Figuring Out Islam In One Cable Segment

You’ll note there’s a TMS piece from Ramesh Ponnuru in the highlighter box of the website today that discusses the instantly famous whirligig conducted on Bill Maher’s HBO show wherein a comedian, an actor, a celebrity journalist, a professional atheist, and (for some reason) Michael Steele got together to figure out the Essence of Islam. I never watch Maher (and wouldn’t even if I were an HBO subscriber) because I find him insufferably smug, which is annoying when, and perhaps especially when, I agree with him, which is often. But you don’t have to watch the segment in question to understand, a priori, that five non-Muslims, none of whom are in any way experts on Islam, aren’t going to do much of anything other than damage in dissecting a big, complicated, multifaceted World Religion in a single segment of a single television show.

Conservative gabbers have long advanced the “ain’t no moderate Muslims” premise. So I suppose there’s a novelty appeal involved in getting people associated with the political and cultural left to say the same sorts of things. Some of these birds (notably Harris) may be attempting to navigate a magical mystery tour “debunking” all the great religious traditions before they die, as though the faithful of the whole wide world are going to be convinced by talking points to abandon the central source of meaning in their lives. In any event, Ponnuru’s right: “fixing” Islam is a job best left to Muslims. More generally, people who don’t “get” religion and people who don’t “get” disbelief probably should agree to disagree and leave it alone, lest they reveal a mutual failure of imagination.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.