Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristof set the record straight on Islam

By YeOldeScribe ~ October 11th, 2014 @ 11:54 am

You’ve probably heard Ben Affleck is in the news for something other than Batman related things, and that’s probably for the best. But if you haven’t seen the video of the interview, you might not have realized that there were more people in the discussion than just Affleck and Bill Maher, whose show all the guests were appearing on:


As a journalist and editorial writer himself, I’m pretty sure our author is obligated to worship the ground Nicholas Kristof walks on, but he’s okay with that. If you’re not familiar with Kristof, he’s currently a columnist for the New York Times. What makes Kristof unique is his reporting methods. Kristof doesn’t just sit in a New York apartment and opine. He goes all across the world, digging for sources in South Sudan, reaching out to victims of genocide to get their story. He also doesn’t give up until people care about an issue. Remember reading about the crisis in Darfur? That got national attention because Kristof wrote about five editorials on the subject in the mid-2000’s, for which he won his second Pulitzer.

Needless to say, I was kind of shocked when I watched the video to see Kristof with Affleck on the show. And to be honest, I think Kristof made better points. But the fireworks in this show start off with Maher’s guest, Sam Harris, trying to defend his position. His argument is that liberals aren’t critical enough of the Muslim faith, which in many places is very strict. Like we’ll kill you if you leave the faith strict. Some sects are very intolerant of homosexuality and have a different take on women’s rights than most westerners are used to.

These are all true statements. Where Harris gets into trouble is grouping all Muslims into this interpretation of the religion. It’s especially egregious at just over the two-minute mark where Harris says “We have to be able to criticize bad ideas, and Islam at this moment is the motherload of bad ideas.”

At PoliticalProgressives, we don’t believe in taking quotes out of context. It’s one of the reasons the video is right there for you to watch. We don’t believe we’ve done that here. That’s what Harris is trying to say, that the Islam faith is full of wrong and dangerous beliefs.

We agree with Affleck, who is simply in disbelief and says “Jesus”, as in “Did that really just happen?”

This, naturally doesn’t sit well with Kristof. “The picture you’re painting is somewhat true, but is hugely incomplete,” the journalist feels obligated to point out. He lists off people who have been imprisoned or killed for speaking out against how some leaders are interpreting the religion. Affleck takes it a step further. “How about the over 1 billion people who aren’t fanatical, who don’t punch women, who just want to go to school… and don’t do any of the things you’re saying that all Muslims do?”

And this is the bigger issue here. See, this discussion was a lead in to talking about ISIS, and Maher and his cohort Harris are trying to paint all Muslims as radical. Doing so is like saying the Westboro Baptist Church represents all of Christianity, and that all Christians are intolerant of homosexuality and women accepting leadership roles in the church. Kristof saying the picture is hugely incomplete is actually quite generous. It’s really just a lie. Maher and Harris are trying to make the argument that the fundamentalists are not the fringe, that they’re mainstream. And they do have some evidence that says a majority of Muslims in some places agree with things that the Western world probably wouldn’t. But then they try to group those people in the same boat as ISIS supporters, and that’s where Kristof catches them once again.

“This does have the tinge a little bit about how white racists talk about African Americans and define blacks by black criminals,” he says.

The best line of the night, however, does come from Affleck. Maher is going on a rant trying to prove a point with this analogy: “If Filipinos were capturing teenagers and sending them into white slavery, we would criticize that.”

Affleck points out the flaw in the argument by saying “You would criticize the people who are doing it, not the Philippines.”

The bottom line is we have to watch out for this no matter what the subject. Whenever we try to categorize groups of people, inevitably we’re going to assign someone a label they don’t deserve. Not everyone will make as egregious errors as Maher and Harris did here, but then again there won’t always be a Nicholas Kristof or a Ben Affleck to set the record straight. It’s up to each and every one of us to be vigilant of stereotyping, which is exactly what this is.


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