8 Bill Maher Statements For UC Berkeley To Consider Before Commencement

The brouhaha over Bill Maher’s recent remarks about Islam and Muslims is growing weirder by the day. During an episode of his HBO show “Real Time,” the controversial host took aim at President Obama’s insistence that the terrorist group ISIS does not represent Islam. A heated exchange with actor Ben Affleck swelled into a media storm, replete with references to the Grand Wizard of the KKK and, most recently, a vote by UC Berkeley students to drop Maher as the keynote speaker at their December commencement.

Late yesterday, university officials decided to override that vote, arguing that his views were expressed through constitutionally protected speech and are “irrelevant in this context.” According to many of Maher’s supporters, those opposed to his appearance are foes of the first amendment.

Buried in all of the noise surrounding this ruckus, however, are a few missing (and critical) points.

First, free speech does not guarantee Maher or anyone the right to be invited by elite institutions to deliver keynote speeches. In no way does uninviting Maher infringe upon his ability to express his views in public. In fact, he does so regularly on his primetime cable television show to roughly 4 million viewers.

Second, the purpose of a university commencement address is to speak to, and honor, the students. Not the administration, not the staff, and not the general public. If those students decide that they’d rather not celebrate their graduation with someone like Maher, that view (expressed through a committee vote), should be honored. By ignoring it, the UC Berkeley administration is essentially making the students a captive audience.

Finally—and this point calls the initial decision to invite Maher into question at least as much as it does the university’s veto—this is not only about Islam. While Maher’s most recent comments are what sparked the commencement controversy, his views and comments about a host of other people and groups are repugnant and unworthy of being elevated by an institution of higher education. Here are 8 offensive statements Maher has made about Arabs, Muslims, African Americans, and women:

  1. Maher likened the sexual assault of reporter Lara Logan to dating and suggested that she ought to have expected it from Arabs: “Talk to women who’ve ever dated an Arab man. The results are not good. They have a sense of entitlement.” 
  1. Maher again waxed misogynistic in 2014 when he Tweeted: “Dealing with Hamas is like dealing with a crazy woman who’s trying to kill u – u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.”
  1. But it’s not just slapping. When NFL star Shawn Merriman was accused of choking model and television personality Tila Tequila, Maher had this to say: “New rule: stop acting surprised someone choked Tila Tequila! The surprise is that someone hasn’t choked this bitch sooner.”
  1. And it’s not just physical abuse against women that Maher is mouthy about. He offers an array of sordid words and phrases to describe them, like bitch, cunt, and “dumb twat.”
  1. In an interview with Larry King, Maher said: “I’m for racial profiling… I talk about it.” When King asked if Maher would stop a black man driving a Porsche in Beverly Hills, Maher backtracked: “Not a black — no, no, no, no — not a black man. I’m talking with a terrorist situation.” He then proceeded to talk about profiling Arabs and Muslims.
  1. He’s said that Arabs only understand force.
  1. Apparently, “real” black men only understand force, too, according to a comment he made about President Obama and the BP oil spill: “I thought when we elected a black president, we were going to get a black president. You know, this [BP oil spill] is where I want a real black president. I want him in a meeting with the BP CEOs, you know, where he lifts up his shirt so you can see the gun in his pants. That’s — ‘We’ve got a motherfu**ing problem here?’ Shoot somebody in the foot.”
  1. Maher has expressed alarm that Muhammad is the most popular baby name in the United Kingdom because he doesn’t want “the Western world to be taken over by Islam.”

UC Berkeley’s insistence that Maher will be its mid-year commencement keynote speaker is worrisome given comments like these. He’s free to believe and say whatever he wants, but it violates nobody’s rights to ensure that the voices of those who harbor such obvious prejudice are not elevated and amplified.

21 Comments

  • jfigdor@gmail.com' jfigdor says:

    Because if someone says something you don’t like, they have to shut up?

  • tucci@hotmail.com' bigjoe says:

    It’s not that he’s saying something someone doesn’t like, Maher is saying blatantly misogynistic, racist, and all-around offensive things that should not be tolerated by anyone, especially an institutions like UC Berkley

  • zinealine@gmail.com' cranefly says:

    Has to shut up? No. Is an appropriate choice for a university commencement? No.

  • jfigdor@gmail.com' jfigdor says:

    There are more offensive things in the first 30 pages of the Bible, Torah, and Book of Mormon, and yet we not only welcome these books in Universities, but we teach classes about them. This is because REAL liberals stand up for the importance of discussing controversial and unpopular views. You have a right to free speech. You don’t have a right to not be offended.

    By the way, Berkeley is a public school, so constitutional principles like “freedom of speech” trump “I’m offended.”

  • jfigdor@gmail.com' jfigdor says:

    I might agree with you that he doesn’t seem like the best choice as a commencement speaker, but I’m guessing students voted to choose him. I seem to recall that being the case at Vassar and Harvard.

