Are Muslim Extremists Worse Than Extremists of Other Faiths?

On Friday night’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher interviewed Brian Levin of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. As you might expect, the discussion began with a mention of the religious beliefs (Islam) of the Boston bombers. (There’s no evidence yet, of course, linking their religious beliefs to their actions.)

Levin argued that religious extremism, if that’s what this was, isn’t limited to Islam. There are extremists in just about every faith.

Maher called that “liberal bullshit” and the argument began:

Maher: I mean there’s only one faith, for example, that kills you, or wants to kill you, if you draw a bad cartoon of the Prophet. There’s only one faith that kills you, or wants to kill you, if you renounce the faith. An ex-Muslim is a very dangerous thing. Talk to Salman Rushdie after the show about Christian versus Islam. So, you know, I’m just saying, let’s keep it real.

I have to agree with that — let’s keep it all in perspective. Sure, there are fringe radicals everywhere — we’ve seen abortion doctors killed by Christian extremists — but when even “moderate” Muslims in America get wildly offended by mere drawings of their prophet, when honor killings occur to young women in Muslim families in westernized nations, when criticism of the faith is quickly labeled as “Islamophobia,” there’s a serious problem with the religious. Christians may be as wrong as Muslims, but they wouldn’t dream of killing you for leaving the faith or retaliating with violence at an offensive depiction of Jesus. They’ll get offended and say crazy things, but that’s usually as bad as it gets.

When I went to see “The Book of Mormon” musical — something Maher later refers to — the Playbill included cleverly-placed ads encouraging people to visit the (real) Mormon Church. Nice move on their part. Would that happen in the case of a musical that poked fun at Islam? Would such a production even be allowed to go on? Of course not. The fear that prevents that from happening is very real. And Maher was simply saying that there are more than just a few Muslim extremists who take extraordinary measures to respond to mild offenses.

The problem with Islam is not that most Muslims are bad people — that’s obviously not true. The problem is that even many of the moderates tend to view apostates and critics of their faith in the worst possible light. It’s hard to envision a “Muslim Left,” though there’s a very vocal Christians Left. It’s hard to find moderate Muslim groups that will defend freedom of speech on Everybody Draw Muhammad Day and not flip out over anyone who left the faith and now speaks out against it. People like Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali have had their lives threatened (and seen friends die) because they left Islam. Meanwhile, ex-Christians probably make up half the Internet.

The fact that Maher defended other religious groups just to prove his point shows you how easy this idea is to refute. All religions are not the same when it comes to their extremists. They differ in numbers and beliefs about how to handle opposition to their faith.

And let’s not forget that Maher himself is often billed as a “militant atheist” even though the most “militant” he’ll ever get is everything you just saw in that clip.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.