My usually charming facebook feed disappointed me this weekend, as a more-than-ordinarily smug Bill Maher kept appearing, trapped in his video frame like a wrathful genie ready to start lecturing if I freed him accidentally by scrolling past his face with insufficient haste.
The September 26th clip from HBO’s Real Time features Maher griping that American liberals are failing to uphold the values of liberalism by complaining when Mel Gibson drunkenly lets slip a harrassy moniker in public while in Muslim-dominant countries across the globe there are allegedly “overwhelming majorities” of Muslims who believe that “a wife is always obliged to obey her husband.”
Here’s the video that has him saying all these things I’m going to be complaining of: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDFrNQAjDYA
Because the inherent prejudice in equating Islam with trending state practices in nasty dictatorial death-squad backed regimes has been called out already, a lot, and because the echoes of these arguments have apparently reached Maher, incited indignation, and then been left intentionally unanswered, I’m not going to bother pointing out the differences between culture and policy. I’m not going to appeal to history, in all it’s wonderful not-being-wrong as it lays there containing zero positive correlation between Islam, which has been the dominant religion for centuries, and dress or penal code, which have changed as many times as state leaders have changed. Nor will I expound on the cornucopia of theological or anecdotal challenges to that Muslims-think-wives-should-never-argue-with-their-husbands theory (but if you’re into that kind of thing here’s the link for Jean Sasson’s Princess because, wow). I’m not even going to engage his stupid Obama’s-a-Muslim jab catering to apparently the lowest denominator of viewer for whom identification as a Muslim would be a terrible insult instead of merely glowingly inaccurate.
No, because Maher has asked one question that I just do not know how to answer, and that impresses me enough to write about. It’s a question he poses in the form of a challenge to all us good, non-sexist, non-homophobic American people who want to make the world a little less sexist and homophobic.
“Shouldn’t we be starting with the honor killers and the mutilators?”
Oh, fucking BAM!
What a question to pose! And then never, ever answer.
In between Maher’s smug characterizations of Yale atheist criticism and public outrage over the F-word as respectively examples of foiling a speaking engagement and coercing a man into a forcible talk show apology tour, he finds time to emit uproarious and pipsqueak swells of laughter at his own jokes and coach the audience through its reactions with cries of, “You can applaud, sure!” and finger-pointing pauses in his material to scold the zealot who booed one of his anti-Muslim jokes. It can’t be for want of time, candor or indelicacy that he lets the question rest as a rhetorical.
What is it that stops him then, from closing on his argument – from protesting more acutely, “We should be starting with the honor killers and the mutilators!” It’s not as if anyone he’s talking to supports female genital mutilation or gay genocide, after all, and with Maher’s fanbase well entrenched his stating the obvious here in genocide-not-allowedsville would as surely pass for cutting commentary.
Except, if that were a point, phrased as a point rather than as a duh-inducing rhetorical, wouldn’t it put Maher in a position he’s courted but ultimately skirted – that of authority? Wouldn’t that make him responsible for answering the logical question that could then no longer be avoided – “How should we start, then?”
Maher makes a point of saying bombs won’t rid the land of ISIS until the culture is changed, but offers no suggestion as to how we non-homosexiphobes in the U.S. could support a change of culture in a dictatorial regime or a destabilized region with no clear leader to support. Is this the rhetoric that will wind up, weeks and months down the road, laying in a pile of arguments supporting further military actions abroad? Or is it meant to rest at smug insistence of western, non-Muslim superiority in our social media – a stance that could no more be supposed productive than screaming across a picket line, “You suck, get a life”?
I don’t believe Maher knew or cared enough to have intent. For better or for worse, his platform ensures these little biased flavorings will be wend their way through our discourse on military force, will glaze the vitriol of the thugs who target Muslims on the streets and harass Muslims online, will have an impact on the world as contemptuous and chaotic as their method of introduction. All because another talking head thought it more profound to shame meager efforts than to have a good idea.