Open Letter to Bill Maher

Hey Bill,

I wanted to raise an issue about your discourse on the subject of Muslims. You said something on your last show, in response to one of your guests saying, ‘what does it say about a group of people who riot over a stupid film?’, you said, ‘Exactly. Why do we always have to be responsible because they’re fucking nuts?’

I’ve noticed this in the media at home (Sydney) and abroad, and in some friends too; there’s this complaint, this entitled, white middle-class whining that essentially boils down to ‘why can’t they be more like us? We laugh at religion!’ Which ignores the importance of Christianity in politics, in the Right, in informing the likes of Fox News; ignores the actions of groups like the KKK not 50 years ago, or the likes of Andrew Breivik who counted himself a Christian warrior and murdered 70-odd kids, yet somehow wasn’t branded by the media as a terrorist, just a lone white guy.

Yeah, all religions have their crazies but that’s not even the point that I want to make. It’s the ‘why can’t they be more like us’ line that underscores the conversation which irritates me – it’s a fine aspiration and I wish they were, in some respects but it irritates me because it ignores the plethora of reasons that they AREN’T like the West. Near constant warfare, bloodshed, violence and poverty are not conducive to education, to the expansion and diversification of culture or art.

Even in “peace” times, the Middle East is a bloody place rocked by bombs and violence, or if your country is lucky enough to escape that, you’re more than likely to be living under the thumb of an internationally-supported dictator, or to otherwise be experiencing a horrific divide between the extreme poor and the oil-rich, with no real in between. It’s hardly a situation from which a populace can become educated, informed, reasonable citizens.

It’s an often toxic environment manipulated by all for their own benefit. Maybe they could be more like us if there hadn’t been 100 years of failed interventionist policies that have blown up time and time again into escalating conflict. Maybe if they’d had a similar period of peace and economic growth to experience universal healthcare (at least in reasonable countries like Australia, Canada and Britain) and public education, there wouldn’t be such a large group of poor, angry, frightened people who cling to outdated faiths.

It never fails to astonish me when the West reacts with surprise to the actions of that specific subset of the Muslim population, it’s like, you just slapped a big angry hungry guy with a gun who has a lot of friends – how else did you think they’d react? Let me be clear in saying I in no way condone violence or even religion for that matter, but I do think there are clear and obvious reasons separating the differences in the way Western populations react to matters of religion, and Middle Eastern populations react.¬†It’s not okay to just say they’re all fucking crazy. Or to imply it’s a matter of their religion. It’s more a matter of sustained low socio-economic status and constant violence that breeds anti-Western sentiment and rhetoric, than it is a matter of religion. Islam doesn’t call for people to behead or injure those that insult the Prophet or any such nonsense.

I was sitting in a theatre the other day watching comedian Bill Bailey, and my friend turned to me and said, ‘See, he’s making jokes about religion and we’re all laughing’, and it’s like, how can you not see how privileged we were to grow up in a peaceful democracy with uninterrupted social and economic growth spurring us through public education and university? Do you really think they’re all just like us, that they’re middle-class Muslims who simply don’t have a sense of humour? How can you not see that education is the mightiest weapon civilisation has and that we, being of the middle class, have benefited the most from it?

The irony of that moment, sitting in the State Theatre enjoying art, will never be forgotten.

I just dislike the blithe dismissal of all the very real problems that afflict – and have afflicted for a very long time – the countries in which we saw those riotous reactions. I dislike the angry tone and absurd generalisations. I think if I’d lived through the Middle East in the past decade – hell, the past three, but especially the last decade in which two bullshit wars were perpetrated against sovereign nations, leaving 3.2 million orphans in Iraq alone – I’d latch on to any excuse to go raving through the streets chanting death to America too. I’m sure most people, born and raised in those circumstances, would too. Plenty of people, the vast majority around the world however, didn’t.

It’s not right and it’s not okay but the lack of perspective of those involved is understandable to a degree, and there are reasons beyond simply “they’re Muslim”. It’s disingenuous to even imply otherwise, as you frequently do. Should you be responsible for their actions, for their state of affairs? Personally, I’d say given the role America, and the West at large, has played in the Middle East, everyone bears some measure of responsibility but on a general basis, no, of course not. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to lock your doors and windows at night either, you wouldn’t have to be afraid that something you might say would result in your being injured or threatened. Hell, in an ideal world, our desire to do good wouldn’t need to be guided so rigidly by fear of consequence, period, but instead out of genuine kindness and respect.

Sadly, we do have to watch what we say, not just to angry militant Muslims abroad (riots), but to the local thug on the street corner (assault), or to the boss we want to tell to go fuck him or herself (fired), to the girls and guys we want to fuck (no sex), to the friends we want to tell to shut up and grow up (loneliness), and so on and so forth. Yeah, we have freedom of speech but how often do we really exercise it? We censor ourselves every day for fear of the consequence and every idiot out there who has suddenly risen up with a hard-on for free speech – if you even characterise what was clearly designed to incite violence and hatred as such – needs to stop pretending they’re outraged that Muslims don’t want to hear whatever¬†insults are thrown their way disparaging their beliefs, that Muslims somehow see themselves as exempt from free speech.

It’s a little bit more complicated than that, and that’s without even addressing the politics at play in those countries trying to manufacture outrage, and those types of scenarios as a means of shoring up support and appearing powerful.

P.S You still make me laugh, and you’re an intelligent guy, so I’ll keep watching the show. I had to get that off my chest though.

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