Bill Maher’s “Towel Headed Hos”

For all his chauvinistic, misogynistic and racist drivel, old man Imus finally got the boot. I can’t say I feel particularly bad, considering his confederate-style punditry and his perpetuation of negative imagery of the non-white males of our society. But I still think people are missing the point. Racism, bigotry and sexism are alive and well, and generally accepted in this great country — well it depends on who you’re talking about.

Unsurprisingly, one important question has not been asked since Imus’ downward spiral: what if those “nappy headed hos” were Arab or Muslim? Regrettably, we have a plethora of examples to point to post-911, but we don’t need to rehash all of it, one can just watch a nightly episode of Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly or CNN’s Glenn Beck. Yet, my bone to pick is not with the establishment neocons, Fox News, or Ms. Malnourished herself, Ann Coulter, but rather those “peaceful” and “all-accepting liberals” who complain so frequently about Imus and those like him.

To see how anti-Arab/anti-Muslim bigotry is accepted and applauded in America, one has to look no further than HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, hosted by “left-wing” comedian and political commentator Bill Maher. “Liberal” pundits like Maher pass off their anti-Arab/anti-Muslim rhetoric as an innocent invocation of Samuel P. Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations.” Yet, Maher’s vitriolic diatribes are no different than one saying, “black people are ruthless, welfare grubbing criminals.” Nonetheless, to a “liberal,” the previous comment is racist and wrong, because black people, unlike the days of slavery, are now “like us,” meaning white Anglo-American society, whereas Arabs and Muslims (as if they are a unitary, monolithic people), can still be labeled wholly as “backwards, ruthless, Jew-hating animals.”

In Maher’s program, he regularly brings on guests that espouse anti-Arab/anti-Muslim views, some of them being supposed “self-critical” Muslims. These guests, however, principally serve to support Maher’s own bias against Muslims and Arabs, bolstering his pro-Israel feelings. These guests include conservative Israeli politician and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lebanese-born neocon and political hack Fouad Ajami, putative introspective Muslim moderate Irshad Manji, and former Muslim, now professed atheist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, among many others.

Showcasing the “tolerance of liberalism,” Maher brought on his claimed “hero,” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, of the hawkish American Enterprise Institute, to help him explain to HBO viewers just what was wrong with Islam. Like a fat kid in a candy store, Maher looked to Hirsi Ali on his panel this season and stated, “[I]s Islam a religion of peace? You are one of the brave people who say it’s not really a religion of peace.” More than happy to respond, Hirsi Ali proclaimed, “It’s not a religion of peace. Immediately after 9/11 they should have said, it’s not a religion of peace, we’re up against Islam.” That’s right because Pat Robertson speaks for all Christians and the list of disgruntled students that have gunned down their schoolmates since Columbine speak for all people under the age of 25. What if Hirsi Ali said, “Immediately after the black thug robbed the liquor store, they should have said, black people are criminals, we’re up against black people.”

After her enlightening comments, while she went on to trash Saudi Arabia for a moment, Hirsi Ali received a huge applause from the audience. Even Steven Weber, an actor who stars on TV’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, had to jump in and beg the question of whether it was right to characterize a whole religion and the beliefs of 1.3 billion people this way. Apparently it is because Maher, educating the naive Weber (who was talking of moderate Islam), asserted that “no, [religions are] not all alike… no [Islam] was extremist to begin with. Mohammed was a warrior.” Maher’s lesson on the malady of Islam followed up on his earlier comments in which he said that the West is not only better, but “superior” to the rest of world. Huh, I wonder why they don’t like us.

Bias against Arabs and Islam — and bashing them as a monolithic entity — is accepted across the news media, whether it is in reporting or punditry. This makes it even more important, especially in this “gloves off” age of comedy, to make a clear distinction between comedy and news. It is equally, if not more important, to condemn bigotry that is masked as humor. We should make fun of ourselves, our ethnicities, religions, and races, but when it is done in a vindictive nature or when a seemingly comedic joke or informative political comment is enveloped with racist, sexist, or bigoted undertones, it should be rejected by all peoples. That is not the “thought police” taking over, it’s common sense.

Unfortunately, Don Imus was used by reactionaries across the board, both condemners and defenders, when people should have been talking about the issue of racism and sexism long before his comments. Tragically, a couple of days ago, 33 people, mostly kids, were massacred by a student at Virginia Tech. The Imus case, like its predecessor the Anna Nicole Smith drama, has run its course in the mainstream media. Sadly, racism and sexism now seem to be out of the minds of Americans until the next big gaffe.

The only question left is how big of a gaffe is necessary for Americans to come to the defense of Arabs and Muslims?

