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:
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.
- He’s said that Arabs only understand force.
- 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.”
- 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.