Rich Lowry: Ben Affleck’s Muslim problem

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Wednesday, October 8, 2014 5:01pm
  • Opinion

The latest episode of Bill Maher’s HBO show “Real Time” performed what was, in effect, an in-studio social experiment.

It sought to establish, in a controlled setting, the answer to this pressing question: How long could Maher and atheist author Sam Harris talk frankly about the illiberalism of much of the Muslim world before actor and director Ben Affleck, also a guest on the show, accused them of racism?

The result is in: Not very.

In fact, almost as soon as Maher and Harris began to discuss how liberals are betraying their own convictions if they don’t stand up against social backwardness in the Muslim world, Affleck grew visibly agitated. He could barely contain himself when Harris opined, “We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people.”

That’s when Affleck interrupted, and soon enough, he was calling Maher and Harris out for their grossness, ugliness and, yes, racism. How does it feel, guys?

You might be wondering, “Why should I care what the new Batman thinks?” The heated exchange was so notable because all three are men of the left in good standing. As a walking embodiment of liberal piety, Affleck is emblematic of liberalism’s see-no-evil discomfort with frank truths about the Muslim world.

The prelude to the intraliberal fight was the prior week’s show, when Maher pointed out the absurdity of liberals getting exercised over, say, actor Jonah Hill using an anti-gay vulgarism, but ignoring that gays can be stoned in Muslim countries. “To count yourself as a liberal,” Maher declared, “you have to stand up for liberal principles” — meaning across the board.

Maher had zeroed in on one of the more perverse aspects of contemporary politics, which is that self-consciously tolerant liberals often look the other way when confronted with the intolerance of the Muslim world.

For them, saying discouraging things about Islam feels too judgmental. It requires insisting on the superiority of certain Western standards. It means jettisoning the comforting fictions of multiculturalism. It entails resisting the reflex to consider any criticism of the Third World as presumptive racism.

As militant atheists, Maher and Harris feel free of these constraints; criticizing religion is part of what they do for a living. As a garden-variety liberal, Affleck is subject to all of them and reacted as if two Klansman had wandered onto the set with him.

When Maher and Harris pointed out how widespread retrograde attitudes are in the Muslim world, Affleck said they were “stereotyping.” But the data doesn’t stereotype. Especially in less-developed countries, it is appalling.

The percentage of Muslims in Middle Eastern and South Asia countries who say honor killings are never justified is shockingly low (31 percent in Egypt, 45 percent in Pakistan). Support for the stoning of adulterers is more than 40 percent in Bangladesh and 80 percent in Afghanistan. The death penalty for leaving Islam is almost, although not quite, as popular as stoning.

Affleck simply couldn’t handle the truth. He kept on insisting it is just a few bad apples who think this way. At one point, he tried to wave Maher and Harris off with a condemnation of the Iraq War, positing an implicit moral equivalence between an overly idealistic war of liberation and the stoning of apostates.

Affleck obviously isn’t a public official or a public intellectual. But he represents a dominant tendency within liberalism. Imagine a State Department staffed by less-glamorous Ben Afflecks. Imagine a president of the United States who shares his instincts. This is the Obama administration. It’s why, in part, it has always been so reluctant to speak of Islamic terrorism and extremism. It’s why the president says the Islamic state is not Islamic.

The nation is truly in peril if Bill Maher, of all people, is more cleareyed than those running our government.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

More in Opinion

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks about teacher bonuses during consideration a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Supporting better outcomes in education

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, listens to testimony during a Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Managing Cook Inlet basin for the benefit of all

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Monday, May 8, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Time is growing short

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sarah Vance (Photo provided)
Point of View: A moment of agony for Sarah Vance, and for Homer

The emotions driving Sarah Vance to the brink of tears during her agonizing silence in front of the Legislature suggested a battle of ideas

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Millions needed for Alaska’s child care sector

Without public investment, Alaska will continue to witness an inadequate and diminishing supply of child care services

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks about teacher bonuses during consideration a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Time to disrupt our legislative process

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Fishing, energy move into spotlight

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of debating an omnibus education bill in the Alaska House Chambers on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Finding common ground on education

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks to attendees at a town hall event on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Taking action for workers, supporting kids

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Most Read