Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bill Maher Gets Taken to the Mat on Islamophobia

On Bill Maher's RealTime show last night, journalist Glenn  Greenwald stood up to Maher on Muslims, Islam, and American foreign policy.

It's a long clip.  Greenwald's retort comes in around the 7-minute mark.

What is particularly irksome about Maher's Islamophobia is the shallowness of his historical view of Islam and the Middle East's rocky road to democratic reform.    Those of the Anglo-Saxon tradition usually recognize our own democracy as anchored in the Magna Carta Libertatum signed by King John in 1215.

Within our own culture we have been wrestling, often violently, with democratic reform for almost eight centuries.  Eight hundred years.  Now remind me, when did we extend the vote to half our citizenry, our women?   Was that several hundred years ago?  No!  Was it about one century ago?  Yes!   So it took us, with our great and noble democratic tradition, about seven centuries to enfranchise half our population who had been denied the vote on nothing more than their gender.   Think there weren't any religious influences in that sorry state of affairs?

You would think that, with our centuries of democratic traditions, we would have been instrumental in bringing the concept of political rights and freedom to the Middle East.  Did we?  Apparently not.

We're Still Kissing Saudi Ass
 In the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire post WWI, we carved the place up into colonial fiefdoms ignoring religious and ethnic realities on the ground and appointing whatever bunch of stooges we thought would best serve our interests.

Rumsfeld Greets Saddam - Better Times
Iraq is a perfect example.  Britain and France betrayed the Kurds, who had been promised an independent Kurdish homeland at war's end, and instead began drawing straight lines that marked the new state of Iraq - Kurds in the north, Sunni Arabs in the centre, Shiite Persians in the south.  And then they chose the Sunni minority to rule the place because they thought them the most reliable and complacent.   The Brits, under the orders of then foreign secretary Winston Churchill, even used chemical warfare on the northern Kurds when they balked at paying taxes.   And all this eventually begat America's former buddy, Saddam Hussein.

Remember this evil Son of a Bitch?
 But our undying love for democracy was demonstrated next door to Iraq in Iran.  Post WWII Iran held genuinely democratic elections.  Prime minister Mohammed Mossaddegh was in charge when the Iranians thought it really wasn't a good idea that the Brits should be taking Iranian oil (under what is now called B.P.) for next to free.  So, in 1951, Iran's democratically elected Parliament voted to nationalize the country's oil reserves.  Not steal, nationalize.  Britain wasn't interested in negotiating compensation.   Instead the U.S. and Britain supported a coup d'etat in 1953 that brought their stooge, the brutal and bloody Shah Pahlavi to power, ending all that democracy nonsense.   That eventually begat the rise of the Mullahs and the theocratic revolution that toppled America's puppet.

Bill Maher and Company at this point like to get into the link between today's Arab political unrest and Islam.  To Maher, it's not democracy that's emerging but theocracy and the dreaded Sharia law.

Brothers in Arms
Maher conveniently overlooks the role that religion has played in ousting Middle East dictators.  The case of Hosni Mubarak is a good example.  Mubarak, propped up by first the Soviets and then America, ruthlessly and brutally suppressed every effort at democratic reform.   Such is the way of tyrants.   The very moderate "Arab Street" was oppressed but the West would offer them no assistance.  The group that did stand up to Mubarak was the Muslim Brotherhood and they paid dearly for that.  It was absolutely predictable that the Muslim Brotherhood should be the favoured choice once Egyptians were permitted to vote.

Theocracy?  Look at the centuries of struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism in Europe.  That's a saga richly littered with blood and death.  Britain wound up with its own church and the monarch was the head of that church.  They even had plenty of religious laws.   For something in the order of four centuries (although it might have actually been six) it was a capital offence for a Jew to be found in the realm.

And look at the restoration of theocratic influence next door in the United States.   Everyone from Chris Hedges to Andrew Bacevich to Chalmers Johnson and many more are chronicling the rise of a form of American fascism rooted in religious fundamentalism.

Too Much, Too Soon?  Yeah, Fair Enough
Gwynne Dyer has pointed out that, yes, there's bound to be an Islamist tone to the introduction of democracy in the Middle East and we've played a major role in that outcome.   But the Muslim people are not the bloody-fanged monsters that we choose to see them as either.  They want to be able to live their lives much like the rest of us.  They want peace and security for their children.  Dyer predicts the Islamist influence will be laundered out of Middle Eastern democracy in a matter of several electoral cycles.

The Muslim people are just beginning their journey to democracy and it is more than disingenuous for us, with our eight tumultous centuries of still fragile and uncertain progress, to measure them against us or at least our wishful illusions of ourselves.


Troy said...

He is called Glenzilla. I had a feeling he was gonna speak on this, considering a column he'd written weeks back addressing this very issue.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Troy. For a good long while I have wanted one of Maher's guests to say what Greenwald said last night. It was rewarding that Maher's audience repeatedly applauded Greenwald's remarks. That seemed to irk Maher.

Anyong said...

Well MOS when you get too big in your mind that you are BIG, that is what happens. Greenwald's remarks hopfully brought him down a peg or two and has made him THINK. If Maher continues in this vain, he ought not to ever make comments about other people. I have always thought he was a bit off.

LeDaro said...

Mound, your knowledge of the Muslim world is admirable.

Here is another picture of hypocrisy.

U.S and Brits like the oil in the Middle East but not its inhabitants. In return to oil they're trying to give them democracy by slaughter hundreds of thousands. Unfortunately the democracy has not arrived but sufferings have.