Remi Kanazi is the editor of Poets For Palestine. He will be touring the US and Canada this fall on the Poets For Palestine tour.He can be contacted at Read other articles by Remi, or visit Remi's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Deadbeat said on May 1st, 2007 at 9:55am #

    I never liked Bill Maher. He’s a stone cold racist. What is Maher represents is the acceptance of anti-Arab racism and the effect on Zionism on U.S. culture. It is also one of the reason you see such a backlash also on African American culture as well. Blacks in the main and especially during the civil right and black power movement has been sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian and oppressed people in general and has been the reason why such backlash has been supported by Zionist supporters (so-called “neocons”).

    The so-called “left” has also been very silent in challenging Zionism and is a major reason why its racism has been allowed to flourish in the mainstream. I commend Dissident Voice for publishing such important commentaries.

  2. John said on May 1st, 2007 at 10:00am #

    Fine article, except for this sentence:
    ” Even Steven Weber, an actor who stars on TV’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, had to jump in and beg the question of whether it was right to characterize a whole religion and the beliefs of 1.3 billion people this way.”

  3. Galileo Smith said on May 1st, 2007 at 1:56pm #

    I think someone could argue that Southern rural Christianity in the first half of the 20th Century was not a religion of peace. It was used to support racial separation and rationalize violence. By no means did all people in the South use religion in such a manner, but many, such as the once popular Ku Klux Klan, did. It is possible that there have been periods of time in the last 2000 years when the prevailing version of Christianity of the day was the source of hatred and malace. I think the question now is, How many people worldwide use Islam to justify hatred and malace? What percentage of Muslims in some manner support “religious violence”? If the percentage is over 50% then by definition Islam is a religion of violence. “Moderate” Muslims would not be that religion’s norm. I do not know if the percentage is over 50%. I don’t think so but then again, I’m not sure. So though I think it is wrong to crucify Muslims based on their religion, I do think it is up to Muslims as to how the world, including Bill Maher, perceives today’s Islam.

  4. Mark said on May 1st, 2007 at 3:19pm #

    Bill Maher is no more racist than Chrisians and Muslims are homophobic. He has had several muslims on his show. Bill Maher is anti-bullshit.

  5. Pablo said on May 3rd, 2007 at 3:56am #

    Truly weird! here I am chatting with my workmates about how “progressive” and “liberals” spend too much time beating up each other, while “conservatives” seem to be more focused.
    Bill Maher is a conservative!! He says so himself. Mr. Kanazi I suspect dosent actually watch Bill Maher, I know I dont!!!
    And now let me paint everybody with a single brush (from my perspective.)Anyone who pratices any kind of “religion” is “conservative.” Muslims are the current “outgroup” in America so they get lumped in with “liberals” and “progressives” by the mainstream but they dont want a”progressive” or liberal world by any stretch of the imagination; and make sure you understand me! That applies to ALL religious practioners.

  6. Alison said on May 5th, 2007 at 1:25pm #

    Bill Maher is a professed libertarian, but mostly because he wants pot legalized as far as I can tell. He has said things about African-Americans on his show that come across as racist, especially a line excusing police for blocking Katrina refugees because (paraphrasing), “after all wouldn’t you be afraid of a bunch of blacks running towards you?” said to a panel with an African American on it. He is also sexist, really likes to rant against people who are overweight and has said horrible things about people with psychiatric disabilities. Aside from all that, he’s a very tolerant guy…….

  7. marion delgado said on October 24th, 2007 at 1:38pm #

    The Imus show was worse – far worse – in that way than Maher’s show. Two of his producers advocated genocide of all Muslims worldwide. Repeatedly. The entire show agreed with putting Moslems in Manzanar-style camps. Where have you been?

    Maher’s Zionism is indeed hard-core, but the Imus show was always playing the GOP coded racism card whenever possible, and moreso to both Arabs and Muslims than to African-Americans.

  8. JONATHAN AVILDSEN said on April 2nd, 2009 at 12:51pm #

    i just got finished watching religulous, and maher is very biased. hes always showing muslims with guns but doesnt show any footage of israeli aggression. how can you film anything in israel without showing aggression? i dont see americans as a whole standing up for arabs anytime soon. however, i have seen things get worse. americans like to call america a free country but it really isnt.

  9. devang said on June 18th, 2009 at 6:34pm #

    well that is the problem with america. they let in these racist trouble maker types like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was granted permanent residency. can you believe that? she admited to lying on her dutch application for asylum, yet the usa still allowed her to be a pr. at this rate, if they keep this immigration portfolio, america will be nothing but a-holes. but this is not the begining. america has for years admited people from china, cuba, venezuela, and russia who openly speak out against their govts. the usa uses this as ammunition to tell the world that these countries are horrible.