A few weeks ago, when actor Ben Affleck’s precious little tirade on the evils of “Islamophobia” presented Bill Maher with the rare opportunity to play the villain on his own television show, I thought perhaps Maher might learn something from the experience. As I can attest from personal experience, it is rather lonely in the Token Conservative’s chair, the audience’s ruthless ideological conformity and the tendency of the bookers to flood the stage with disciples rather than apostates combining to engender a hostile environment for the heretics. At one level, it is an invigorating experience: The Alamo comes to mind. At others, it is futile, attempts to puncture the bubble being met by a wall of hastily strung-together buzzwords that are intended primarily to identify the speaker as a “racist” or an “ignoramus” or as a lackey for the rich and the well-connected. Unlettered as his contribution was, that Affleck had pushed Maher into the corner and given him a solid taste of his own shtick struck me as being an interesting development indeed. Perhaps, I mused, he might notice what shouting does to public reason?
I am, of course, unsure whether Maher has reflected upon the incident at all. But if he has not, perhaps he will be pushed into doing so now? “Sooner or later,” Freddie deBoer predicted, in an essay that I cannot recommend with enough vigor, the social-justice police are “going to come for people you do like.” And so, at last, they have. Per the Daily Californian, students at UC Berkeley who were informed this week that Maher was to be their commencement speaker have “sprung” into action and demanded vehemently that the invitation be rescinded. Thus far, a Change.org petition that was spearheaded “by Marium Navid, who is backed by the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition, or MEMSA, and Khwaja Ahmed, an active MEMSA member” has received over 1,400 signatures. Among its core complaints? That Maher believes Western civilization is “not just different,” it is “better”; that “the Muslim world has too much in common with ISIS”; and that “dealing with Hamas is like dealing with a crazy woman who’s trying to kill you — you can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.” “Too many students,” the petition claims, “are marginalized by his remarks and if the University were to bring this individual as a commencement speaker they would not be supporting these historically marginalized communities.”
Amusingly, the affair has only served to bolster Maher’s trenchant criticisms of both liberalism and Islam. Rarely, I suspect, has a news outlet written a sentence as grimly comical as this one:
“Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia that will f***ing kill you if you say the wrong thing,” Maher said during the episode, which is cited on the students’ petition as an example of Maher’s “hate speech.”
One wonders if we are honestly expected to believe that it is a coincidence that the backlash against Maher has started in the last month. In recent years, the man has described Sarah Palin as a “c***” and a “twat,” and he has casually taunted her son with Down Syndrome, Trig, for cheap laughs, terming him a “retard.” Elsewhere, Maher has expressed fervent hope that Vice President Dick Cheney would die, has cast anybody of a conservative disposition as a redneck intent on destroying civilization, and has proposed that, all in all, the United States is “a stupid country with stupid people.” His attacks on Christians are legendary, his irritation with the church of his upbringing having prompted him to make a polemical movie in which he castigated people of faith. Catholics, Maher has joked on television, are “schizophrenic” morons, who believe that they are “drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god.” Must I go on?
As valiantly as the Berkeley dissidents attempt to appear ecumenical — “Maher,” Marium Navid proposes slipperily, “insults people of all religions and backgrounds,” and to the extent that he has urged people to “rise up against religious people and religious institutions and take action” — the implications are glaringly obvious. Nobody is the slightest bit concerned about the possibility of Maher’s “ruining the graduation day” of Mormon, Southern, Christian, or pro-life students — and nor, I daresay, would this pushback have moved beyond idle grumbling if it were Republicans who were likely to be offended. (The last major address at Berkeley was given by none other than Nancy Pelosi.) Rather, as Maher himself might note, this is about his condemnation of Islam, which religion is at present so reflexively privileged above almost everything else in the hierarchy of progressive pieties that one cannot imagine who among us would not be sacrificed if its adherents expressed discomfort. If Ayaan Hirsi Ali is unwelcome at Brandeis for having excoriated a religion whose followers have subjected her to genital mutilation and attempted to take her life, what chance has a comic on HBO?
Buried within the dissenting petition’s collection of apparently unutterable sentiments is Maher’s charge that “today, feminine values are now the values of America, sensitivity is more important than truth, feelings are more important than facts.” It would be difficult to imagine a more damning confirmation that this is indeed the case than that, for having exhibited the temerity to issue harsh judgments on a religion that one is not supposed to disparage, Maher was deemed too likely to hurt the feelings of college students to be permitted to speak in public.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.