CRF Blog

The Media’s Ongoing Debate About Islam and Islamophobia

by Damon Huss

Questions about American attitudes toward Islam and Muslims came to the fore and went viral last week. On the HBO talk show Real Time With Bill Maher, actor and director Ben Affleck (Argo 2012) verbally confronted host Bill Maher and fellow guest Sam Harris. When Maher and Harris began a discussion between themselves about how they support “liberal values,” including the right to same-sex marriage and women’s rights, and that they believe these rights are suppressed in Muslim societies, Affleck interrupted to say their views, among other things, are “gross and racist.”

The heated exchange that ensued between Affleck, Harris, and Maher, as well as other guests Michael Steele and Nicholas Kristof, has been well-chronicled in several media outlets. Here is a link to that portion of the program on the Real Time With Bill Maher website. (NOTE: The Real Time program is meant for adults and contains some strong language and slang that some might find offensive).

Below are just a few of the responses and reactions available online:

Real Time host and comedian Bill Maher gave an interview to Salon (October 6), in which he defends himself against the claim that his position is racist. “I’m the liberal in this debate,” he says.

Author and neuroscientist Sam Harris wrote his own response to Ben Affleck and others, Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself? (October 7), on his blog. Harris has written strong arguments against all religion in his books The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. He is widely considered part of the “new atheist movement.”

Journalist Nicholas Kristof has his reflection on the show, The Diversity of Islam (October 8) in the New York Times, in which he says he “sided with Affleck.”

Scholar and author Reza Aslan wrote Bill Maher Isn’t the Only One Who Misunderstands Religion as an op-ed for the New York Times (October 9). Aslan encountered his own controversy in the news last year when he was confronted by a Fox News religious-issues host about his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.