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Ben Affleck angrily defends Muslims in heated debate on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher

The Gone Girl star called the television host and his author guest's arguments over radical Islamic beliefs 'gross' and 'racist'.
Host Bill Maher, right, and actor Ben Affleck, left, look on as Sam Harris, author of Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, speaks during Real Time With Bill Maher, in Los Angeles. HBO / AP photo
Host Bill Maher, right, and actor Ben Affleck, left, look on as Sam Harris, author of Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, speaks during Real Time With Bill Maher, in Los Angeles. HBO / AP photo

Ben Affleck has been pretty busy these days promoting his latest film Gone Girl, but he had lots of energy at the weekend to passionately – and angrily – defend Muslims in a talk show debate over radical Islam.

Affleck appeared on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher panel Friday night, where he tussled with Maher and guest Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and author.

Harris and Maher were trying to make the argument that Liberals in the West weren’t doing enough to stand up to radical Islamic beliefs, including those about the treatment of women and minorities, and that polls show those beliefs exist beyond the fringe.

“The crucial point of confusion is that we have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people,” said Harris. “That’s intellectually ridiculous.”

Affleck interrupted, asking: “So let me understand, are you the person who understands the official codified doctrine of Islam? You are the interpreter of that?”

Harris said: “We have to be able to criticise bad ideas … and Islam right now is the mother lode of bad ideas.”

When Maher chimed in with “it’s a fact”, Affleck raised his voice and responded with, “It’s not a fact, it’s an ugly thing to say.”

After calling the concept “gross” and “racist”, Affleck again interjected. “How about the more than a billion people who aren’t fanatical, who don’t punish women, who just want to go to the store, have some sandwiches, pray five times a day and don’t do any of the things you’re saying?” he said, visibly heated, adding: “It’s stereotyping”.

Affleck had some support from his fellow panelists, former chair of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Predictably, the exchange prompted a chorus of analysis from journalists and on social media. Mehdi Hasan, Huffington Post UK’s political director, praised Affleck on Twitter, then wrote: “Five people on a major US TV panel show discuss what Islam is or isn’t. But no space on panel for an actual Muslim.”

Aziz Hamza, an Arabic novelist, tweeted: “Respect to Ben Affleck”.

Maher had courted controversy with another rant about Islam earlier in the week, during which he called female genital mutilation an Islamic problem.

When Reza Aslan, a scholar of religions, a professor at University of California, Riverside, and the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, appeared on CNN to respond, he said: “You know, but this is the problem, is that these kinds of conversations that we’re having aren’t really being had in any kind of legitimate way. We’re not talking about women in the Muslim world. We’re using two or three examples to justify a generalisation. That’s actually the definition of bigotry.”

Neither Affleck or Maher have commented since the show was broadcast. Harris, however, took a parting shot, tweeting: “Batman and I worked it out in the greenroom (almost),” a reference to Affleck’s role as the Dark Knight in the upcoming film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

amcqueen@thenational.ae

Updated: October 5, 2014 04:00 AM

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