Bill Maher addressed the New York City terror attack this week and the religion of Islam on Friday's broadcast of HBO's Real Time. Maher said the people who said Trump's reaction to Islamic inspired terrorist acts like the New York City terrorist attack is not as harsh as his response to the Las Vegas shooting that left over 59 (including the shooter) dead and 500 injured aren't adding the pursuit of nuclear weapons into the calculation.
Maher discussed Islamists, terrorism and the beliefs behind them, reformation in Islam, the Diversity Visa Immigrant lottery, how the Democratic party and liberals should handle terrorist attacks, and much more with guest Graeme Wood and panelists Ron Reiner, Jeffrey Lord and Christina Bellantoni. (Transcript of the discussion below.)
"How about a Democratic politician standing up and saying, 'We find not only the terrorist acts intolerable but the beliefs behind them?' This idea that we're infidels; we're not infidels," Maher asked.
"Some of these beliefs are not liberal," he said about Islam. "That's the irony, that liberals are defending illiberal tactics."
Maher also asked why we don't treat the gender and gay apartheid in Saudi Arabia the same way we treated race apartheid in South Africa. He said it was the cause celebre for liberals in the 80s.
"Why don't we treat, for example, the gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia the same way we treated race apartheid in South Africa in the 80s? Every liberal had that as a cause. Or the way gay people are treated. It's the death penalty in 10 countries," the HBO host noted.
Graeme Wood, the author of The Way of the Strangers: Encounters With the Islamic State, said the difference between other religions is ISIS and other Islamic groups are trying to awaken extremism in Muslim adherents. His guest said the best analogy of radical Islam to Christianity is the Westboro Baptist Church.
Wood, responding to a question to Maher about reforming the religion, said ISIS might be the "reformation" in Islam. He said the modernization can go both ways and
"The difference is ISIS is claiming part of this tradition," he said. "So it does have a certain way of justifying itself that is different than other types of violence. Now, it doesn't mean that those other types of violence aren't concerning. In fact, they claim much larger numbers -- 59 people in Las Vegas."
"Also, that guy was not trying to acquire nuclear weapons," Maher said.
"Any individual Muslim can be activated in an ISIS mold because of the belief that they can speak to this kind of understanding that ISIS is reviving a tradition that they have some part of. Now that's something that I think certain other ideologies have the ability to do: to try to awaken the sense that we have the right version that you're already part of."
"What do you think is the effect, and I mention this to you because you've written realistically about this when they say you're Islamaphobic?" Maher said.
"Yeah, I have to look at some of these issues with Trumpian orange-tinted lenses," Wood joked. "I understand that this is not a great time to be a Muslim in the United States. Muslims are targets of bigotry. They're targets of actual Islamaphobia. But at the same time at some point you have to engage the bullshit detector. And if somebody says ISIS has nothing to do with Islam then I think they are really going to miss what is motivating people to kill in its name."
"And it cuts off debate, does it not?" Maher inquired.
"It absolutely does," Wood answered.
"My belief has always been that you're never going to solve the terrorism problem unless you modernize the religion. That until the religion itself has a reformation, enlightenment like Christianity did, this problem is going to persist. Would you agree with that?" Maher asked.
"I think it might even be an even more dispiriting situation than that," Wood said. "ISIS in some ways is the reformation within Islam. hey're doing, what 500 years ago, we had Martin Luther saying we don't have to listen to the established Church, we don't have to listen to the Pope. Islam is saying, 'You're neighborhood Imam? Forget him. He doesn't know what he's talking about. We're the ones. We can just read the Koran and we're going to have an interpretation that is extremely violent but it is the right one even though we're the minority.' So this modernization of Islam can go both ways. It can go an enlightened way or it can go toward one that is unfortunately very violent."
"And, again, one of the differences, I think, is there is more support in a general population. When we get this polling back it seems to show like 20% of worldwide Muslims are what they would call "Islamists." They're not terrorists. They're not taking it violently, but most of the things terrorists believe they believe," Maher said.
