Thursday, November 6, 2014

Will UC Berkeley Nix Maher Commencement?

One has to appreciate the tragic irony that in the 50th anniversary year of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley, a petition is being circulated there to disinvite the controversial Bill Maher as commencement speaker, because of his “racist and bigoted” views.

I am no fan of Bill Maher. He’s an Obama supporter who favors income redistribution, race preferences, abortion, tough gun control, and the outlawing of home schooling. He dismisses conservatives as racist, Christians as mental defectives, Americans as “stupid,” and the Second Amendment as “bullsh*t.” I believe university students deserve a prestigious, accomplished commencement speaker with more gravitas than a foul-mouthed standup comic whose days are spent hanging out in the Playboy mansion grotto (in fact, I don’t believe celebrities in general should be invited to speak at commencements).

But at least the atheist Maher has enough intellectual integrity to realize that not all religions are the same. He also has the courage to openly criticize Islam, something that a microscopically small number of public figures have the cojones to do. And let’s face it: it is his position on Islam that sparked the resistance of the UC Berkeley petition, because if Maher’s insults were limited to bashing Sarah Palin and Christians, no objection would have been raised. 

He recently had a notable dustup on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher with the self-appointed voice of Muslims everywhere, Ben Affleck. In it, Maher and guest Sam Harris tried to reason with an inflamed Affleck about the, shall we say, problematic nature of Islam, which Harris called “the mother lode of bad ideas.” Maher sided with Harris, and Affleck called their attitude “gross and racist,” despite the always-overlooked fact that – all together now – Islam is not a race. Mere days before that, Islamic dissembler Reza Aslan took Maher to task on CNN for his “facile arguments” about Islam.

That was three weeks ago. Shortly thereafter, a petition was initiated by Associated Students of the University of California Senator Marium Navid, who, according to the school’s Daily Californian, is backed by the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition, or MEMSA, and Khwaja Ahmed, an active MEMSA member. The petition asks UC Berkeley to stop him from speaking at the commencement ceremony. It has garnered 2,089 signatures as of this writing Tuesday night.

The petition claims that Maher “has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for.” I don’t know what those values are, but apparently a speaker who tests the boundaries of the comfort zone of sensitive Berkeley students, who uphold a selective “tolerance” as the highest of virtues, is intolerable. After all, “too many students are marginalized by his remarks and if the University were to bring this individual as a commencement speaker they would not be supporting these historically marginalized communities.” Heaven forbid that colleges might not make “historically marginalized communities” their focus, or that grown students might have to endure “remarks” that marginalize them.

As evidence that Maher is a “blatant” racist bigot who “perpetuates a dangerous learning environment,” the petition lists a few examples of his “hate speech.” They include: insults of religions in general (not only Islam); a shockingly racist assertion that Western values are better than non-Western ones; a smackdown of Hamas (because criticizing a terrorist organization is obviously racism); a statement that too much of the Muslim world shares the values of ISIS (no comment); and this truism, which not even Ben Affleck denied: “Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will f**king kill you if you say the wrong thing.”

“It’s not an issue of freedom of speech, it’s a matter of campus climate,” Navid said. “The First Amendment gives him the right to speak his mind, but it doesn’t give him the right to speak at such an elevated platform as the commencement. That’s a privilege his racist and bigoted remarks don’t give him.” While it is true that free speech doesn’t guarantee him a commencement speaker slot, what her argument masks is the sad fact that today’s university students are intolerant of anyone and anything that challenges their biases and makes them feel uncomfortable. Too many of them are not interested in testing received wisdom and expanding their horizons, but in protecting their favored illusions and wrapping themselves in the force-field of victim status.  

Claire Chiara, president of Berkeley College Republicans, also is no fan of Maher but said she has no issue with his confirmation as commencement speaker. “He’s a very prominent public figure, and I’m certain that he’s not going to treat a commencement speech at a prestigious university the way he treats his talk show.” Imagine that: Republican rationality and tolerance.

Navid, however, believes that Maher is beyond the pale. According to The Daily Californian, her office launched a campaign with the semi-oxymoronic name, “Free Speech, Not Hate Speech,” asking students to express their outrage to the Chancellor and the director of external relations. Of course, hate speech is quite simply speech you don’t agree with, so if you believe it must be suppressed, then you cannot claim to support free speech.

Again, I’m no fan of Maher, but I’m even less of a fan of the progressive/Islamist hypocrisy, intolerance, and smear tactics behind the petition to have him disinvited as speaker.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 10/30/14