In an interview with Vanity Fair, HBO’s Real Time host Bill Maher restated some of his criticisms of Islam while responding to a critic who said his rhetoric was similar to what was said about Jews in the 30’s and 40’s, calling the assertion, “beyond stupid.”
Speaking with Sally Kohn, Maher discussed the controversy over his upcoming speech, scheduled to be delivered at University of California Berkeley on Dec. 20, which has raised the ire of students who created a petition to disinvite him.
The comedian has been under fire for comments he made during a contentious episode of Real Time in early October when Maher told a panel, including actor Ben Affleck, Islam is “the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will f*cking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book.”
Calling the petition a “bullshit thing,” Maher addressed the students at the university — currently celebrating the anniversary of Free Speech Movement protests on campus 50 years ago — saying liberalism shouldn’t “squelch free speech.”
“You know, I’m a liberal. My message is: be a liberal. Find out what liberalism means and join up. Liberalism certainly should not mean squelching free speech, ” he said. “And by the way, that petition, it was online, so anybody could sign it. You didn’t have to go to Berkeley to sign it, you could sign it more than one time. . . . So it was kind of a bullshit thing to begin with.”
Defending his comments, attacking Islam for its treatment of women and gays and calling for the religion to “join the 21st century,” Maher responded to religious scholar Karen Armstrong who compared his words to the rhetoric once used against Jews.
In an interview with Salon, Armstrong described Maher’s comments as “the sort of talk that led to the concentrations camps in Europe.”
Asked by Kohn, “That’s gotta sting, especially coming from her,” Maher dismissed the suggestion.
“It doesn’t sting because it’s beyond stupid. Jews weren’t oppressing anybody. There weren’t 5,000 militant Jewish groups,” Maher explained. “They didn’t do a study of treatment of women around the world and find that the Jews were at the bottom of it. There weren’t 10 Jewish countries in the world that were putting gay people to death just for being gay. It’s idiotic.”
Maher stated that his rhetoric hasn’t changed and that he has been attacking religion for years, while getting in a dig at Affleck.
“No. I’ve been saying the same thing for years and years and years. What changed was Ben Affleck. What changed is a very shallow country, and so when an A-list movie star gets involved in the debate, everyone cares. If it had been Kim Kardashian it would have been even bigger,” he said.
Defending free speech, Maher added, “And I would just say to all liberals: we should own the First Amendment the way the right-wingers own the Second.”