For all his odes to liberal ideals, Maher’s latest effort to demonize Muslims reveals a disturbing, illiberal truth
Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy once said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
Her words seem particularly apt this week in light of Bill Maher’s recent opening of the Islamophobic floodgates during his “Last Word” interview with Sam Harris and Ben Affleck. In the now infamous segment, Harris argues “Islam is the mother-lode of bad ideas” and that “We are misled to think the fundamentalists are the fringe.”
Muslim American academic Reza Aslan was subsequently called on by CNN to comment on Maher’s views, which he demurely dismissed, but what was most interesting was comparing the treatment of Aslan and Affleck, both voices arguing against anti-Muslim prejudice, by mainstream American TV anchors.
In his interview with CNN, Aslan, a professor of religion, was forced into an apologetic stance in which he sought to elicit a recognition that Muslims are diverse in their outlooks and beliefs, despite being persistently dismissed by both skeptical CNN interviewers.
The discussion subsequently continued without Aslan, his voice having largely been ignored until that point anyway, but what was telling was that his contribution was recast as a hostile and angry response by a third CNN presenter, Chris Cuomo: “His tone was angry. He wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it.”
“Angry” is just another term used to invalidate someone’s position by attempting to root their arguments in emotion rather than rationality – it’s what men do to women in the “angry feminist” variation, and it’s what white people do to ethnic minorities (women especially, through the angry black woman stereotype). Cuomo was seeking to delegitimize Aslan’s perspective by making him appear as an extension of the irrational and angry faith the anchors had consistently upheld as the only valid perception of Islam.