Anatomy of a 2014 villain: Bill Maher

Why BIll Maher's horrible campaign against Islam was one of the lowlights of 2014

Published December 29, 2014 1:30PM (EST)

Bill Maher                       (HBO/Janet Van Ham)
Bill Maher (HBO/Janet Van Ham)

Background: Bill Maher has forged his reputation on an outspoken brand of progressive views that blurs the lines between comedy and outright prejudice. He speaks often about freedom of speech, to the point where he even defended Donald Sterling's right to privacy after his racist remarks were publicized.

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But that's why he's featured here.

The controversy: This October, Maher had Ben Affleck on his show to discuss the release of "Gone Girl." Instead, Maher's panel, which also featured Sam Harris, Nicholas Kristof and Michael Steele, devolved into a yelling match. Referencing the emergence of ISIS, Maher claimed that Islam is "the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book." Affleck denounced his comments as "gross and racist."

The response: Muslim journalist Rula Jebreal later spoke out on the show. "When you talk about Islam in a certain way, I have to tell you, it's offensive sometimes," she said. "And some people feel threatened." She said that it seems Maher thinks all Muslims are "jihadists."

Religion scholar and writer Reza Aslan appeared on CNN to respond to Maher's remarks, which he said were, "frankly, stupid." Aslan continued: "Islam doesn't promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you're a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism, is going to be violent."

Maher was scheduled to speak at University of California at Berkeley's winter commencement ceremony. In response to his remarks, students started a petition that gained nearly 6,000 signatures. Maher responded to the students on "Real Time," saying, "My reputation isn't on the line. Yours is." He condemned the move as one stifling free speech.

He eventually gave the speech, which was pretty good, if unremarkable.

Where is he now? Same place. He is doing just fine.

It might be too much to wish that he'd learn from his mistakes. But maybe this time around he'll pick the right New Year's resolution: "Be less of a bigot."

By Joanna Rothkopf

MORE FROM Joanna Rothkopf

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Anatomy Of A 2014 Villain Bill Maher Islam Year In Review