"Yeah, they would say they want Sharia to be represented in the government. But they might mean something so different from ISIS that they would hate ISIS. They might believe in some way the constitution in their countries should reflect Islam," Wood said.
"But death for leaving the religion," Maher said.
"There is disconcertingly high levels of support for that," Wood answered.
"Things like that which are not liberal principles," Maher said.
"No, they're not compatible with human rights that I would recognize," Wood told Maher.
Maher and the panel talked about the politics of Islam and the recent terror attack in New York City:
MAHER: I don't know what the Democratic position is. I saw their responses. It was all about how Trump handled it badly -- which is true -- but it didn't address the issue itself and I said this many times. I just think the Democrats are blowing it on this issue. Terrorism is a real concern to people...
LORD: In terms of politics, when you look at the Democratic party historically it's split. You have tough Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy. And then you had a softer version with McGovern, Carter, etc. And I think as long as the public perceives that the threat, what they see as a threat, then they are going to turn on them.
REINER: The question is how are you going to address that? What are the policies that will address that? ...
REINER: We don't know exactly what to do. I can tell you what not to do. What you don't do is send an armed force into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein and unleash a 1400-year-old sectarian war. That I know you don't do.
MAHER: That's the past. That's the past. That's not going to win any elections. Even Trump believes that. How about a Democratic politician standing up and saying, 'We find not only the terrorist acts intolerable but the beliefs behind them?' This idea that we're infidels; we're not infidels. And of course I'm not saying all Muslims.
JEFFREY LORD: It's the political correctness problem.
MAHER: It is partly that. Some of these beliefs are not liberal. That's the irony, that liberals are defending illiberal tactics.
WOOD: The problem that I find with that is what do we do once we find out what their beliefs are? We can't police beliefs. What we have to do is find out what people are doing. What is most important to me and what is most worrying is the 40,000 who went over there. These people, if they come back, they won't be just ramming a Home Depot truck into a bike path, they'll know how to kill people on an industrial scale.
So I think what we can do is actually look at the military side and probably have more productivity and more efficiency than if we look at thinking.
MAHER: Why don't we treat, for example, the gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia the same way we treated race apartheid in South Africa in the 80s? Every liberal had that as a cause. Or the way gay people are treated. It's the death penalty in 10 countries.
LORD: I can't understand for the life of me --
REINER: We don't have a president who believes in those kind of human rights. We don't have that. He's going to go to the Philippines and say, 'Good job, Duterte.'
LORD: I don't understand for the life of me why so many liberals are hesitant to say these people will push gays off roofs. I mean, you know, and we can not deal with this thinking.
MAHER: Not most of them push gays off roofs, but, yes certain do. A certain percentage, a small percentage.
And then there is an Islamist group that is hundreds of millions of people who wouldn't do it, but, yeah, gay people don't have a right to live.
MAHER: There was this Diversity Visa Immigrant program -- that's how [Uzbekistan native Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov] got in here -- also known as the green card lottery. I didn't know about it. And apparently, it's for people who are from 'geographic regions that are underrepresented.'
BELLANTONI: Australia being one of them by the way.
MAHER: Oh really? Don't talk to me about Australians, there's too many of them.
REINER: Taking our jobs! ...
BELLANTONI: It's an example of trying to set a policy based on an event that is politically convenient for one party or another where you didn't hear a lot of discussion about shifting the policy until after the Vegas shooting. We didn't have a big conversation about gun control because the party that cares most about gun control is not the party is in control of the government right now. And that's what this is about more than about precisely where they're from.
LORD: The lottery aspect drives me crazy. I mean, would Harvard say we're going to have a lottery and the first 5 people get in? I mean what is that?
MAHER: I understand being a welcoming nation that appreciates immigration. That's who we are. That's how we were built.
LORD: Right. All of us.
MAHER: But we don't have to like beg them to come here when they weren't even thinking about it. It's like we don't have enough Uzbeks in this salad.