MINNEAPOLIS — Bill Maher, the host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” is one of today’s best-known advocates for atheism and the separation of church and state. And while he’s also been a strong opponent of war, that sentiment doesn’t extend to all conflict.
Maher has opposed the wars in Iraq waged by Republican presidents including George W. Bush, and urged President Barack Obama to stay out of what Maher sees as an ongoing religious conflict in the region. Yet when it comes to Israel, time and again, Maher supports the country’s Zionist regime and its war crimes against the people of Palestine.
In 2008, Maher compared organized religion to the Iraq War in an interview with the A.V. Club, noting that while the U.S. military put an end to Saddam Hussein’s government,
“[T]he cost was 4,000 American lives, untold Iraqi lives, ethnic cleansing, four million refugees, a trillion dollars and counting of U.S. money that could’ve rebuilt every road, bridge, and school in America … I’d say with religion it’s the same thing. Yes, it has done some good, it gives people comfort, but most wars have been about religion. The oppression of minorities, the oppression of women, the Crusades, burning witches, honor killings, suicide bombings, fucking children… On a scale, you’d have to say it has not been worth it.”
When it comes to Islam, Maher’s record is well documented. In a ThinkProgress article republished by MintPress News in April, Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, accused Maher of “casual racism and anti-Muslim bigotry.”
“He legitimizes Islamophobia on the left,” Hooper said. “I don’t view bigotry or intolerance as liberal or progressive.”
Later in April on “Real Time,” Maher faced off with Fareed Zakaria, an Indian-born Muslim-American journalist. Zakaria attacked Maher for repeating the assertion that “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas,” an idea first expressed by another well-known modern liberal atheist, Sam Harris, last year.
“I don’t think you’re going to reform a religion by telling 1.6 billion people, most of whom are just devout people who get some inspiration from that religion and go about their daily lives … by saying your religion is the motherlode of bad ideas, it’s a terrible thing,” Zakaria told Maher, later adding: “Push for reform with some sense of respect for the spiritual values.”
“If America was a country that was surrounded by 12 or 13 completely black nations who had militarily attacked us many times, including as recently as last year. Would we let them vote? I don’t know. When we were attacked by the Japanese, we didn’t just not let them vote, we rounded them up and put them in camps.”
– Bill Maher
Yet Maher’s stance on religious wars seem to shift when it comes to Israel. Indeed, he has repeatedly defended Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinian people. While he denounced civilian deaths in Iraq, Maher was openly dismissive of the body count of last summer’s attack on Gaza, which killed about 2,300 civilians, at least a quarter of whom were women or children. In August, according to Mediaite, he told “Real Time” audiences and guests, including the Muslim scholar Reza Aslan, that “‘people die in wars,’ and Israel doesn’t deserve any sort of special criticism over that.” Later that month, Maher joined dozens of other Hollywood Zionists in signing a statement in support of Israel’s war on Gaza.
He’s also a supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s warmongering, far-right leader. During a 2013 feature interview with Netanyahu he praised Israel’s ability to “fight wars quick and leave.” Maher defended Netanyahu’s use of racist tactics during his re-election this year.
“A lot of people were angry at the way Netanyahu won this election. They said it was racist that he said, at the last minute ‘Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls,’” Maher said on “Real Time” in March, later adding, “If America was a country that was surrounded by 12 or 13 completely black nations who had militarily attacked us many times, including as recently as last year. Would we let them vote? I don’t know. When we were attacked by the Japanese, we didn’t just not let them vote, we rounded them up and put them in camps.”
Maher’s also come under fire for rationalizing America’s war-like behavior as long as a Democrat is responsible. In 2013, Glenn Greenwald criticized Maher on “Real Time” for dismissing the destabilizing effects of the U.S. military in Libya and, in a 2014 appearance on the show, for dismissing Edward Snowden’s disclosure of NSA surveillance activities and questioning Snowden’s credibility.
Watch Reza Aslan criticize Bill Maher’s statements on Islam:
Additional reporting by Ali Salaam.