Media fails to bring credible sources to discussion on Islam

Islam has been the subject of recent debate, and even Hollywood heavyweights have started to partake in the discussion. Last Friday, Gone Girl star Ben Affleck appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher alongside author Sam Harris, The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and politician and MSNBC political analyst Michael Steele, during which Affleck blasted Maher for his “gross” and “racist” characterizations of Islam.

Grace Wang | Daily Trojan

Grace Wang | Daily Trojan 

The debate was sparked when Maher began discussing the need for liberals to start defending liberal principles such as freedom of speech and equality for women and minorities, qualities he deemed directly contrary to Islam. Maher went on to characterize Islam as “the only religion that acts like the mafia — that will f–king kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.” In response, Affleck pointed out Maher’s ignorance toward the religion as a whole in minimizing an entire religious belief to “the mother lode of bad ideas.”

Though Affleck’s defense of Islam against Maher’s offensive tirade was laudable, it prompts an important question: Where, in this conversation on the codified doctrine of Islam, were the Muslims?

It’s hard to imagine that those coordinating Maher’s show couldn’t manage to find a single Muslim or Islamic scholar willing to speak at length on the complex theological issues discussed on the program. There are plenty of esteemed Islamic scholars who easily could have joined the conversation. But rather than prepare for the event in which Islam would be discussed on the program,  the program chose instead to forego bringing in any sort of religious scholar at all, inviting actors, authors and political pundits; individuals who, despite their credibility within their own respective fields, were ultimately ill-equipped to handle the conversation in an informed way.

This isn’t the first time that Muslims or Islamic scholars have been left out of key discussions of the faith. On Monday, Fox News host Bill Hemmer discussed Maher’s characterizations of Islam, bringing onto the show Republican pollster Tyler Harber and former pollster for President Bill Clinton, Bernard Whitman. Like Maher’s show, the Fox News conversation ultimately resulted in the three men shouting over one another despite the fact that none of the three have the theological education to truly understand the faith they are discussing. This habit of inviting guests ill-equipped to discuss sensitive subjects such as a major world religion isn’t just limited to comedic shows like Maher’s. It’s now becoming more commonplace on major news networks. Not only is this fundamentally irresponsible on the part of the shows airing such content, but it allows facile arguments like Maher’s to be taken as legitimate analysis — something that is not only problematic, but also grossly inappropriate.

Programs like Maher’s show, which are often geared towards providing infotainment in a satirical way, should always be taken with a grain of salt. But that doesn’t excuse talk shows or news outlets from neglecting to bring credible sources to the discussion table. As religious scholar Reza Aslan, someone with the credibility and education capable of discussing this subject, noted of Maher’s comments on a segment of CNN, “Frankly when it comes to the topic of religion, [Maher is] not very sophisticated in the way that he thinks.”

Perhaps next time, the rest of the news media will heed Aslan’s remark.


Yasmeen Serhan is a junior majoring in international relations. She is also the special projects editor of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.


2 replies
  1. Arafat
    Arafat says:

    Let me be clear, let me state this upfront, and
    let me refute your ill-founded opinion that I hate Muslims for this is not a
    trivial accusation. I do NOT hate
    Muslims. But I do hate their
    religion. Muslims are, in fact, Islam’s
    first victims and are to be pitied for it.
    Islam crushes their ability to spread their wings. To create and be
    creative. To embrace differences and to
    embrace others for what they are and whom they are. Your accusation that I hate Muslims is
    both unfortunate and untrue.

  2. Arafat
    Arafat says:

    forth as the cause.

    For a Muslim to face up to the reality of Islam and to admit to oneself that
    Islam is the problem means to lose one’s identity. Hence the cognitive
    dissonance Muslims experience when Islam is called into question. Hence the
    scrambling for excuses and explanations that can convince the Muslims
    themselves that Islam is not the problem. And the explanations tend to be
    colonialism, crusades, Jews, racism, and so forth.

    When cultural Muslims refer to spurious arguments by Islamic apologists as a
    counterargument to brush aside direct quotes from the Qur’an and the hadiths,
    it is not that they are deliberately trying to to deceive the non-Muslims. They
    are desperately clinging to the hope that Islam is not the problem. When they
    repeat the talking points of Islamic apologists explaining how Islam is a
    religion of peace, their primary aim is to convince (delude) themselves and
    make the cognitive dissonance go away at least momentarily, which then removes
    the immediate threat to their identity and postpones the inevitable

    Unlike most of the Muslim world, Turkey is a country where, thanks to
    militantly secularist strains, there are more Muslims who are not completely
    enslaved by their Muslim identity. That gives slightly more breathing space for
    the individual to break the chains of Islam. Nonetheless, it still means you have
    to turn your back on large parts of your cultural heritage and family. Families
    in any culture have members who seek to enforce tradition. In Muslim cultures
    the conservative members of the family are enforcers of Muslim identity, which
    brings along with it the whole can of worms that is the Qur’an and the hadiths.

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