UC Berkeley Students Protest Bill Maher as Commencement Speaker, Citing His "Racist and Bigoted" Remarks

Comedian and talk show host Bill Maher used to be known for his hilariously biting remarks on conservative politicians. These days, he's practically become one of them, making generalized remarks on Islam, which some have called "not very sophisticated." After a string of controversial remarks on Islam, UC Berkeley students are protesting Maher as the university's commencement speaker. Members of the school's Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian Coalition (MEMSA) student group have even stronger labels for Maher: "bigot" and "racist."

The political commentator was asked to speak at the university's commencement ceremony in August, but now his invitation might be rescinded if the petition achieves its intended goal. Authored by Marium Navid, an Associated Students of UC Senator, and Khwaja Ahmed, a MEMSA member, the petition states:

Bill Maher is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for.... Bill Maher's public statements on various religions and cultures are offensive and his dangerous rhetoric has found its way into our campus communities. Too many students are marginalized by his remarks and if the University were to bring this individual as a commencement speaker they would not be supporting these historically marginalized communities.

Navid further explains the reasoning behind the petition, echoing the same sentiment, saying, "It's not an issue of freedom of speech, it's a matter of campus climate."

The First Amendment gives him the right to speak his mind, but it doesn’t give him the right to speak at such an elevated platform as the commencement. That’s a privilege his racist and bigoted remarks don’t give him.

As of press time, the petition had already gathered more than 1,700 signatures out of its 2,500 goal.

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So what exactly has Maher said to incite such resistance to his speech? In October, Maher engaged in a debate on his show Real Time With Bill Maher with guests atheism advocate Sam Harris, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and actor Ben Affleck, in which he condemned liberal hypocrisy when it comes to discussing Islam. According to Maher, liberals betray their principles when they defend Islam.

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, but then when you say in the Muslim world this is what’s lacking, then they get upset.
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Harris sided with Maher on the topic, pointing out the phenomenon of "IslamIslamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people." Harris also called Islam the "mother lode of bad ideas." Maher agreed, "It's the only religion that acts like the mafia that will f**king kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book."

I'd sound like a broken record if I stated, yet again, how wrong generalizations like these are, so we'll let the students at UC Berkeley do the talking.

Senior Alex Chang, who fully understands Maher's cutting humor, put it best when he told the school's paper, The Daily California, that having Maher speak "could definitely ruin someone's graduation day."

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