It has been vastly entertaining to watch Ben Affleck and Bill Maher duel to the death over who's the real liberal when it comes to defining what is Islam.
They're the mongoose and the cobra of liberalism.
Maher's the evil, atheist, liberal cobra, hissing at Affleck (an Oct. 3 guest on Maher's "Real Time with Bill Maher"): "It's the only religion that acts like the mafia that will [expletive] kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book." Maher's backup atheist serpent, Sam "The End of Faith" Harris, also a guest on the show, threw in for good measure: "Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas."
And Affleck's the plucky, bleeding-heart, "We Are the World" liberal mongoose. "It's gross, it's racist, it's disgusting," he said about Maher's and Harris' critique of Islam. "It's like saying, 'Oh, you shifty Jew!'"
Even after the yelling match on the show was over, Maher continues to insist that he, not Affleck, is the true liberal of the two. In an interview with Salon, he said: "We're liberals! We're liberals. We're not crazy tea-baggers, y'know…. I mean, do the people arguing with us, would they really open a lesbian art gallery in Ramallah? Or Karachi? Or Cairo?" Just to prove his liberal street-cred, Maher described his "Flip a District" campaign of personal appearances designed to unseat Republican members of Congress around the country.
Much of the commentariat and professoriate, not unexpectedly, is siding with bleeding-heart Affleck. Veteran journalist Juan Cole (now a professor at the University of Michigan) complained on his blog about Maher's "Muslim problem" and charged him and Harris with trying to "demonize Islam." Religious scholar Reza Aslan, a Muslim, declared that Bill Maher "is not very sophisticated." At the Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham, pointing to Pew Research Foundation statistics, concluded: "Overall, the picture that emerges of fundamentalism among the world's Muslims is considerably more complicated than either Affleck or Maher seem to realize."
My own view of the Maher-Affleck spat is: A plague on both your liberal houses.
For decades, Bill Maher has been bashing Christianity and Christians, without any objection from the usual liberal complainers about racism. Maher's 2008 film, "Religulous" took a few potshots at non-Christian faiths, including Islam, but it was mostly a mocking effort to debunk the Christian Bible, make fun of working-class Christians, and speculate that Christianity was a dangerous faith that would eventually lead to an Armageddon of worldwide destruction.
Not a word of protest was heard from the media and the intelligentsia -- because holding one's nose in contempt of all but the most watered-down versions of Christianity is simply part of elite Western culture these days. Islam, by contrast, has become the pet "minority" religion of most liberals, including Ben Affleck. The alliance is an odd one, because Islam's moral precepts are just as strict as, if not stricter than, the Christian moral precepts, especially concerning sexuality, that Western liberals find objectionable. But Islam and contemporary liberalism do have one thing in common: their oppositional stance to the traditional Christian West.
Now, if either Affleck or Maher were to speak out against the persecution of and discrimination against Christians that is an ongoing feature of numerous Islamic and other cultures, or even against the routine Christian-bashing of the West, I'd take sides in this dispute. But right now I'm sitting back and watching it all with amusement.
Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.