“There is no worse enemy of God and Man than zeal armed with power and guided by a feeble intellect.” ~ William James
Over the last several weeks, social critic/comedian Bill Maher has found himself in conflict with various groups of people for espousing some unpopular views regarding Islam. He recently stated on his television show Real Time with Bill Maher, for example, that “Islam is the only religion that acts like the Mafia and will f**king kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book.”
He is, of course, referring to various acts of murder and violent reprisal by Muslims against Western writers, artists and authors, including fellow Muslims, for perceived offenses and crimes against their religion or their prophet.
Recently, Maher managed to brook the ire of the U.C. Berkeley student body, who find his opinions so unforgivably offensive that they protested his invitation from the university regents to deliver a commencement address in December, demanding that the invitation be withdrawn.
Maher’s first offensive political view seems to be an assertion that there is something inherent in the Islamic religion that gives rise to institutional, organized violence by some of its adherents towards others including both non-Muslims and other Muslims. His second offensive political view seems to be an assertion that Islam is antagonistic towards, and/or its teachings antithetical to, the personal freedoms we take for granted in the West, which puts Islam in direct conflict with Western values.
In that light, Maher has been lately admonishing liberals to publicly uphold ‘liberal’ values. “Liberals,” Maher said, “need to stand up for liberal principles. Freedom of speech. Freedom to practice any religion you want without fear of violence. Freedom to leave a religion. Equality for women. Equality for minorities including homosexuals …”.
Maher may be right about his assertions … or he may be wrong. That is for you to decide. But the more important, underlying, question of the moment is not whether he is right or wrong, but whether he has a right to voice his opinions in the arena of public discourse regardless of how unpopular they may be in some quarters. He is not wrong in simply asking the question whether there is something inherent in Islam that leads to institutional, organized violence by some of its adherents. Nor is he wrong in suggesting that that inherent something — if it exists — would put Islam in direct cultural conflict with Western values.
Whether Maher is right or wrong, he has posed assertions worthy of examination. That others see in them evidence of bigotry, and in their zeal move to suppress both him and them, only lends weight to his arguments. First, if there is nothing in the practices and teachings of Islam that can give credence to his assertions, why is the reaction by Muslims and others to damn him for bigotry quite so immediate and strident? Why not simply answer those assertions with calm, deliberative argument? Secondly, doesn’t the zeal for suppression by Muslims itself evidence a conflict with Western values?
Unsettling, even disturbing, questions often challenge us to rational examination through open-ended inquiry, which leads to a newer, better understanding of the world around us and our place within it. Accordingly, in Western culture, we have learned over time to allow all to speak their opinions freely and to uphold the rational over the dogmatic in sorting out truths from falsehood. We see evidence every day that some sects or groups within Islam have not yet learned how to do this, and tend to uphold the dogmatic over the rational even to the point of violence and murder. However, in my view, that failing on the part of some does not make it inherent to the whole of Islam. Furthermore, we see the same failing within groups in Western culture: Flat-earthers, Creationists, White Supremacists, and the Berkeley student body. Does their predilection for the dogmatic over the rational prove a broadly inherent failing of Western culture? It does not.
What is dead-certain in any society’s bifurcated search for truth, as conducted by those whose predilections run to the rational versus those who uphold the dogmatic, is that the dogmatists will always first attempt to suppress the rationalists. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s Neo-Nazi’s, Christian Fundamentalists, 15th-century Spanish Jesuits, modern-day Sunni Salafists, or a student body living in a distorted world seen through the coke-bottle lenses of political correctness — the reaction by the dogmatists to suppress is as predictable as the sunrise. The reason is quite simple: the revealed truths of rational, open-ended inquiry always poses an existential threat to the convenient, comfortable, received truths of dogma.
More Below the Fold