With the rise of ISIS over the last two months, the debate over Islam and Islamic extremists have made headlines in the United States. While American conservatives are mostly lined up on one side of the issue, liberals are split, which has led to heated debates on an almost weekly basis.
Ever since President Obama made the call to re-engage the United States in Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS, foreign policy has once again become a major issue around the political water cooler. While Obama has stated there would be no American “boots on the ground,” he has authorized airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria, and along with congressional approval, has allocated $500 million in taxpayer money to arm and train rebels in Syria. The United States has long held the position that they have been fighting, not a war on Islam, but rather a war on terrorism . This topic was discussed on the October 31 edition of “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO.
Host Bill Maher welcomed a panel which included Rula Jebreal, a Muslim journalist and Islamic apologist. The conversation was started when Maher brought up a recent segment on his show that made headlines, which included a fierce debate against actor Ben Affleck, who called Maher’s criticisms against Islam “racist.” Maher is scheduled to give the commencement speech at the University of Berkeley in California, and has had push back from students and others who agree with Alleck’s assessment. After Maher defended his position, Jebreal criticized Maher, stating that “this is not a war on terror, this is a war on Islam.”, before noting that “my father was Muslim, he was Sufi. You don’t even know the difference between Sufi, Sunni, Shi’a, Mahdavi.” Looking disgusted, Maher simply responded with “yes I do.”
“You don’t!” Jebreal shouted, before telling Maher, “for you, we are all jihadists.” “I know that in many places in the world, if you left your religion, what would happen?” Maher asked Jebel, to which she didn’t have an answer. “You can walk inside a door in Gaza and say, ‘You know what? I’m a Presbyterian today?’” Maher questioned. Jebreal, looking defensive, said, “maybe not in Gaza, to be honest,” before she blamed Maher for generalizing all Muslims and blaming the majority for what she says is really the minority.
Jebreal said that Maher’s comments were offensive, and that many people felt “threatened” by them. Coming to the defensive of Maher was Independent Sen. Angus King from Maine, who turned to Jebreal and stated, “it’s okay to be offensive. That’s what free speech is all about. If free speech is only speech you like, it’s not free speech.” Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark was also on the panel and defended Maher’s right to speak, to which Jebreal grew increasingly defensive.
“It’s ridiculous!” Jebreal stated, telling Clark that “the Muslim community in this country, you are treating them like Fifth Columnists, and they are not. The Muslim community feel threatened and feel offended.” Jebreal accused Maher of never inviting Muslims on his show, but the host fired back, pointing out that he has had multiple Muslims as guest. “They’re here all the time.” Maher said, before noting that Jebreal only wanted to discuss her views and that if someone thought different, they were considered a bigot.
No matter where someone sides on the issue of a particular religion or religion as a whole, Maher has been consistent in his criticisms of all religions. Usually one to take shots at conservative Christians in American, Maher is only now getting the “bigot” label from liberals who push back against any criticism of Islam. Maher never painted a brush across all Muslims, but rather the religion as a whole, something that Jebreal and other Islamic apologists can’t seem to recognize.