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Bill Maher

Factsheet: Bill Maher

Published on 08 Dec 2017

IMPACT: Late night television host Bill Maher has a history of inviting guests who hold anti-Muslim views and support anti-Muslim policies. Maher is known for making discriminatory statements about Muslims and has a history of using racial and derogatory slurs against marginalized communities.

Bill Maher is a comedian, political commentator, and the host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” since 2003. He is known for his controversial satire on religious, political, and current events, and has made headlines in recent years for his comments about Muslims and Islam.

In 2017, the Webby-award winning AlterNet news service published a seven minute video of Maher’s “outrageous statements about Islam and Muslims.” Some of the clips include Maher justifying the exclusion of Syrian refugees from the “West” by stating that “their cultures are not like ours.” Another clip shows Maher claiming “if Muslim men could get laid more, we wouldn’t have this problem.” Another clip shows him reiterating his support of author Sam Harris’ inflammatory statement claiming “Islam is the motherload of bad ideas.”

In a May 2010 interview with Anderson Cooper, Maher described Muslims as “threatening,” “bringing that desert stuff to our world,” and uncivilized. Cooper asked Maher if he bought the claim by Muslims that Islam is a religion of peace; Maher responded, “Yeah they blow you up, there’s a piece of you over there, there’s a piece of you over there, there’s a piece of you over there.”

Following the killings at the Charlie Hebdo offices in 2015, Maher claimed that “hundreds of millions” of Muslims would be supportive of that kind of violence. He continued: “I know most Muslim people would not have carried out an attack like this. But here’s the important point: Hundreds of millions of them support an attack like this. They applaud an attack like this.”

In September 2015, Maher reacted to the arrest of 14-year old American-Muslim student, Ahmed Mohamed, after he brought a homemade clock to school that his teacher thought was a bomb. Politicians and public figures criticized the incident, calling it racial and religious profiling. Maher said: “Look, this kid deserves an apology. No doubt about it. They were wrong, but…for the last 30 years, it’s been one culture that has been blowing shit up over and over again.”

In a “Real Time” episode in July 2015, Ret. U.S. Army Colonel and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson used this analogy to challenge Maher’s views on Islam and violence: “Trying to address the shooter as a product of Islam is like…trying to address the priest who abuses children as a product of Christianity.”

Islam and Muslims are subjects that comes up frequently on “Real Time,” both in conversations with guests and in Maher’s closing monologue. In September 2014, for instance, Maher closed his show by arguing that the “Muslim world” has “too much in common with ISIS.”

In 2014, Maher clashed with Charlie Rose while talking about Islam, stating: “to claim that this religion is like other religions is just naive and plain wrong. [Islam]is not like other religions.” In January 2016, Maher told his viewers that “the more you know [about Islam], the more you would be afraid.”

In an October 2014 episode of “Real Time,” Maher and his guests, who included actor Ben Affleck and author Sam Harris, entered into a heated discussion about Islam and Islamophobia. In the debate, Maher asserted that Islam is “the only religion that acts like the Mafia, that will f***ing kill you if you say the wrong thing…”

In a March 2011 interview with Representative Keith Ellison, the first elected Muslim Member of the U.S. Congress, Maher referred to the Qur’an as a “hate filled Holy Book.” In the same interview, Maher described Islam as a “culture in its medieval era” and a “culture of suicide bombings,” disagreeing with Rep. Ellison’s statements to the contrary and instead referencing commentary by Sam Harris, who identifies as an atheist and is not a scholar of religions.  

In the past, Maher has attempted to discredit the word “Islamophobia.” In a 2014 interview Maher repeated a claim made by writer and critic of religion Christopher Hitchens, that “Islamophobic is a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.” In a 2015 interview with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, Maher stated, Islamophobia is “a silly word that means nothing.”

In a talk with Sam Harris on the problem of “radical Islam” and President Trump’s travel ban, otherwise known as the Muslim ban, Maher said “I think we both agree his ban–I’ve always said–it’s stupid, it’s counterproductive, it’s un-American.” He agreed with Harris that the U.S. is currently in a “war of ideas” that requires the help of a willing and “moderate” Muslim population. Scholars have criticized the use of  the term “moderate Muslims.”

In response to a study finding that “Muhammad” was the most popular baby name in Great Britain, Maher stated: “Am I racist to feel I am by that because I am,” and “I don’t have to apologize do I for not wanting the western world to be taken over by Islam.”

In discussion on Islam, Maher often cites the life experience and opinions of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and has hosted her on his t.v show numerous times, where they discussed how to convince liberals to stand up to “the cancer of Islamic extremism.” Maher has also given a platform to other individuals who support anti-Muslim policies including Sam Harris, Ann Coulter, Maajid Nawaz, and Asra Nomani.

Many have questioned Maher’s approach, claiming he takes a simplistic view of religion and fails to recognize the injustices and atrocities done by non-Muslims. Muslim scholar and author Reza Aslan has said “The way that [Maher] talks about Islam is undeniably bigoted…”  Others have expressed skepticism regarding the polls he cites.  

In February 2017, Bill Maher had former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos on his show, an exchange that was described by The Washington Post as a “bromance.” On the show, Yiannopoulos told Maher, “you’re sound on Islam unlike most of the people on your side.” A Buzzfeed investigation found that Yiannopoulos worked with self-avowed White Supremacists, calling one his “best friend.”

Maher also has a long history of using racial slurs as documented by ThinkProgress. In a June 2017 episode of his show, Maher responded to an invitation by his guest, U.S. Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska, to “work in the fields with us” by stating ,“Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n*****.” An article in The Root also documented Maher’s repeated use of the n-word.

Last updated November 30, 2017