Donald Trump is anti-Muslim but more disturbing is the degree to which white liberals share his ideology. Rooted in white supremacy, it lives on the political left, trumpeted by thought leaders like Bill Maher. It views brown terrorists as especially scary and worthy of scrutiny but is incapable of treating whites in the same way. It cannot see that my (black) people still live in fear of white Christians, not ISIS. It extends white privilege to slavers and the Klan, insisting they were exceptional and not representative of Christianity yet regards every Muslim attacker as a perfect ambassador of Islam. It dismisses Timothy McVeigh and the IRA as ancient history while 9/11 dictates our national course daily. It fails to fully appreciate that although the Klan is not lynching black people today, Dylan Roof, police and James Harris Jackson are. White supremacy blocks conservatives and liberals from seeing the issue of terror clearly and we cannot afford blurred vision in this moment.
On this past week’s episode of Real Time, former UK Parliament member Louise Mensch highlighted that Khalid Masoon, the London attacker, was born in Britain and the tragedy should not be exploited to fan anti-Muslim flames. Maher, predictably, insisted that Islam itself was the issue. When Maher’s guests pointed out that we do not attribute terror to Christians in the same way, Maher cited false equivalency. When Maher asked whether there were in fact Christian terror groups today and his guests furnished modern examples, Maher excused them as being in the past. The only terrorists of interest to Maher are the brown ones. Unwittingly, Maher provides intellectual cover to overt racists, those in the Trump camp. As a liberal, Maher’s fixation on Islamic terrorists and broad condemnation of Islam as a religion only serves to empower bigotry, not halt terror.
As a black man I have great difficulty following the logic of Maher and the bigots he empowers because history lives for the oppressed. When there is an unwillingness to treat white extremists with the same urgency as brown ones, there is pause. When there is a dismissiveness of crimes in the past, as though they are not still present in our memory, trust is broken. As a nation we never dealt with the issue of white terrorism in the past, especially when Christianity was a motivating force. In the present we are told it is inappropriate to discuss white terrorists groups like FEAR because they somehow do not represent the same kind of threat as Islamists do. It would seem as though the time is never right to discuss white terror and for those who have suffered at the hands of white terrorists, we are unable to engage in a genuine discussion on the topic until these scores are settled.
To be sure, Dylan Roof and James Harris Jackson do not belong to groups seeking nuclear weapons. Still, white terrorists have demonstrated the ability to kill en masse and yet the hysteria is just not there. Timothy McVeigh and the IRA did not explicitly attack in the name of God. Yet it is undeniable that the Klan and the many extremists who have attacked abortion clinics have drawn from holy texts but Christianity manages to escape broad condemnation as a violent faith that produces such terror. It should also be noted that extremists often have a cultural association with Islam, much in the same way Timothy McVeigh was raised Catholic but not particularly devout. While we tend not to stress the link to Christianity in such cases, Muslims are not extended the same privilege.
I have been a huge fan of Maher since childhood. It was my greatest joy as a teenager to stay up and watch Politically Incorrect and Real Time is still my weekly obsession! My aim is not to takedown Maher so much as to point out the flaw in our national reasoning, which white supremacy enables. Terror is a serious issue and as such, our lenses must not be flawed when we view it.