I enjoy watching “Real Time with Bill Maher” whenever I can, and I especially appreciate the wit and humour of his New Rules. Alas, whenever the subject of Islam and the Middle East pops up, the show turns ugly. To avoid the cynicism that mars the Maher show, a few new rules are in order.
New Rule: Stratification of religions is a futile exercise. No single religion has a monopoly over violence. Violence has no religion.
NR: Intelligent talk shows are hard to come by nowadays, so “Real Time” shouldn’t be polluted by anti-Islamism – the modern successor of despicable anti-Semitism. Like all phobias, it’s based on irrational thinking, not rational reasoning.
NR: When you don’t miss a chance to dump on Islam and Islamists as somehow more homicidal, you shouldn’t be surprised of being labelled an Islamophobe. When you walk like a duck…
NR: And if the anchor is, himself, responsible for an eerie projection of Islamophobia masquerading as “truth loving,” Bill should know when Bill needs to keep quiet. Like speech, silence is also an art form and has rules.
NR: The three Abrahamic religions refer to one God. Allah translates into God, and for all three, there is no god but Allah/God. Anything else is mere politics, power and phobia.
NR: The day after the Boston bombings, it might’ve seemed, from LA, that violence is limited to Muslims. But there is an expansive and complex world of violence beyond Hollywood.
NR: The Islamic world is going through some very tough times, further complicated by war and conflict: Western-led, civil and sectarian. But even at its worst, violence by Muslims doesn’t compare with the horrific atrocities committed by the West’s own religious, continental and global wars.
NR: Considering that the wars waged by the Christian West over the last two decades killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims, it takes a lot of chutzpa to turn around and accuse Islam of homicidal tendencies.
NR: You say this all happened in the distant past — like it hasn’t happened since the Crusades — and that the problem is with here and now? Well, violence in the former Yugoslavia, Palestine, Myanmar, India, not to mention Ireland, is hardly in the distant past. A man of a Jewish and Irish background should know better about religiously motivated violence.
NR: Thinking you’re right doesn’t mean you actually are correct. Passion and honesty don’t necessarily add up to any less bullsh*t. (Check out Harry Frankfurt’s Theory of Bullshit).
NR: True, religions have been misused and abused by some of their adherents to commit terrible violence. But fundamentalist atheists from Stalin to Mao to Hitler have carried out worse atrocities than religious fanatics.
NR: Islam was the first religion to organise and regulate war at a time when others were murdering, torturing, massacring and even cannibalising their enemies. Unrestrained, extreme violence might be carried in the name of Islam, but for the zillionth time, that doesn’t make it Islamic.
NR: Much of the presumably religiously motivated violence is inspired by extremist narratives and interpretations, not religious texts. The brothers who allegedly carried out the Boston Bombings are as familiar with the Quran as those who demonstrated against Salman Rushdie know about his Satanic Verses: not much. Detestable mob-type protestation exists in every culture.
NR: When your anti-Islamic rhetoric is discredited, there’s no point in repeating it for cheap applause. Not only is it wrong, it’s just not funny.
NR: And by the way, when you have an Arab name, like Maher which means “skilled,” don’t pull a Colbert on us, Bill. Just pronounce your name as you should: MaHer.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst of Al Jazeera English and the author of The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolution.
Follow him on Twitter: @marwanbishara