Twenty years later, something similar is happening on the subject of Islam. In recent weeks, Maher has gained national attention for making the kind of sweeping, derogatory generalizations about Muslims that campus conservatives gained national attention for making about African Americans a couple of decades ago. In the 1990s, campus conservatives presented African-American crime and poverty as a product purely of cultural pathology, ignoring white America’s centuries of racist violence and injustice. Today, Maher presents Muslim terrorism as purely a product of religious pathology, ignoring the tremendous ongoing violence the United States and its Western allies commit in majority-Muslim countries.
And today, as then, leftists are responding by trying to restrict free speech. Last week, students at Berkeley launched a petition aimed at preventing Maher from speaking at the university’s commencement this December. “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,” its authors explained. This spring, a protest prevented the Somali-born critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, from speaking at Brandeis. More recently, Muslim students tried to restrict a speech of hers at Yale.
Once again, campuses are witnessing a clash of the supposedly victimized. Maher paints himself as a man bravely violating politically correct orthodoxy to tell truths about Islam that many American liberals fear acknowledging. Muslim students on campus want their campuses to be a refuge from what many consider the demonization and persecution of Muslims in post-9/11 America. And once again, the clash is bringing out the worst in both sides.