Bill Maher hosted Brian Levin, professor at CSU-San Bernardino, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. The exchange is most illuminating, primarily for what it shows about the kind of “therapeutic” scholarship that dominates the academy. HT: Jeff Poor at Daily Caller). Comments interspersed in the transcipt below.
BM: I’m always interested to know how people like the people we caught today up in Boston can have two minds going at the same time. I mean if you read what the older brother wrote on the internet, he said his world view “Islam” personal priorities, “Career and Money.” And we see this a lot. I mean the 9-111 hijackers went to strip clubs the night they got on the plane.”
BL: Could I just interject. Look, it’s not like people who are Muslim who do wacky things have a monopoly on it. We have hypocrites across faiths… Jewish, Christian who say they’re out for God and they end up…
Levin immediately takes Maher to refer to the hypocrisy of it all, when (particularly as a scholar) he might have addressed the issue of cognitive dissonance, and the kind of “doubling” that Robert Jay Lifton analyzes in Nazi Doctors. But instead he immediately reaches for the “we too…” meme of moral equivalence.
BM: You know what, yeah, yeah, You know what — that’s liberal bullshit right there … I mean yes there … all faiths…
BL: There are no Christian hypocrites? You made a career on that!
Levin is very confident here, thinking that with Maher, producer of Religulous, he has a like-minded interlocutor.
BM: They’re not as dangerous. I mean there’s only one faith, for example, that kills you or wants to kill you if you draw a bad cartoon of the prophet. There’s only one faith that kills you or wants to kill you if you renounce the faith. [Being] an ex-Muslim is a very dangerous thing. Talk to Salman Rushdie after the show about Christian versus Islam. So you know, I’m just saying let’s keep it real.
BL: Well I guess I have a guru for you, Pam Geller, you could maybe um meet. No I really disagree with you.
Maybe Levin was just trying to be funny, since this is not an academic exchange, but the response is telling.
BM: I don’t know what that means.
BL: Well she’s an Islamophobe.
There we go. Here’s the use of Islamophobe as a way to shut down discussion. You say something critical of Islam, no matter how true, and it’s dismissed as an irrational fear (that is the meaning of phobia) of Islam. What’s the term for an irrational lack of fear?
BM: I’m not an Islamophobe. I’m a truth lover. All religions are not alike. As many people have pointed out — ‘The Book of Mormon,’ did you see the show? …
BL: No, it’s hard to get tickets.
BM: OK, can you imagine if they did ‘The Book of Islam?’ Could they do that? There’s only one religion that threatens violence and carries it out for things like that. Could they do “The Book of Islam” on Broadway?”
You could get tickets really easily. No one would dare attend for fear of getting blown up.
BL: Possibly so.
This is possibly the stupidest thing Levin says in a long string of stupidities. No way on earth you could do that these days. Indeed, a small Alpine village in France needed riot police in order to perform a Voltaire play that, among the many religulous figures it mocked, included Muhammad.
BM: Possibly so… Tell me, what color is the sky is in your world.
Possibly the best line of this exchange.
BL: Here’s my difficulty with your premiss here, Bill, and that is, um, look at how religions over history have had things done in their name that have been terrible.
More moral equivalence. If we just squint our eyes and look at several millennia of history, everyone’s the same.
BM: Absolutely, but we’re not in history we’re in 2013. You’re right if this were the Middle Ages, I’d say that Christianity was the bigger problem.
In my read, the reason that Christianity developed an inquisition in the 13th century is because there was so much dissent. Islam also tried to shut down dissent in the 13th century, and they were so successful that a) they didn’t need an inquisition, and b) they began their cultural decline.
BL: If I may though. You are making an error in that Islam has over 1.4 billion adherents. There’s a heterogeneity to it.
This is the classic meme: Islam is a variegated religion, so don’t generalize. Of course this ignores what all those variegated Muslims (overwhelmingly) hold in common. It’s a major theme of liberal cognitive egocentrism (or what Maher more bluntly calls “liberal bullshit,” namely, “look, we’re full of different folks and opinions, so they must be too. No? QED.”
BL: Are there extremists who are horrible people who would slit your throats? Yes. But there are also folks who are fine upstanding people and I’m very worried that you have a national audience and are promoting Islamic hatred.
Here’s the money quote. Levin’s positions, many of which are not just counter-factual but silly (possibly a “Book of Islam” in Broadway), are therapeutic in intent. We don’t want people to hate Islam, so we don’t say things about Islam that might alienate people from Muslims. Classic auto-stupefaction.
Note the ironic Freudian slip. He means to say promoting “hatred of Islam,” but says, more accurately, “promoting Islamic hatred.” Indeed, from the perspective of cognitive warfare, nothing more serves the cause of Islamic hatred than it’s being given a free ride by well meaning, useful infidels. As my colleague David Cook discovered when he submitted his book Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic, filled as it was with the horrendous hate-mongering so fundamental to the phenomenon to an American publisher for publication, readers denounced his manuscript as “hate speech.” We can’t even talk about these matters without being accused of the very thing we try and denounce.
BM: No. You’re wrong about that and you’re wrong about your facts. Now, obviously, most Muslim people are not terrorists. But ask most Muslim people in the world, if you insult the prophet, do you have what’s coming to you? It’s more than just a fringe element.
This is right on the money. The problem with the wonderfully variegated religion of Islam is that way too many Muslims, no matter how different their practices, agree on certain issues that make Islam as it is “lived” todayall over the world including the West, inimicable to democracy. As Elder of Ziyon notes:
A Gallup survey done a few years back, that was heavily spun to make it look like the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, in fact showed that 36.6% of Muslims worldwide thought that the 9/11 terror attacks were partially or wholly justified.
Which comes out to nearly half a billion Muslims who have no problem with terrorism against innocents.
Obviously, only a small percentage of those would actually perform terror acts. But that is a huge pool of potential jihadists. In fact, there are more Muslims who find justification for terror then there are people in South America.
That is a lot of people who want to cause harm to the West.
So much for the “tiny minority” of terrorists and “vast majority” of upstanding Muslims just like you and me. Indeed, if there were so many decent Muslims, we could expect to see a wide range of programs and websites that do more than denounce terrorism (in English) rather than offer committed Muslims a decent alternative to the seething hatred of current Salafi/Wahabbi/Jihadi Islam. But, alas, we (still) don’t.
So what do we do? How do we wrap our minds around this terrible situation in which pre-modern attitudes that it took the West over a millennium to overcome, have been given a new life in our global world? One thing we don’t do, is live on rekaB Street. Another thing, don’t assume that Westerners will automatically go down the slippery slope from (sharp and deserved) criticism of Islam to blind hatred. Personally, I have more confidence that Western liberals won’t slide down that slope, than I have confidence that pious Muslims won’t slide down the slopes of hatred and violence that are laid out for them by their most prestigious and influential “leaders.” But, hey, I’m prejudiced in favor of (genuine) liberal values.