They may not have been officially united in their efforts, but Bill Maher’s most vocal critics waged battle with the Real Time host on two fronts Friday night over his continued jabs at Muslims. The contenders? Fareed Zakaria, and the faithful legion of One Directioners still up in arms over his throwaway joke about dearly departed boy bander Zayn Malik.
Stealing the Real Time spotlight, panelist Zakaria took his opportunity to blast Maher for his unrelenting approach to Islam, the favored topic that provoked Maher’s widely watched televised tussle with Ben Affleck. “I think frankly, you’re going to make a lot of news for yourself and you’re going to get a lot of applause lines and joke lines out of it,” said Zakaria of Maher’s “you suck” brand of insult criticism.
“If you really want to change those people, if you want to change that religion, then what you have to do is push for reform—but also with some sense of respect for the spiritual values that people think,” tsk-tsked the CNN host and journalist, who was raised Muslim.
In an episode laden with anti-Islam jokes, it was Maher calling Islam “the mother lode of bad ideas” that prompted Zakaria’s offensive as fellow guests Christina Bellantoni of Roll Call and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat shrank away slowly, quietly sitting out the spat.
“The word I’ve used is there is a ‘cancer’ within Islam. Our difference is, how are you going to fix it?” asked Zakaria, pointing out the stark divide between his and Maher’s tactics. While Maher compared Muslim doctrine with ISIS dogma, Zakaria cited countries like Indonesia and India, where he said Muslim life doesn’t fall in line with the extremist and regressive views that Maher describes in his more insulting tirades against the religion.
He also suggested that Maher revels in the attention and laughter he gets for those punchlines: “You’re not persuading people with what you’re doing, you’re getting applause lines in the West.” Shots fired.
Last October, Maher defended his tendency toward blanket statements in his criticisms of Muslims to The Daily Beast: “First of all, this is nonsense—this idea that you can’t make generalizations. All of knowledge is based on generalizations. No one can interview all 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. It’s a dumb argument…We understand that 1.5 billion people don’t all think alike and that there are differences from country-to-country, but you can’t advance any sort of knowledge without making generalizations and it doesn’t mean they’re inaccurate. To say that it’s a widespread belief in the Muslim world that death is the appropriate response to leaving the religion is just a statement of fact. We should stop arguing about that and move on from it and figure out what we can do about it.”
Meanwhile, Maher just couldn’t resist trolling the One Direction fans who were left traumatized this month when he joked that their beloved Zayn was the Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (The two do share a striking physical resemblance.)
In a special segment titled “Explaining Jokes To Idiots,” Maher simultaneously insulted One Direction fans and the media outlets (including The Daily Beast) that covered the internet outrage over his Zayn gag, which sparked an online petition calling for him to publicly apologize and had tweens Googling the name “Bill Maher” in violent indignation, probably for the first time ever.
“It turns out Zayn Malik is a Muslim, but neither I nor anyone on our staff knew that,” Maher insisted with a smirk, his studio audience eating it up. “How could we? The whole joke is I don’t know who the fuck he is! I don’t know his religion, or his birthday, or his favorite food, I don’t spend every waking hour obsessing over teenage boys like a Catholic pri—I mean, a 12-year-old girl. And by the way, if you are a 12-year-old girl you have every right to be upset, because you’re 12. But for all the respectable media outlets who covered this story when you could have spent time and space on news that needs reporting, you are not only traitors to journalism, you are in the truest sense of the word, 12-year-old girls.”
The stunt had one unexpected effect: It got 1Ders politicking all over again over the old guy who cracks racist jokes on HBO. By Friday night, all those upset 12-year-old girls got the hashtag #racismisNOTajoke trending in a worldwide campaign to shame Maher.