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Bill Maher’s quest to dehumanise Muslims

It is tragic that we must be subjected to the ideas of men whose ill-disguised sense of ethno-religious supremacy is gunning, ultimately, for greater immiserating of Muslim lives

Bill Maher’s long-standing hostility toward Islam has finally found an outlet in ISIS to legitimise itself in the fullness of Maher’s racism and supremacy.  His row with Ben Affleck on HBO’s Real Time was widely viewed, with the latter trying unsuccessfully to inject reason into Maher’s assertion that Muslims, who comprise at least one fifth of humanity, are predominantly ISIS-like in nature, with a general predilection toward violent intolerance, suppression of thought, extreme misogyny, and devolution. 

On a subsequent show, Maher clarified that he was specifically referring to Arab Muslims, not all Muslims. This was apparently an inadvertent admission in response to professor Cornel West who tried to include Indonesia and Bangladesh into the equation of Islam, to which Maher objected, “but they’re not Arab.”  He further dismissed Bangladesh because they’re “not that educated.”

So, it is Maher’s contention that Arab Muslims are the principal force of ignorance and violence in the world.  To prove his point, he quotes Tom Friedman, the intellectual giant who told Iraq to “suck on this,” that the US invaded and destroyed Iraqi society “because we could,” and that the Egyptian revolution was launched because that nation, with over 6000 years of recorded history, was envious of 63 year old Israel and wanted to be just like them (prompting this brilliant response).  These men are telling us that the western world - implicitly more enlightened, explicitly Christian and Jewish - should do something about the menace of Arab Muslims.  

Before the bombs start dropping again, we should take a few steps back to glimpse a fuller picture because history is important and very relevant.  We don’t have to go back as far as the Christian Crusades or the Inquisition that eviscerated people for sport.  Nor even to the centuries of kidnapping, enslaving and terrorising Africans in ways that created the most savage holocaust in the history of mankind, with horrors still untold and legacies unmatched in their cruelty.

No, if we just stick to our own lifetimes, from beginning to present, we start with that strange fruit hanging. Men and women, entire white Christian families, would come out by the thousands to watch and cheer, like they do at football games, the spectacle of lynching black human beings - the burning, castrating, dismemberment, and killing of black bodies.  Photographs were taken and sold as postcards that individuals sent to one another.  On the other side of a picture of a black man hanging lifeless from a rope, notes were scribbled to grandma, Santa Claus, and far away friends.  This is the America into which existing generations were born.

When we inch a bit toward the present, there is Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos (among others): the wholesale rape, wonton slaughter of innocents, and tremendous destruction of the natural world.  This is to say nothing of the simultaneous indirect (meaning the US didn’t get its hands too dirty even though its actions were quite direct and deliberate) dismantling of societies throughout Latin America through a long list of CIA backed coups and clandestine operations that ensured the South American continent would remain on its knees, subject to the thieving whims of US corporations, with all that entailed of destroying democracies, installing exceptionally brutal dictatorships, mass murders, systematic torture, instability, and social suppression.  Such actions, of course, were not limited to South America, and extended to vast swaths of humanity, notably the Middle East, home of those pesky Arab Muslims that Maher is worried about. 

The ways in which the US propagated instability, internecine strife, and destruction of entire societies, are breath-taking and too numerous for one essay.  But a cursory look at just one country, Iraq, might give a glimpse, however sanitised by brevity, into the rivers of blood shed by the US, from whence ISIS emerged. 

After the CIA backed a coup to remove the nationalist Iraqi president, Abdel Kareem Qasem, the US empowered the Baath party, giving them long lists of Iraqi scientists, doctors, teachers, intellectuals, progressives, writers, poets, musicians - all of whom who were to be assassinated by the likes of Saddam Hussein under the watchful and approving eyes of the US.

It was the US that empowered Saddam’s brutal rise.  It was the US that encouraged the genocidal Iraq-Iran war, supplying weapons to both sides with the aim of perpetuating the killing and maiming – millions of lives – as long as possible.  It was the US that provided chemical weapons that fried the flesh and bones of Kurds and Iranians alike, and which would later be used as a pretext to invade Iraq and lay complete waste to that ancient civilisation, among the oldest known, the birthplace of agriculture, written language and mathematics. 

But before that, it was the US that implemented sadistic sanctions punctuated by the systematic bombing of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure, such that the utter destruction of the country’s water system resulted in the death of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi babies under the age of five. Madeline Albright was famously pleased with this result, saying the ending of those small lives was “worth it.”  Worth what?  We would learn the answer to that a few years later when the junior Bush lied to the American people and to the world in order to send US troops to Iraq.  The bloodletting and inhumanity of that invasion and subsequent occupation is staggering and likely never to be fully told. 

But none of this is enough to implicate Christianity, of course. There’s always enough sense to understand that these affronts to humanity are not the makings of a religion.  And there’s always enough corruption to couch these enduring obscenities as necessary, ironic, even heroic violence. The same goes for malfeasance from Jews.

Israel’s very foundation is one of supremacy, exclusivity and entitlement for Jews at the expense of the indigenous non-Jewish population of the land.  It is a country where the head of state calls for “vengeance,” whose high-ranking lawmakers and spiritual leaders argue for genocide, and whose academics advocate systematic rape as a deterrent to resistance. It is a country with segregated roads, color-coded IDs, and separate busses. 

A glimpse of Israeli society’s hate-mongering can be seen in David Sheen’s testimony at the Russell Tribunal. This is to say nothing of the actual human cost of this sick society’s obsession with eradicating everything non-Jewish. None of us Palestinians, with real, immediate and deep roots in Palestine can live in our own homeland so that foreign Jews from all over the world can have an extra country and dual citizenship.  Such, we are to believe, are the edicts of God. And according to Maher and company, that’s all rational and within the norms of the civilised.

Even though the overwhelming majority of Israeli society applauded, even cheered, the merciless slaughter of innocents this past summer in Gaza, that besieged tormented strip of land with no place to run or hide, Maher will have us believe that only Jewish “extremists” are violent. Not so for Muslims. To Maher, ISIS represents our collective inner essence. 

But let it be clear that ISIS, this organisation of monsters (who start looking like boy scouts when juxtaposed to the barbarity perpetrated by Israel or the US) was born from the decades of western terror, the power vacuums they created; from direct and indirect US empowerment of them; from the rage and radicalisation against unrelenting injustice, and from the devastation of societies too broken to perform the functions of marginalising extreme elements as we are able to do here in the US for a whole host of frightening doctrines.    

And now, the icing on this miserable cake is that we must also be subjected to the insipid thoughts of pontificating men with minds limited by their extraordinary privilege and entitlement; men who lack the minimal aptitude to comprehend the most basic truth implicating history to the present; men whose extreme arrogance and self-righteousness preclude an inkling of self-reflection; and, more dangerously, men whose ill-disguised sense of ethno-religious supremacy is gunning, ultimately, for greater immiserating of Muslim lives.   

-Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian-American writer and human rights activist. She is the author of a bestselling novel, Mornings in Jenin and the founder of a non-governmental organization, Playgrounds for Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: An image-grab of Bill Maher on TV (YouTube)