter. That’s the Islam I came from.
Maher has praised General al-Sisi’s regime in Egypt because he’s keeping the Islamists down. So Maher endorses dictatorship for a nation of 85 million people and ignores the persecution of the Palestinians next door. Jebreal:
the basic issue is we don’t consider Muslims as equal. We consider them inferior. You wouldn’t accept to be a people run by dictators – and brutalized, and oppressed, and imprisoned. If you were really liberal, you wouldn’t accept that. But to say, “I’m liberal because I agree on gay rights” – it’s a selective way of being liberal. I want gay rights, but also I want freedom. I want freedom of movement, freedom of electing a government. You know, Bill brought up the gay issue in Gaza, and I just thought Bill and the whole panel were very hostile.
Finally, Jebreal told an anecdote about Maher’s incuriosity about Islam. She gave Maher a book, and–
I actually left him a book, and the book is Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad [A Prophet for Our Time], a beautiful book that was written after September 11 about how Muhammad behaved in his life. He said don’t go after others, because that would mean you are going after me…. the book that I gave him – he took it and left it on a chair. He said, “Oh, thank you for the book,” and then took it and left it on the chair. I said, “You know what, I gave him this book, he took it and left it on the chair.”
Here’s that original appearance by Rula Jebreal, October 31: