The recent furore surrounding Bill Maher and Ben Affleck’s standoff that aired on the 3rd of October only touched on the complications surrounding the labelling of Islam and the overwhelming generalisations surrounding the religion. As ISIS is becoming frequent news headlines in almost every media outlet out there, it is unsurprising that collateral debates would arise.
In a flurry of generalisations and massive blanket statements thrown by Bill Maher and Sam Harris, Affleck appears agitated and wound up, calling Maher “racist” and “gross” whilst condemning the harsh generalisations being used about one of the most popular religions in the world. Maher, labelling the religion of Islam as a sort of mafia which will “f***ing kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book” infuriated Affleck, who continued to stick to his guns, despite Maher being applauded by the audience.
Currently there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, making it the second largest religion, after Christianity. Affleck’s insistence that making a generalisation about such a large figure leaves out the overwhelming majority of Muslims that don’t believe in extremist goals and in fact condemn acts of violence associated with ISIS. Affleck highlights the need for distinctions to be drawn, and although barely given the chance to talk, concluded that we cannot generalise, and we must consider that there are millions of Muslims out there that do not adhere to ISIS’ principles. Essentially, Islam does not equal ISIS. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: this argument has been put forwards by academics for a very long time, Affleck merely publicised it.
To me, the 10 minute long debate proved that you don’t necessarily need an academic or a specialist in the topic in order to call out racism or gross overstatements over Islam. Affleck’s agitation verifies the need for us to address Islamophobia as an extremely important issue, which needs to be prioritised. Maher’s grossly generalised statements were met with a roaring applause from the audience, and that is what unnerved me: the fact that people were willing to applaud statements condemning Islam and the Muslim population is what worries me the most. His blanket statements and dramatisations masked the offensive undertone being thrown at Affleck, which made the audience pay more attention to him, and made Affleck’s arguments less heard. Affleck’s adamant defence is what we should see more of in the media; simply ignoring the fact that sweeping statements are perceived as facts will lead to twisted views, and a massive failure to adequately inform the population.
The most important thing to learn from the Affleck/Maher standoff is that people such as Affleck, people with the ability to influence a huge amount of people are starting to speak out even more fervently on issues such as racism and religious profiling. Affleck’s passion during the debate highlights the need for more people to take a stand and speak out about unjust and unfair statements. Whilst academic scholars such as Reza Aslan have been campaigning for the distinction between Muslims and jihadists, Affleck made the affair all the more public by speaking out and showing us that there is a big issue that we need to address here, and no one is stepping up to do anything about it.