Remember the good old days when Bill Maher would caution his audience, “It’s not a political rally”? To some extent, it was always disingenuous. But when it comes to the issue of Islam and what it is and is not, Maher has really lost his way. What I see in him is something I’ve seen in many people. He has a cocky self-assuredness that screams, “I know that you all think I’m a bigot, but I know the truth.” And I’m well aware that I’m tilting at windmills with Maher, but I have to try. He’s a bigot, but a smart one. And one day I hope he will see the light.
On his show this last week, he started out lambasting Christian conservatives for failing to see that they have lost the marriage equality war. But he spends surprisingly little time on that issue. He quickly moves to his real issue, which is that Muslims are so much worse than Christians. And how does he know? Well, he refers to a recent article in The Washington Post, Here Are the 10 Countries Where Homosexuality May Be Punished by Death. You see: all our Christians want to do is refuse wedding cake to homosexuals whereas their Muslims want to kill them.
If Maher had read the article, he might have noticed that it starts by discussing Uganda — a Christian country where homosexuality can get you life in prison and many have been pushing for the death penalty. And Uganda’s hard-line stance on homosexuality has been a cause célèbre among American conservative Christians for years. The only country in the Americas where homosexual acts are illegal is a Christian country, Guyana. The biggest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, has no laws about homosexuality at all. In fact, if you look at the handy map in the article, what you will see is that the criminalization of homosexuality seems to be a regional disease, not a religious one.
According to Maher, conservative Christians in the United States are “moderate” because Christianity is somehow less vile a religion than Islam. If given the opportunity, these Christians would be pushing for laws making homosexuality illegal. How do we know? Well, there are still sodomy laws on the books all over the nation — residuals of what these people really think. And there are still horrific crimes committed against LGBT people. Consider Matthew Shepard as just one of countless terrifying examples.
Bill Maher certainly understands that correlation does not imply causation — at least when it comes to things like the economy. But when it comes to Islam, he is shockingly clueless. There are all kinds of Muslim countries that don’t allow their extremists to rule. But the fact that America supposedly doesn’t do something proves something that proves, “Islam baaad!” In Ireland, a woman died because of their medieval abortion laws, which are based on the country being Catholic. Why doesn’t that make Christianity just as bad as Islam?
Here in the United States, the fundamentalist Christians do not have the power to enact laws to “kill the gays.” But they do have the power to enact laws limiting the right to vote. They do have the power to limit access to healthcare. They do have the power to limit aid to the poor while giving the rich tax cuts. All of these have the ultimate effect that those in the top half of the income distribution in the United States live five years longer than those in the bottom half of the income distribution. That includes a whole lot of LGBT people.
I’m not a fan of the Muslim religion. I generally lump it in with the other Abrahamic religions, which are mostly pretty vile. But this fixation on tragedies that happening “over there” while patting ourselves on the back is just the modern form of nationalism. And attributing those problems to a particular religion is not just bigoted; it is ignorant. There are liberal approaches to deal with illiberal behavior. Blaming it all on religion is itself illiberal and, more important, ineffective.