Bill Maher and Tavis Smiley got into a heated debate Friday about the difference between the treatment of women in America versus in Muslim countries.
When Smiley continually asserted on HBO's "Real Time" that women are maltreated here, Maher said, "It's such bulls--t," and eventually ended the discussion by scolding the PBS host, "When you tolerate intolerance, you’re not really being a liberal” (video follows with partial transcript and commentary):
BILL MAHER: I think it’s fair to say Muslim men have a bad attitude about women in general, and I would just like to say to them that you’re never going to have this revolution happen unless there is also a sexual revolution that goes with it.
Smiley at that point shook his head leading Maher to ask, “Really, Tavis? Muslim men don’t have a problem with women?”
SMILEY: No, I’m not going to argue that.
SMILEY: Let me say up front, I agree with you.
MAHER: I was going to cut your head off.
SMILEY: No, no, no. Better my head than what Kevin. I was going to say that first of all, obviously what happened to Lara Logan is reprehensible, horrific, we can’t find a language to describe what happened to her. But having said that, if our democracy, Bill, if, if, if our readiness for democracy in this country is based upon, determined by, demonstrated by our respect for women, then we ain’t ready for democracy…
MAHER: That is a false equivalence.
SMILEY: No, no, no, no, no.
SMILEY: Absolutely not.
MAHER: Are you serious? You think this country, the men in this country have an attitude that even comes close to…
SMILEY: I’m suggesting to you if you think that the way we treat women in this country, with patriarchy still alive and well, sexism still alive and well, is determinative or demonstrative of how well our democracy runs, I think you don’t understand how maltreated women are still in this society. That’s all I’m saying.
MAHER: What I’m saying is you have no perspective. You have no perspective.
SMILEY: I’m saying you have no perspective.
MAHER: No. Go ahead.
MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC: I was just, if you look at the history of the United States I would say that actually democracy leads to better attitudes toward women because when the United States was founded of course, women couldn’t vote, African-Americans couldn’t vote, and we got there eventually. So, I think you’ve got it reversed.
MAHER: No I don’t. 19 of 22 Arab countries, women cannot vote. In Egypt, women if you want to divorce your husband you have to go to court. If a man wants to divorce his wife if he just has to say that, what they call the triple telac (?) or something, I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee. That must happen like on the first fight. It must be so…
KEVIN SMITH, FILMMAKER: I’ve been trying that twelve years of marriage. Doesn’t work. Don’t work.
MAHER: In Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive a car, sail a boat, fly a plane, which is why their tampon ads are just horseback riding.
[ Laughter ]
A bit later, Smiley fine-tuned his point, "I don’t disagree with the fact that they got a long way to go. What I’m trying to suggest to you is that when we have these conversations about how they treat women, as if somehow we treat women better in this country, it demonizes Muslims."
Maher vehemently disagreed stating, "It’s not demonizing. That’s saying I’m prejudiced. I’m saying I’m not prejudiced. That’s pre-judging. I’m not pre-judging, I’m judging. I’m judging. They’re worse. What’s wrong with just saying that? You’re a cultural relativist. It’s not relative."
After the discussion was interrupted by a heckler in the audience who ended up being removed from the studio, Smiley actually said, “It might surprise us to go into our papers in this country every day and to see stories just like this of how women are maltreated in this country every single day.”
Maher countered, “It’s such bulls—t. I mean, in this country, we treat women badly because they don’t get equal pay, or someone calls you sugar tits, or something like that. I don’t think it’s comparable to cutting their heads off, not letting them drive, not letting them work.”
As the debate continued, Smiley pompously asserted, “I would rather have us stop acting like that we know the answers to everything, that we’re always right, that our way is always better, that we don’t make mistakes.”
“We don’t know the answers to everything,” replied Maher, “But I do know we treat women better.”
The discussion ended with Maher scolding Smiley, “When you tolerate intolerance, you’re not really being a liberal.”
Although a delicious smack down, it was also rather ironic, for tolerating intolerance is the basis of liberalism, and Maher epitomizes it virtually every time he opens his mouth.
He may have been on the right side of this argument, but if a conservative had taken his position, it seems a metaphysical certitude Maher would have been saying virtually the same things Smiley was.
Makes you wonder if Maher was just playing devil's advocate for the entertainment value.
We'll know the next time he points accusatory fingers at Americans to support Muslims.