Ben Affleck was there to promote his stubble… I mean, his latest movie… and to his credit, Ben is usually much more well informed and articulate than most of the Hollywood fameballs Bill Maher uses to round out his panel.
I like Ben, although I happen to disagree with his sanctimonious reaction to Bill’s overly simplistic characterization of Islam. Both of them should have shut the fuck up and let Sam Harris finish a goddamn sentence, because Sam was the only one bringing anything of substance to the table. Sam Harris made the most salient point of the show when he said the following:
“Liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy. They’ll criticize white theocracy. They’ll criticize Christians. They’ll still get agitated over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984, but when you want to talk about the treatment of women and homosexuals and free thinkers and public intellectuals in the Muslim world, I would argue that liberals have failed us, and the crucial point of confusion is that we have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where criticism of the religion gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people. It’s intellectually ridiculous.”
The problem with Ben’s hostile response, however good his intentions, is that he immediately proved Sam’s entire point. By insinuating that Bill Maher and Sam Harris were racist bigots, Ben elegantly demonstrated exactly the kind of liberal failure Sam was describing.
Sam Harris was right. He is right. “We have to be able to criticize bad ideas,” he later said, and “Islam at this moment is the motherlode of bad ideas.”
Again, he’s right, and a solid line has to be drawn between rational criticism of contemporary Islamic theocracy and the kind of ignorant bigotry against Muslim people we too often see coming from the xenophobic Fox News contingent. It’s a huge distinction that Ben Affleck and all the people applauding him continually refuse to acknowledge.