Sometimes a controversy just manages to burn bright and hot for a moment before fading away. Other times they just smolder for quite a stretch, flaring up from time to time. I’m starting to think that this is one of the latter controversies.
We covered the EPIC, HEATED, DEADLY debate between Ben Affleck, Bill Maher and Sam Harris a few weeks back. And while Affleck is off playing Batman and Harris is off promoting books, Maher is still in the spotlight as the “guy who hates Islam.” A role that is currently causing a bit of trouble at UC Berkeley. From Deadline:
A group of undergrads at the University of California tasked with selecting the commencement speaker last August invited the outspoken, politically minded, avowed atheist comic/TV show host to deliver their December commencement speech. But after he made provocative comments on his October show to which they objected, that committee of undergrads, who call themselves The Californians, voted to withdraw the invitation they had extended to Maher. The very next day, UC Berkeley told The Californians to peel an eel, because, “This university has not in the past, and will not in the future, shy away from hosting speakers who some deem provocative.”
It didn’t end there, of course. A group of students created a petition on Change.org to stop Maher from speaking in December, gaining close to 5,000 signatures to this point:
Bill Maher is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for. In a time where climate is a priority for all on campus, we cannot invite an individual who himself perpetuates a dangerous learning environment. Bill Maher’s public statements on various religions and cultures are offensive and his dangerous rhetoric has found its way into our campus communities.
Once you start throwing around the words “bigot” and “racist,” you’re pretty much assured a response. Along with the fact that thousands of students are angry and trying to stop you from speaking at their school. That’s a good reason to respond too. Maher’s came via his show Real Time on Friday night, something he hinted at on Twitter to cover any media speculation around the situation.
In typical fashion, the segment didn’t go off without a hitch and featured it’s own heated debate. We’ll get to that in a second though. Take a look at Maher’s response first:
That’s why it pays to have your own TV show, I guess. Especially one that also plays as a comedy show. You can “get away” with those 1,001 nights comments without the entire populace calling for your head the next day. That or people just don’t care that much.
In preparation for the response, petition organizer Khwaja Ahmed posted some tips on countering it on Twitter:
Maher is expected to react to the wide spread student protests at UC-Berkeley against his proposed commencement speech on this weeks “Real Time” show on HBO, Friday at 7PST/ 10EST.
Tweet #NoMaher #RealTime (the show hashtag) during the show and show that the Berkeley and national community will not condone the celebration of hate on campuses across the country. (via)
But a far stronger response was her right on the show itself, when panelist Rula Jebreal had a chance to speak about Maher’s comments and the reaction surrounding them:
It’s pretty clear that Maher has rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way, and not just the way he usually has in the past. There’s also a fairly even share of supporters and detractors, so who knows how far this could go.
Maher isn’t the first to run into trouble in this territory. Fellow Atheist Richard Dawkins has also seen his fair share of controversy from some of his comments pertaining to Islam over the years, almost mirroring what you’re seeing with Maher. Are they bigots and racists? Do we throw those words around too much? And most of all, is this a free speech issue or do the students at UC Berkeley have a point?