Bill Maher is obsessed with us Muslims. Maybe he even fetishizes us. And his Muslim infatuation has again landed him in hot water, this time over his quip inferring that any Muslim could be a terrorist.
Now, to be clear, this uproar is truly over a joke Maher told, as opposed to his legendary screaming match last October with Ben Affleck when the actor/director suggested Maher’s views on Muslims were “racist.”
So what was the joke? Well, it was about Zayn Malik, the Muslim member of the internationally famous boy band One Direction. For those who don’t follow the every move of One Direction, Malik broke the hearts of millions when he announced last week he was leaving the group.
Maher, while on the online portion of his HBO TV program Real Time last Friday, joked about Malik leaving the band: “I think after everything we’ve been through, I at least deserved the common respect of being told face to face.”
Maher added, “Just tell me two things, Zayn. Which one in the band were you?”
Then, with an image of Malik on the screen next to the accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Maher remarked, “And where were you during the Boston Marathon?” This last line was the one that set off the firestorm.
Look, I’m a comedian, and it’s getting almost impossible to be anything other than a prop comedian like Carrot Top because so many are so quick to be outraged by jokes on almost any topic. And I have no doubt at some point Carrot Top will be in trouble for holding up a prop that offends someone somewhere.
Now that doesn’t mean a comedian should be immune from criticism. But as I have written in the past, my standard in evaluating jokes is looking at whether the comedian was being intentionally hateful or playful? Let’s be honest, we all know the difference between jokes truly intended to demonize or further the worst stereotypes about people as opposed to ones that playfully cross some imaginary line. We should truly reserve our outrage for those who are being hateful.
Looking at Maher’s joke in a vacuum, he was clearly being playful. But here’s the thing: Anything Maher says or jokes about Muslims can’t be viewed in a vacuum, but rather in the context of his well-documented history of anti-Muslim comments. It would be like Mel Gibson now telling an innocent joke about Jews or former San Diego Clippers owner Donald Sterling joking about blacks.
I’m talking Maher’s past comments that he was alarmed that there were so many Muslim babies being born in the United Kingdom, or his remark that Muslims want to “bring that desert stuff to our world,” to his cherry picking the worst data out there to define all Muslims. And the list goes on.
Consequently, I can’t help but believe that any joke Maher tells about Muslims is intended, at least on some level, to be demonizing. And apparently many share that view, which is why there was a swift backlash against Maher on social media over the Malik joke. One of the most poignant tweets slamming Maher’s comments was: “This isn’t even just about Zayn, its about every Muslim out there who struggles on a daily basis bc of people’s ignorance.”
And keep in mind that the 22-year-old Malik has been subjected to vile anti-Muslim hate for years. For example, after Malik posted a photo on Twitter a few years ago celebrating the Eid—a Muslim holiday—the anti-Muslim backlash against him was so severe that Malik temporarily deleted his Twitter account.
In 2013, an American rapper put out a song titled “Zayn Did 9/11,” blaming him for the September 11 terrorist attacks, which occurred when Malik was 6 years old. And one mid-level conservative blogger in the United States even claimed that Malik was “pimpin’ Islam” and that parents should keep their daughters away from Malik because he was “enticing jihad.”
So what do I want Maher to do? Apologize? Be Fired? Nope. If Maher’s anti-Muslim bigotry troubles you, or his past litany of sexist comments that have been condemned by both liberals and conservatives, such as calling Sarah Palin the “C word,” give you pause, then respond in the way Maher asked us to do in a 2012 op-ed he wrote for The New York Times.
In that article, titled “Please stop apologizing,” Maher wrote that if you don’t like a TV program that features material you find disgusting, then “flip the dial.” I agree. In fact, I followed his advice over a year ago when I stopped my weekly watching of his HBO show. I felt like it was akin to watching a snuff film in that the viewer is complicit in its production.
So after you “flip the dial” on Maher, where can you go for your political comedy fix? Check out John Oliver’s HBO show Last Week Tonight. It’s smart, funny, and doesn’t demonize minorities or women. And per a report last fall, thankfully it’s beating Maher’s show in the ratings.
Of course, there’s The Daily Show, but there’s also a great new political comedy show on Comedy Central called The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. (It replaced The Colbert Report at 11:30 p.m.) This show is edgy and funny, but never demonizes underdogs.
Look, Maher will be fine even if every progressive tuned him out. He’s now beloved by the Fox News crowd, so they will keep watching.
And to my progressive friends in the media and liberal elected officials, when Maher asks you to come on his show to offer cover to his reactionary views, I hope you give it some thought. Do you really want to be a part of his agenda? I know that I don’t.