Bill Maher Has The Ahmed Mohamed Thing All Wrong

The “Real Time” host mentioned me Friday night. Pretty cool. Except that he’s totally wrong and sounds like a right-wing racist.

09.19.15 10:29 PM ET

Last night was a first for me. I was on HBO’s “Real Time” with Bill Maher.  Well, I wasn’t on in person. Rather, Maher read from my recent Daily Beast article, “Ahmed Mohamed Is the Muslim Hero America’s Been Waiting For,” in which I called out the anti-Muslim climate that led to the arrest of this 14 year-old high school student for building a home-made clock and bringing it to his high school. 

Being criticized for my views comes with the territory (and to be honest, I like attention so I enjoy this.) Although this was the first time a so-called progressive came after me. Typically, it’s people on the right like Pamela Geller, the people at Breitbart.com, or the Fox News types.  

But before Maher read from my article, he first served up some good old fashioned anti-Muslim fear mongering with comments like: “Will someone look me in the eye right here and tell me over the last 30 years if so many young Muslim men...hadn’t blow up a lot of shit around the world.” Maher made this statement after one of his guests, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, shared his view that Mohamed had been arrested because of his Muslim faith.

So you see where this is going. Maher’s view is that since some Muslims have committed bad acts in the past, it’s okay to profile Muslim-Americans. 

Now to my article. Maher, after first mangling my last name, read this line from it, “Why would a homemade clock get him arrested, you may ask?” Before Maher could read the next sentence (where I noted, “It shouldn’t, but his last name is Mohamed and he lives in Irving, Texas,”), he was interrupted by Ramos who stated, “Exactly.”  

This comment caused Maher to turn in his chair, learn forward toward Ramos and angrily declare:  “I just answered that question. Because for the last 30 years it’s [Islam] been a culture that has been blowing shit up over and over again. I could spend the rest of the show on this...”

But Ramos again interrupted Maher to say, “but not this teenager in Texas.” Apparently Ramos is not a man who will stay quiet in the face of bigotry, as opposed to Donald Trump on Thursday night when confronted with a man spewing anti-Muslim hate.  

Maher responded by further defending profiling Muslims by noting that teenagers have joined ISIS. Maher is correct, although to my knowledge none have made a homemade clock, brought to school to show off their science skills, and the joined ISIS.

Maher then returned to read from my article, “The message in Irving is clear: If you are Muslim, anything you do might be a plot to destroy America.” Maher passionately disagreed, declaring, “No, the message is you can see why they would err on side of caution” and then cited the May attack by ISIS sympathizers in nearby Garland, Texas.

Maher concluded the segment by astoundingly suggesting that his parents explain to Mohamed that the reason he was arrested was that “in our religion, we were responsible for 9/11, the Madrid bombings, the London bombings, the Bali discotheque bombings, the Kenya mall bombings." So does Maher suggest black parents tell their children that they should accept being harassed by the police because in the past other black people have commited crimes?

Look, I could respond by calling Maher a list of ugly names, which I have done before. But this time I want to try a different approach. I want to first focus on where Maher and most of us, myself included, agree.

Maher stated that Mohamed is “a great kid,” who “deserved an apology” from school officials because they were wrong about Mohamed.  I couldn’t agree more.  

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And I even agree with Maher that school officials should “err on the side of caution.” Look, if a teacher sees a device that causes alarm, certainly confiscate so it can be examined. I’m sure a bomb expert in a handful of minutes would have made it clear that Mohamed had not made a bomb, but a clock. 

Where Ramos and many others (including me) disagree with Maher is in his defense of profiling an entire community because a few have committed bad acts in the past. That’s not only legally wrong, it’s morally wrong as well.  Plus I disagree with Maher’s view that the arrest of Mohamed was no big deal and his dismissal of it as “not being the end of the world.”

What’s astounding is that Maher is truly a great progressive voice on many issues. (And he’s also a very talented comedian.) But how can he not see he’s mimicking those on the right who had justified profiling of blacks and Latinos because some in these communities had committed crimes in the past?  In fact, I bet if a Republican presidential candidate ticked off all the crimes committed by Latinos over the past 30 years and argued we need to profile all Latinos as a result, Maher would go ballistic.

This panel also made me aware of something else. It was only the non-white person on it, Ramos, who called out Maher’s defense of profiling. (The other guests were Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban, Chris Mathews, and George Pataki.) It’s very likely that Ramos has seen profiling of his own community and consequently understands how unjust, frustrating, and soul sucking it can be. It also has a negative impact on how members of minority communities view their own worth in America. 

Before 9/11, when I truly identified as a white guy, I might have agreed with Maher.  But now as a person who is truly part of a minority group, I stand with Ramos and all others who vocally speak out against the evils of profiling. I can only hope one day that Maher understand why profiling is wrong, even when the target is a Muslim American.