Liberals Are Missing The Point About The Affleck-Maher Debate.

On Real Time with Bill Maher, the two celebrities and author Sam Harris had a lively discussion about religion and, specifically, about Islam. It seemed that Harris and Maher intended to make the point that Islam is like other religions, except that a surprising percentage of its adherents in the Middle East have extremist views.

Setting aside US involvement in the radicalization of the children of Western Pakistan with textbooks intended to incite them against the Soviets, Harris and Maher have a legitimate point. Many Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen and elsewhere believe that apostates (anyone who chooses to leave Islam) should be killed.

Not even the most radical members of other religions believe that.

Yet, though Maher and Harris are atheists, they were not, as Ben Affleck and others seem to believe, condemning all Muslims. I believe that they were condemning the misguided views of some Muslims. Unfortunately, Affleck never gave them a chance to elaborate on their point. Instead, he lashed out at them as though they were unjustly prejudiced.

The fact is, they treat all religious zealots the same. Maher and Harris think that the followers of all faiths are blinded by superstition and mythology – just watch Maher’s Religulous if you doubt that. But the data shows that they have a point when it comes to Islam. It appears that a greater percentage of Muslims tend to support violence against non-believers than those who are followers of other faiths.

Certainly, Christians, Jews and other faiths have their share of violent nincompoops. But the data seems to show that there is a larger problem with Islam. That’s not Harris’s and Maher’s fault. The fault lies with those who support extreme and violent views, along with those who refuse to denounce such views. If Muslims want to end Islamaphobia, they must speak out against violence…all violence. Too few Islamic leaders have been willing to do so and, when they have, it has not been with a powerful voice.

To be clear, Islam is no worse or better than any other religion which teaches that its followers are inherently superior to non-believers; that it is the only true path to salvation. Indeed, there was a time when Christianity went through a phase similar to that which Islam is going through now. The Church once tortured and killed thousands of innocents for heresy. The difference is that it occurred in the Middle Ages.

Political Wars – From Reasoned Debate To Party Tribalism.

Despite our political differences, almost all Americans would agree on one thing: Our political system is broken. But why? What led us from the relative political unity following World War II to the anger and divisiveness of today?

It didn’t just happen.

A few individuals intentionally created the politics of destruction, most notably the so-called three amigos consisting of Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed. Beginning in the 1980’s, these three not only viewed politics as a quasi-military, win-at-any-cost enterprise. They viewed it as a profit center in which they could squeeze millions from conservative groups and ideological billionaires to control the political dialogue and enrich themselves at the same time.

As leaders of the College Republicans, these first-rate bullies embraced combative politics. The only thing they treasured more than money was confrontation with liberals, progressives, and moderates of either party. As their power and standing in the Republican Party and conservative circles grew, our national politics devolved into a series of culture wars combining right wing militancy with the evangelical fervor of “Christians” unhappy with what they believed to be a nation in moral decline.

Abramoff was eventually arrested in 2006 and sentenced to six years in prison for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe public officials and tax evasion. As executive director of the Christian Coalition, Reed was also implicated in the scandal but not charged. However, he was previously found to have violated federal campaign finance laws in 1990, 1992 and 1994. Meanwhile, Norquist has continued to gain power, having established Americans for Tax Reform and created the notorious Taxpayer Protection (No New Taxes) Pledge that all Republican candidates are asked to sign.

But the three amigos are not entirely responsible for our poisonous politics.

When Newt Gingrich was selected as Speaker of the House, he transformed Congress by pushing Republicans to vote as a unified block or risk being labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and forced to face a difficult, and expensive, primary fight in the next election. Rather than fight, most Republicans submissively fell into line. As a result, we have an uncompromising, European-style parliamentary party in a two-party system that was based on compromise.

Adding to the dysfunction, the Tea Party movement, feeling displaced by minorities and disenfranchised by large corporations that had shipped jobs overseas, attached themselves to the Republican Party like leeches determined to bleed the party of every remaining moderate.

There you have the perfect political storm. A storm that destroyed the party of Lincoln and has now taken aim at our federal government. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

You can learn much more about the three amigos in Thomas Frank’s book The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. Frank summarizes the thesis of his book this way, “Bad government is the natural product of rule by those who believe government is bad.” I also highly recommend It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Orenstein.

Neither of these books were written by anti-conservative ideologues. To the contrary, they were written by thoughtful and highly-respected moderates who are as dismayed by our take-no-prisoners style of politics as I am.