  • jfigdor@gmail.com' jfigdor says:

    Universities entertain controversial ideas. I’m not a huge fan of the fact that an anti-gay organization ran a conference at Harvard a few years ago (protested by counterspeech, not trying to shut them down, by my friend James Croft), but that’s part of being on a campus with an open conversation. Voltaire got it right: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

  • zinealine@gmail.com' cranefly says:

    I think those are absolutely vile statements. I don’t remember voting for my commencement speaker, but even if they are elected, I would be offended as a female student (or black or middle eastern student) that any person who said such things was approved for the ballot. Berkeley wouldn’t get a dime from me as an alumni for the rest of my life.

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    Agreed. It used to be students at Berkeley challenged the administration to host speakers with controversial opinions, but now the flow has reversed. I also wonder how many of these comments are made as a component of his “comedy” routine. Similar comedians like George Carlin and a host of others would never be able to give commencement speeches.

  • jimbentn@verizon.net' Jim 'Prup' Benton says:

    Hello, anyone home in there? “Freedom of speech” is not an issue. It rarely is in this sort of ruckus. though the offended one frequently — and stupidly — claims it is. Freedom of speech has to do with equal access to public forums, or to preventing the government from punishing a private individual or group because they aided someone to express their ‘controversial or dangerous’ opinions.
    But no one has a right of access to a private forum — even one conducted by a public or state institution. In fact, Maher has precisely the same ‘right’ to give that commencement speech that I do, or that you do — none.
    (Interestingly, he may have a right to be ‘made whole’ if he can show that he made certain expenditures based on the original invitation — or that he cancelled other (paying) appearances to take this one. But that’s contract law, not Constitutional.)
    I have made no comments about the opinions Maher has expressed because, for this purpose they — or my opinion of them — are irrelevant. (Of course I find them abhorrent, but my opinion would only be relevant if I were on the committee making the selection — or I or a putative child of mine were to be in the audience.)

  • sma9231961@aol.com' the Old Adam says:

    Universities are the most close minded institutions around. If your ideas don’t line up with the accepted norm in their insulated world, then you are persona non grata.

  • williameburns@verizon.net' William Burns says:

    It’s a speech for the students. If they don’t like the speaker, they have the right to protest. It’s not like Maher has anything particularly interesting to say anyway–he’s there as a celebrity.

  • elizavieta@embarqmail.com' eliza says:

    Why is a comedian chosen to speak at a University Commencement? Of course he says silly crazy things.

  • Cherry picking a few offensive comments from a polarizing figure like Maher is hardly enlightening. After all, as a comedian, Maher’s job is to offend.
    I am glad Berkeley is not allowing misguided liberals and Muslim apologists to dictate policy. Attempts to censor and to silence Maher and other critics of Islam helps no one. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The attempt by some to shame and silence the critics of Islam is despicable.
    While people deserve respect, ideas in general, and religious superstitions in particular, do not.

  • elvenforest10@gmail.com' Serai 1 says:

    Funny, I thought a comedian’s job was to make people laugh. I guess maybe comedy works differently where you come from.

  • Ideas don’t hurt people. Suppression of free speech is never a good thing. The University made the right choice.

  • gormanbud@earthlink.net' BeeSmart says:

    Guess Mr. Lean has a short and selective memory. Maher’s pathological and disgusting rants about Sarah Palin and her daughter seemed to have slipped through the cracks in Lean’s memory. Probably because he agreed and laughed at Maher’s misogyny. When aimed at SOME women it is acceptable to hypocrites like Mr. Lean.

    Even gay bashing is okay as long as the individual is seen as outside the approved political circle. Political POV seems to negate any and all decent treatment of others no matter their gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. So when this behavior is returned in kind you can thank people like Mr. Lean and Mr. Maher since they seem to be two sides of the same coin.

    Liberals, college students and the whole world can bar Maher all they want but don’t make believe you are “outraged” by his statements. The man is a hater, bully and misogynist of the first order. Keep laughing at his attacks directed against people you don’t like and someday you will become the object of his vitriol or others inspired by his example.

  • gormanbud@earthlink.net' BeeSmart says:

    Does this committee really represent the student body or like many “committees” they are activists who join these groups and passive students ignore them until they claim to speak for the entire student body. Suddenly it is “who the heck are these people?” Or maybe they are representative of the student body. If so the administration should butt out. Who invited him in the first place? Students, faculty or the administration. Forcing students to listen to some crack pot seems silly.

  • gormanbud@earthlink.net' BeeSmart says:

    Some people find misogyny, homophobia, racial stereotyping and religion bashing funny. It makes them laugh all day long. Sometimes making people laugh can make many others cry. Hate speech and Jewish jokes were a staple of the Nazis. Their comedian’s did their job.

  • gormanbud@earthlink.net' BeeSmart says:

    Why, most of today’s University educations are a joke. The students are bathed in ideology, skewered history and just plain useless propaganda. The professors seem clueless and agenda driven. So a comedian is the perfect person to address them after four years of “education.”

  • elvenforest10@gmail.com' Serai 1 says:

    Yes, and? They’re comedians – that’s their job. If you object, then do something about the ugly standards of the culture. Punch up, not down.

  • aktherisingsun@gmail.com' arun ccek says:

    The same students are going to say soon that something in their syllabus, for instance, that criticizes some religion, they don’t want to study. What about a voting then, and letting the students decide what should they be studying. If students are to make every decision via voting, then why is the University needed?let them make a study group, go some where they want and learn what they want to.

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