There are only a handful of shows that I never miss: Scandal (of course), Law & Order: SVU and Real Time with Bill Maher. It was Maher’s dry sense of humor, his love of marijuana, diverse guests and liberalism that led me to become a big fan of his show. He has literally made me laugh until I cried. Yet, there's something that has bothered me about him for quite some time. About two weeks ago, a now-famous appearance by Ben Affleck helped the world to see what had tempered my love of the comedian long ago.
Affleck did what many guests are afraid to do on Maher’s show; he called him out on his hatred towards Muslims. If you’re a frequent viewer of his show like I am, you’ll notice how suspiciously quiet guests become when this topic comes up. From politicians to educators, only a few have dared to go against the grain and challenge Maher (and his audience) on his bigotry.
I never watched Real Time’s predecessor Politically Incorrect. Frankly in the late 90’s to early 2000’s, if it wasn’t Dawson’s Creek or didn’t come on the WB, it wasn’t on my radar (I was a kid!) It really wasn’t until after college that I came to appreciate Maher and his work. His guests (most of them, at least) were very knowledgeable about world issues. The best episodes showcased thinkers of all races and sexes partaking in a good old-fashioned debate about the issues of the day.
Maybe I was naïve or ignorant but I didn’t notice his anti-Muslim sentiment until a few years ago. Flash forward to present day and the persistent threat of ISIS, and the complete picture of Maher is made apparent: He hates all Muslims; Even the ones that appear on his show like Congressman Keith Ellison, of Minnesota.
What’s scary about Bill Maher's hatred is how easy I can see someone making those statements about Black folks and using the same “evidence” as he does to substantiate his bigotry: violence, terrorism, patriarchy.
I grew up a few blocks away from the Nation of Islam’s national office in Chicago. The sight of the brothers dressed in their finest suits, selling bean pies and issues of The Final Call will always remind me of home. Although Maher typically refers to other sects Islam in his rants, his blanketed hatred encompasses the entire religion and I can’t help but feel as though his hatred is for the men and women that I grew up with.
Surprisingly, not even his ridiculously sexist views (just as bad) have made me question my viewership quite like this. Can I call myself a fan of someone who promotes hatred? How can I love my people and sympathize with others and support this bigoted White man?
It seems with every week, it has gotten worse. Before the exchange with Affleck, he has had anti-Muslim rants nearly every episode of his current season. Little by little, it has been building. Just last week he cited the Asia Bibi death sentence and dismissively quipped, “So yeah, Sam Harris and I were way off on that.” Yes, Bill you were.
The unfiltered debates on Real Time provide what I find missing on CNN, MSNBC, Fox and their polite Sunday morning political shows. And Maher is at certainly his best with New Rules, dispatches from the bubble and attempting to remove terrible politicians from office with his "Flip a District" segment. At his absolute worst, he’s a hateful bigot and that's something I can't ignore any longer.
While he doesn’t directly encourage violence towards Muslims, he has a legend of fans that you can hear applauding at every show, Trolling on twitter, believing and spreading his nonsense.
At this point, I cannot say that I won’t ever watch his show again. But it's obvious that Maher is unwavering in his bigotry towards Muslims. Quite frankly, he ain’t budging.
If I want to see a change, it’s going to have come from me…changing the channel.
Veronica Hilbring is a writer from Chicago. Follow her on twitter @veronicolumn.