Real Time host Bill Maher compared himself to First Lady Michelle Obama on Friday, following her recent visit to Saudi Arabia with President Barack Obama.
“I thought that she was kind of making the statement that I’ve been trying to get across here for a long time, which is stop respecting their medieval bullsh*t under the guise of, ‘It’s their culture,'” said Maher, a strident critic of Islam. “Cultural relativism is nonsense. It’s the 21st Century. You won’t shake hands with a woman? You’re the ones who should be embarrassed.”
As the Associated Press reported, no Saudi official shook the first lady’s hand while they visited Riyadh to attend the funeral for King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.
Maher and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) also observed that even conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) praised her for not wearing a headscarf as mandated by Saudi law. However, as the New York Times reported, foreign dignitaries are exempt from that requirement.
At the same time, Maher said it was weird that the president would attend the funeral.
“That’s what we have [Vice President Joe] Biden for,” he said.
But BBC host Katty Kay argued that it was stranger for President Obama not to address women’s rights issues there as he did during his visit to India beforehand.
“I do think, to some extent, there is a cultural sensitivity over not shaking a woman’s hand, you don’t push that particular envelope, because it’s not gonna get you very far,” Kay said.
However, journalist Melissa Mehta argued that women’s rights discussions are a “non-starter” in the country, one that the president was better served in letting go considering the Middle East’s current situation.
“I just think that it is foolish to go into Saudi Arabia and start taking this very idealistic stance, because we don’t need another enemy over there,” Mehta said. “We have created such a mess over there that there is no way that we can just walk away. How can we walk away? Look at what’s happening — with ISIS, with Syria. What can we do about this?”
Watch the discussion, as posted online on Friday, below.