In a testy ten-minute exchange on “Real Time” with television host Bill Maher and author Sam Harris, Hollywood actor Ben Affleck slammed the host for commenting that Islam is the only religion that acts like the “mafia.” Along with journalist Nicholas Kristof, Affleck argued that ascribing an entire religion based on the actions of the terrorist group Islamic State, was “gross” and “racist,” while Maher and Harris shot back that criticizing Islam “gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people,” a ploy that others have used to build on anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
During the exchange with Kristof and RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Affleck took the lead to slam Maher and Harris for defending their generalization of Islam. Harris stated, “We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people.” Affleck asked, “Are you the person who understands the officially codified doctrine of Islam?”
To Maher’s idea of generalizing Islam, Affleck said, “It’s gross, it’s racist,” while Kristof added that the view of Muslims is “incomplete,” referring to the example of Malala Yousafzai, a teenager shot by fundamentalists, who is part of the larger peaceful Muslim movement. Harris panned both Affleck and Kristof’s responses saying that Islam is “the motherload of bad ideas” and that fundamentalists are not just the “fringe group” of practicing Muslims.
Still later in the exchange, Maher said, “It’s the only religion that acts like the mafia that will [expletive] kill you if you say the wrong thing, paint the wrong picture or write the wrong book” to which Affleck shot back, “What is your solution? To condemn Islam? To do what? We’ve killed more Muslims than they’ve killed us by an awful lot.”
Last week, Maher came under fire for saying that the “vast numbers of Muslims want humans to die for holding a different idea,” stating that they have “too much in common with ISIS.” He also said that self-identified liberals should “stand up for liberal principles,” saying that they are silent on atrocities committed by Islamic fundamentalists.
Yet in using the same kind of reasoning that officials have espoused to perpetuate Islamophobia, Maher and Harris mixes the violent actions of a few with millions of Muslims who are leading the initiative to show Islam as a peaceful religion.
Countering the conflation of the actions of a terrorist organization to millions of Muslim adherents, the brother of David Haines, who was beheaded by ISIS, reiterated the point that Islam is about peace and love. Even Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has said that the group is “not a true form of Islam.” As ThinkProgress’ Igor Volsky and Jack Jenkins previously argued, the Islamic State is not Islamic: the terrorist organization does not abide by many of its fundamental tenets of Islam, like committing to peace or giving regard to the welfare of women and children. Instead, the terrorist group has committed systematic, gruesome violence, while a United Nations report released Thursday found that the group sold women and girls into sex slavery and forced children to become child soldiers. What’s more, nearly every American Muslim organization has roundly condemned the ideology and actions of the terrorist group, with some petitioning the name of the terrorist group be changed to “Unislamic State.”