Bill Maher, Mohammed and tabloid bullshit

A couple of people have tweeted about Bill Maher in connection with the 5cc tabloid bullshit of the month award from last Saturday. I kind of like what little I've been able to see of Bill Maher in the UK, so I had a bit of a dig around to see what the fuss was about.

It's this:

Ah...right. Maher has defended himself here:

I see why people mentioned this alongside the award.

Bill Maher is alarmed by something that isn't really happening. He wouldn't be the first person to end up in that position after reading stuff in the British press. Imagine reading the British papers without knowing the main aim of most of them is to rile people up for no reason, or that they frequently lie through their teeth. Jeez.

You'll notice that nobody in either clip pulls him up on the claim, and nobody seems to know Mohammed is only the most popular name if you cheat and add together twelve possible spellings.

It doesn't seem likely that anyone will have told him that even if you do this, you're left with a situation where boys named Mohammed make up around 2% of baby boys born in a country with a Muslim population of around 4%.

Will anyone have mentioned that the high number of Mohammeds reflect the popularity of the name among Muslims, and that since there is no similarly popular girls' name not a single Muslim girls' name makes the top 100? Probably not, huh? I wouldn't have known a lot of that stuff if I hadn't looked outside the mainstream media and at blogs.  ( TabloidWatch, Enemies of Reason, No Sleep 'Til Brooklands and Primly Stable (twice) to be specific).

Maher seems to be in trouble for his comments about being alarmed, but just as alarming from the point of view of a UK tabloid watcher is the ease with which he swallows not just this story, but another about how sharia is a parallel legal system in the UK, and this is a cause for concern.

What we actually have in the UK is a system where people are allowed to take some concerns to a third party arbiter in non-criminal cases, and some people who do this are Muslim. We also have Beth D'in courts that Jewish people can use based on that principle. I know they have the same system in the States - my mum bloody loves Judge Judy. While Muslim arbiters may apply sharia principles to their findings, they're as likely to be allowed to sentence someone to stoning as she is.

What's really disappointing here is the sight of someone who bases their outlook on scepticism, at least in part, who all but abandons that scepticism when faced with stories about a thing or a group they don't like. Religious people from an evil religion taking over? I'm alarmed!

Maher's alarm may or may not be racism, that would be debatable, but it's certainly prejudiced. To assume a threat to all the things he mentions in his defence based on a babies' names is nothing but blind prejudice (although I have to confess chuckling at the threat to separation of church and state in the UK - we don't have that here, there's an official state religion, which believe it or not isn't Islam). I've met Muslims who eat pork, drink booze, don't fast during Ramadan and place about as much importance on religion as people who tick 'Church of England' on forms but only go to church at weddings and funerals and wouldn't know the Bible from the Da Vinci Code.

One bloke I know called Mohammed - loves a beer. About as interested in threatening freedom, plurality and democracy as my mum.

But - Maher is only alarmed because he thinks the Mohammed thing is evidence of 'outbreeding' on a massive scale rather than evidence of exactly how far newspapers will go towards tricking readers into thinking that's what's happening. If he knew the truth, what then?


Tim Footman said...

I’m more concerned by the fact that apparently educated Americans don’t seem to know the difference between the UK, Great Britain and England.

North Briton 45 said...

It was immensely depressing to see Bill Maher go down this road as he's normally a bit sceptical of this kind of rubbish.

I studied the list and found that there are more than 9,000 Johns there, counting all its variant spellings and including Jack, which I admit isn't quite the same but is still a diminutive of John.

Cheekily, I'll post a link to it here: http://northbriton45.blogspot.com/2010/11/whats-in-name.html

It's just so depressing that this kind of nonsense gets wide reporting, fuelling paranoia and hatred.

Jonas said...

Unfortunately, this is typical of Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens and other "extreme" skeptics - they are willing to believe anything as long as it makes Muslims appear evil, because to them Muslims are the ulimate religious people, and therefore the ultimate enemy of all people who hate religion. It's a shame, because Maher has many interesting (and funny) things to say.

Masticator said...

Eh, plenty of people don't get that right even in the UK. The pundit in the first clip was even sort of correct (on that count) when she talked about sharia law being a parallel legal system in England. It would have been wrong to say 'UK' there.

Even if Bill Maher isn't privy to the details of this bullshit story and has swallowed the rightwing press's lies whole, does he think that Mohammed being the most popular baby name mean Muslims are having babies at "six to eight times" the rate of non-Muslims? It sounded like that's what he thinks. In which case he is an idiot.

He also seems to think that the sort of Muslims who choose to live in Western democracies are, in general, the sort of Muslims who want to destroy Western democracies.

He's a big bucket of wrong.

Neil W said...

I know the difference between the Bible and the Da Vinci Code. One has bloody murders, clever riddles, intriguing mysteries, several sex scenes, interesting characters and villains at the top of the church. The other is the Da Vinci Code.

Steve said...

I'm very disconcerted to find our right wing tabloids untruths spread so far. And that's why blogs like yours are important, the truth has to be put out there. Keep up the good work.

Sean said...

It isn't just the nasty Muslims that causes him to abandon his scepticism: Maher is an advocate of woo medicine, denies the epidemiological spread of germs and is an anti-vaccine crank. Check out the indignation from rationalists everywhere when he was awarded the Richard Dawkins gong last year.

john b said...

Masticator: erm, no. The Arbitration Act 1996 allows the use of sharia tribunals in civil proceedings in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; and the Arbitration (Scotland) Act 2010 does the same for Scotland.