Why are Berkeley Students Protesting Bill Maher as Commencement Speaker?


“Bill Maher is scheduled to be the guest speaker at UC Berkeley’s fall graduation this December. But despite the university’s reputation for free speech, some students say Maher is too offensive toward Muslims, women and others to enjoy the honor of speaking at graduation. AJ+ spoke with the students leading the charge to cancel Maher’s commencement speech.

Correction: Marium Navid’s name is incorrectly listed as “Murium.” ”

AJ+: “Berkeley Students Want Bill Maher Out As Commencement Speaker: Here’s Why”

9 Responses

  1. Free speech doesn’t mean someone is obligated to provide a platform when you are a dick.

  2. Let’s not offend Muslims, because Maher is suspected of offending Allah. Therefore, he must be silenced, by non-Muslims. Liberal insanity at its most hypocritical.

    • Maher has just sad some ridiculous things. That is why these students don’t want him as their speaker and I can’t blame them.
      And btw if we want to talk about “insanity” why don’t we talk about the insanity that conservatives started TWO unjust and illegal land wars in Asia? Or we can talk about Hurrican Katrina where an entire city was wiped out due to conservative insanity.

      Don’t get me started buddy : )

  3. Bill Maher maintains an unsophisticated view of religion and its connection to the idiosyncratic nature of a given culture. Is Christianity practiced in the same way with the same attitudes in Italy as it is in the southern U.S.? Or in Ireland as it is in Brazil? Of course not, because its nature is determined by the particulars of historic, cultural, and social dynamics that interacts with that particular religion in various ways.

    So, is Islam the same in Iran as in Tunisia? Is it the same in Turkey as in Iraq? Of course not, and Maher’s generalizations are an example of the intellectual laziness typical of much of the political discourse in our country. As to the polls Maher constantly cites, I would like to see stats concerning Christian countries too – Muslims are not the only one rejecting liberal ideas after all. E.g., Kenya, a predominantly Christian country with only an 11% Muslim population, has a ban on gay bars. The GOP was/is a big supporter of the Ugandan “kill the gays” law, another predominantly Christian country with only a roughly 12% Muslim population. I’m no expert, but I would like to see a comparative survey of attitudes and rights in predominantly Christian countries. Would blanket condemnations of all predominantly Christian countries follow?

    As to the surveys he cites based on “attitudes” or “opinions”, opinion and thoughts are one thing, acting on them quite another. But let’s accept his premise that all the horrible generalizations he makes are true, and even acted upon. One wonders to what extent fundamentalism is a response to external factors: what, e.g., would Iran look like today had we not overthrown its democracy in 1953, an event that led directly to the revolution in 1979, and by extension, what Islam would look like today in Iran? Colonialism and conquest has a way of intensifying the identity of a given people in a given region and making them violent – certainly this was the case wherever Romans (my own field of expertise) went: conquered colonized peoples sometimes either became fiercely Roman (identifying with their conquerors) or fiercely German, Jewish, British, Spanish, or Greek. Roman conquest and hegemony spurred an intensification of local identity (just ask Variathus, or Arminius, or Bar Kochba, or Boudica, or Calgacus). Now that’s a study I’d like to see.

    Most risible of all, though, is someone in the US going off on a riff about the particular violence and close-mindedness of Islam. How many countries, after all, has Tunisia bombed? How many countries has Iran invaded of late? His rhetoric is designed to denigrate and dehumanize, and it serves, it seems to me, as a justification for our use of violence against predominantly Muslim countries. It appears that predominantly Christian countries are justified in their use of force against the Other, appropriating to themselves the right to the use of force based solely on their liberal democratic values (at least that is the collective background noise that one seems to hear, both from Maher and his cheering audience): but what is liberal or democratic about, say, the destruction of Iraq? Or the willy-nilly use of drones in Yemen and elsewhere? Or the continued support for the blockade against Gaza (and the all-too-frequent visitation of violence on it from our proxy, Israel)?

    Sovereign states and peoples need to come to their own decisions, in their own way and in their own time, about how best to live, and if a society is generally viewed as “unhealthy” then yes, the dynamics need to be pointed out; but to me, for a citizen of this country to constantly dwell on the violence and close-mindedness of others is unseemly. Maybe we could get some Muslim comedian to go on a riff about childhood hunger, or school shootings, or income inequality, or voter suppression, or racial disparity, or any number of social ills that plague the US.

    Despite all of this, I think Maher should absolutely have the right to speak at Berkeley; if nothing else, it forces a conversation that can serve ultimately to further our understanding of ourselves and others, and is the first step in a corrective to skewed and virulent modes of thought.

    • Excellent comment.. but regarding your last point, would you mind if Berkeley invited a Ku Klux Clan or an Aryan white supermacist to speak?

      • Part of my thinking on this is that the history and experience of those who practice Islam in the U.S. is not the same as that of, say, African Americans, who have been a historically maltreated minority. I recall a very racist family member once telling me that if my grandma from Norway could make is as an immigrant who first cleaned houses when she came to this country in the early 1900s, there was no reasons African Americans couldn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

        Um, yeah, right. Well, I suppose apart from the fact that Americans of African descent first came here as slaves, that they lived under Jim Crow in the South, were discriminated against by the passing of lots of laws, and feared the noose, that the African and Norwegian American experience were essentially the same. I think, therefore, that the KKK/Aryan analogy is a false equivalence here.

        Now those who practice Islam have certainly not had the easiest time of it in the US – we all know that; but they have also not faced the level of persecution or oppression that other groups have, such as Hispanics and African Americans. Americans are still largely ignorant about Islam and about the peoples who practice it. Having Maher at Berkeley could prove a teachable moment (and Muslim students shouldn’t be the only ones who are offended – Maher is also quite the misogynist).

        That having been said, the habit of universities giving a platform to those who already have one seems to me to be feeding on a larger more dangerous habit in the media of suppressing a greater diversity of voices and opinions – there were much better choices (how about a climate scientist to address our dire environmental situation?), but I stand by that all speech, particularly, perhaps, offensive speech, must be protected, if for no other reason than to expose and refute bigotry and error.

  4. There is a point when the speech departs from being free speech and becomes hate speech.. Bill Maher has crossed that line a few times especially when he called the billion Muslims as a Mafia group..Have Bill Maher call the Jews that and see if he can get away with it or if Berkeley still invites him to speak..

  5. There is a difference between being allowed to speak and being invited to speak. Bill Maher has his show where he can pontificate whatever nonsense he wants to a national audience. He’s hardly being gagged. He doesn’t offer any serious insights worthy of acknowledgement by a major university. His views are offensive to many, perhaps a majority of Cal students. There’s no point in giving him this platform and the prestige of UC Berkeley.

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