But he’s not on my side: I’m a Muslim, and Bill Maher thinks that makes me violent. Bill Maher hates all religion, but he hates Islam especially. He is not an equal-opportunity atheist. He believes Islam preaches violence, that religious extremism is Islam’s default instead of its corruption, that the issues in the Middle East stem from its religion rather than the ugly colonial residue that colors the region. He eagerly conflates Islam with extremism, the religion with militant jihadism. And when people try to tell him otherwise—as Bobby Ghosh did, as Reza Aslan did, as even Ben “I’ll be naked in this movie, but I won’t wear a Yankees hat” Affleck did—he falls back on his old standby, talking over them and sometimes cracking a joke.
And so I take his betrayal particularly personally because, insulting and offensive and generally dickish as Maher can be, I’ve always assumed that he isn’t actively racist because he’s a liberal. I don’t feel betrayed when Bill O’Reilly talks about Muslims being inherently violent or crazy. I don’t care about Bill O’Reilly’s opinions—I already know it’s in his best interest to say anything that will get him ratings. But the audience of Fox News is notoriously conservative, and conservatives are notoriously racist.
But Maher is on HBO, the network ofThe Wire and Sex and the City. HBO doesn’t cater to conservatives—it caters to the part of the 18-to-34 demographic that’s into prestige television and boxing. Maher’s show especially, which usually consists of him and some liberal buddies of his talking over people from the intellectual side of American conservatism, seems to appeal largely to young liberals. It isn’t in Maher’s best interest to appeal to racists because his audience isn’t supposed to be racist—it’s the youth of America, the beautiful, post-baby boomer future. We’re sex-positive, we want to legalize weed, and we have a lot of gay friends. We’re supposed to be better.