Bill Maher on fiery spat with Ben Affleck over Islam: 'I'm the liberal in this debate'
Bill Maher on 'Real Time' on Sept. 28, 2014.

Real Time host Bill Maher responded to criticism about his heated exchange with Ben Affleck in an interview with Salon's Elia Isquith today.

During that exchange, an angry Affleck said Maher's criticism of Islam was "gross" and "racist," insisting that the majority of Muslims "aren’t fanatical...don’t punish women...just want to go to school, have some sandwiches, and don’t do any of the things you say all Muslims do."

"It’s the only religion that acts like the mafia,” Maher replied. "They will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book."

When Isquith broached the topic today, Maher initially deflected. "Let's leave that for a while," he said. "I've said enough about that."

But Isquith persisted, asking him how he felt about the exchange as it was happening. "I think Sam and I and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie and everyone who is basically making the same point," he answered. "I think we all feel frustrated because I think we feel like the people who are arguing with us are not listening."

"We’re liberals! We’re liberals. We’re not crazy tea-baggers, you know, and so it’s kind of hard to be making this case -- based on facts, based on polling, I think based on what everybody really knows… I mean, do the people arguing with us, would they really open a lesbian art gallery in Ramallah?"

Maher then defended his position on Islam, insisting that "we are not bigoted people."

"On the contrary," he added, "we’re trying to stand up for the principles of liberalism! And so, y’know, I think we’re just saying we need to identify illiberalism wherever we find it in the world, and not forgive it because it comes from people perceived as a minority."

He then reiterated that when it comes to reconciling Islam with contemporary liberalism, "I'm the liberal in this debate."

"So I think it’s just how you frame it. And there’s a knee-jerk reaction sometimes among liberals -- 'Oh, we need to be protective of a group that certainly does face prejudice and bigotry in America' (and I’m certainly against that) -- but we need to understand that it’s a wider issue."