Jeffrey Tayler has a long defense of Bill Maher’s anti-Islam comments. Here’s his main point:
Maher’s detractors, and often their interviewers in the media, ignore the central point he made in his controversial monologue, which was that if being liberal means anything, it means opposing theocracy. He declared that, “It’s okay to judge that rule of law isn’t just different than theocracy, it’s better. If you don’t see that, then you are either a religious fanatic or a masochist. But one thing you are not is a liberal.”
Put another way, secularism and legal protections for free speech are the finest fruits of the Enlightenment. They merit spirited defense and should not be casually surrendered to those who, in the name of misbegotten notions of “multiculturalism” or political correctness, would institute their own versions of the Inquisition and decide for others what speech is permissible, what is not. Nonbelievers should not sit idly by as those who attack the single greatest historical enemy of human progress, organized religion, are intimidated or barred from the debating table (or the commencement-address podium). In Islam’s case, this is no easy task, given that for many Muslims the faith infuses their politics, customs and identity, and its critics have faced violence and assassination.
One thing is certain: You know you enjoy true freedom of speech when you can mock religion without fear of violence, persecution or ostracism. If, though, you deride faith and you suffer any of these ills, you know the Spirit of Medieval Darkness is still out and about.
I’m an atheist through and through, but I’m generally unmoved to defend Bill Maher, for two reasons. First, when it comes to his rhetoric about Islam, he’s a bull in a china shop. He treats Islam as one amorphous blob of belief, when it’s clear that a lot of the ugly misogyny is confined to a subset of believers. Second, he’s far too invested in his quest to show that all religion is stupid to make a distinction between religious belief and religious practice.
If there’s anything more tedious than someone trying to sell their religion, it’s an atheist arguing with someone trying to sell their religion. I realize there’s an audience for the latter, and Maher is trying to mine it, but that audience is far smaller than the group of people willing to ban female genital mutilation or enforce the same public educational standards for boys and girls. If you’re serious about pulling together a broad coalition of groups opposing theocracy, Bill Maher isn’t the guy to lead the charge, because his rhetoric pisses off a whole group of religious people who would otherwise be sympathetic to the cause. That’s just basic politics, and nobody is infringing on Bill Maher’s free speech rights when they point out that he’s a shitty spokesman for an important cause.