But on this night the host, Bill Maher, along with atheism-advocate Sam Harris, had a vigorous debate with Actor Ben Affleck, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
Bill Maher, a man of the left on virtually every issue, began by defending liberalism's honor against liberal hypocrisy on the subject of Islam:
"Liberals need to stand up for liberal principles. ... Liberal principles like freedom of speech, freedom to practice any religion you want without fear of violence, freedom to leave a religion, equality for women, equality for minorities including homosexuals -- these are liberal principles that liberals applaud for [pointing to his audience], but then when you say in the Muslim world this is what's lacking, then they get upset."
Sam Harris then added:
"Liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy. They'll criticize ... Christians; they'll still get agitated over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984, but when you talk about the treatment of women and homosexuals and free thinkers and public intellectuals in the Muslim world, I would argue that liberals have failed us. And 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 toward Muslims as people. That's intellectually ridiculous."
Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristof -- along with, sad to say, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee -- would have none of that.
Affleck's first response to the indictment of the liberal double standard was to ask Sam Harris: "Are you the person that understands the officially codified doctrine of Islam?"
To which Harris responded: "I'm actually well-educated on this topic."
Affleck, presumably not desirous of comparing his knowledge of Islam with that of Harris, moved on: "You're saying that Islamophobia is not a real thing?"
"It's gross! It's racist!" Affleck continued, in answer to his own question.
"It's like saying, 'I'm not your shifty Jew,'" comparing an antisemitic epithet to what Maher and Harris were saying.
To which Harris pointed out that there is no comparison between attacks on all members of a group and attacks on ideas: "We have to be able to criticize bad ideas. And Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas."
That really set Affleck off.
"Jesus! It's an ugly thing to say."
This was classic leftist thinking. The question of whether an assertion is true is of little or no interest to the left. The question of concern to the left is whether something is politically incorrect.
Then the New York Times columnist, Kristof, offered his take:
"The picture you're painting is to some extent true, but it is hugely incomplete. It is certain that plenty of fanatics and jihadis are Muslim, but [so are] the people who are standing up to them -- Malala [the Pakistani 12-year-old shot and critically wounded by Islamists for attending school and advocating that other girls do so], Muhammad Ali Dadkhah in Iran, in prison for nine years for speaking up for Christians, [and] a friend that I had in Pakistan [who] was shot this year, Rashid Rahman, for defending people accused of apostasy."
Kristof's response is a frequent one. So it is worth responding to.
It is quite true that there are heroic Muslims who are fighting the Islamists throughout the Muslim world -- and that some of them have been murdered for doing so. These people are moral giants. But their existence has nothing to do with the criticisms leveled by Maher and Harris, since they never said or implied that all Muslims are bad. There were heroic Germans who fought Hitler and the Nazis. Therefore what? If Kristof had been present when people criticized Germany's values, would he have labeled them "Germanophobes?"
But it was later in the dialogue that Kristof expressed the most dishonest of the left's arguments on this issue: "The great divide is not between Islam and the rest. It's rather between the fundamentalists and the moderates in each faith."
"In each faith," Kristof?
Where, sir, are the Christian and Jewish jihadists? The only Jewish state in the world is one of the freest countries on earth, with protections for minority religions and women and homosexuals unknown anywhere in the Muslim world. And virtually every free country in the world is in the Christian world.
Presumably, these are just "ugly" facts.
This debate was valuable. Even more valuable would be if Maher and Harris came to realize that the death of Judeo-Christian values and their being supplanted by leftism is producing hundreds of millions of people who think like Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristof.