Ben Affleck, Islamophobia and the Western media

Published: October 11, 2014

Since 9/11, the American media has discussed Islam in a negative light.

I am a Christian Bale aficionado, especially for his portrayal as Batman. So when it was announced that Ben Affleck is going to be featured as the new Batman in an upcoming movie, I was heartbroken. But putting that aside, in the recent episode between Bill Maher and Affleck that has been stirring quite the hype, I am going to try to pledge my allegiance with Affleck and let my conscience agree to him being Batman.

If you have been following the recent clash between Maher and Affleck, then let’s give a high five to Affleck for standing up against IslamophobiaGeneralising an entire population is, in truth, leaning towards bigotry and even hard core liberals like Maher are deemed guilty.

Recently, Affleck was on the Real Time with Bill Maher show to promote his new film, Gone Girl However, the film didn’t get much attention as Affleck found himself in a rather furious debate with Maher and the other guest on the show, Sam Harris, who has written a few books on religion. Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, was also present.

The entire debate kicked off after Maher made his usual Islamophobic views in an episode that was aired prior to this particular one. Maher cited that,

“Vast numbers of Muslims want humans to die for holding a different idea… and share too much in common with ISIS”.

In the episode with Affleck, Maher again resorted to making his usual comments against Islam. He clearly labelled Islam as:

“The only religion that acts like the mafia, that will %^&$*[email protected] kill you if you say the wrong thing”.

Harris backed this up by calling Islam,

“The mother-load of bad ideas”.

Finally, it seemed as though it was left to Affleck to denounce their opinions by calling them “gross” and “racist”. Kristof also stated that criticising Islam was akin to,

“A tinge of how white racists talk about African-Americans and define blacks”.

While Affleck has been lauded by people across the globe for standing up to Maher, who is well known as being one of the loudest and certainly the most outspoken media personality in his bigotry towards Muslims, I personally felt that there is a growing, subtler, invasive and dangerous Islamophobia creeping into the international news coverage that we are seeing and reading about.

Maher is critically conflating extremists as a whole. He, like many others, is carrying on with the assumption that, by default, all Muslims share inherent traits of violence, extremism and terrorism, and that they are all just a bunch of warmongering, illiterate, stone-aged fanatics.

CNN is one of those news channels that I think sets Islamophobia as default. Last month, the channel invited the Iranian scholar of religions, Reza Aslan, to respond to some of Maher’s earlier views. If you look at the clip below, it is indeed an impeccable example of the bizarre notions about Islam that are spreading into international mainstream coverage.

During the exchange of arguments between the two anchors of CNN and Aslan, the latter pointed out that Muslims are not defined just by extremism. He duly pointed out that Muslim majority countries have elected female heads of state seven times. Don Lemon, the co-host of the show, interrupted him and said,

“Reza, be honest though. For the most part, it is not a free and open society for women in those states”.

The anchors literally appeared and talked back to Aslan in a woefully daft comparison. The sheer ignorance and imbecilic views of the anchors in the clip is painful to watch.

Since 9/11, the American media has discussed Islam in a negative light. It is interesting to note that in recent weeks, with the rise of the atrocious activities by ISIS, Islamophobia is once again being heightened. But that is still no excuse for anchors, reporters, journalists and all those representing the media to spread negative, and many times vile, views on Islam – or any other religion for that matter.

Coming back to the Affleck episode, while I applaud him for putting some sense into this maddening episode, I disagreed with the term “race” that Affleck used. Islam is not a race. It is a religion. You can’t condemn someone as being “racist” upon disliking a religion, for religion has no race.

Nevertheless, thank you Affleck for lending some sanity. I personally would’ve been more excited to watch the entire episode had another religious scholar been present. But alas, for the likes of Maher, he might not have digested a sensible debate on his show.

Zara Hafeez

Zara Hafeez

A digital marketer, writer, a history buff, volunteer for humanitarian causes for The James Caan Foundation, UNICEF Promise for Children, among others and a tea-aholic. She tweets as @zara_hafeez (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Yes the west is demonizing Islam,
    Yes they think that most of us wake up and plot to kill little children
    Yes there are many western pundits who believe that Islam should be eradicated by force.


    There are among us THOSE who think that anyone who is an apostate or a disbeliever should be killed
    There are among us THOSE who think that women have no rights and should never leave their homes
    There are among us THOSE who label themselves as educated but at the same time support these open extremists and hold such extremist views as
    1)Malala is a western puppet and should be killed/banned/restrained , 2)Ahmadis,Shias etc. are non Muslims and should be slaughtered wholesale, 3)Muslims should form sharia states within states in the west.

    So basically we need to eradicate these miscreants before we go about complaining about islamophobia.Recommend

  • Rahul

    It is all about ratings. India gets bashed in Pakistan media because it leads to high ratings. Bashing Islam and Pakistan leads to high ratings in the West.Recommend

  • MK

    The CNN anchors are not at fault here. Reza Aslan is being disingenuous when he says:
    “It’s worth noting that Muslim-majority nations have elected women leaders on several occasions, while some Americans still debate whether the United States is ready for a female president”.

    Let’s see:
    Benazir Bhutto who was elected in Pakistan was the daughter of a former Prime Minister of Pakistan. She was assassinated afterward.

    Sheikh Hasina (current prime minister of Bangladesh) is daughter of the founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur-Rehman.

    Megawati Sukarnopotri, former President of Indonesia, was the daughter of Sukarno, the founding father of Indonesia.

    This is not the case of women empowerment by Islam. This is a classic case of family connections in politics and has nothing to do with Islam lifting women to leadership positions.

    The CNN journalists were justified in their line of questioning, because the ground reality is very much different than having some women elected due to political dynasties. The Muslim world has one of the worst track records when it comes to the treatment of women, these are the facts.Recommend

  • hadi

    Bill Maher is right. You can critisize Cristians but as soon as one questions the abundance of Musllim stupidity, he/she gets slammed as an Islamophobe. We as a country and as a religion won’t move forward if we try to extinguish free thought and take the right of people to question ideas…Recommend

  • raw is war

    Hardly agree. Bill maher is a non-believer. He is critical of all religions. Definitely he is harsh on Islam. Look around Europe, Canada, Syria. Of course, in USA muslims are well behaved. Recommend

  • Palvasha von Hassell

    Thanks for drawing my attention to this video…always liked Ben Affleck, and now he’s high up on my list of favourite people. Voice of sanity in a world that’s rapidly becoming brainwashed. Awesome!Recommend

  • Pratab

    Seems like you havent heard of Arnab Goswami. :)Recommend

  • Ammar Shakeel

    Questioning is one thing but stereotyping and generalizing all Muslims based on what ISIS does is pure bigotry. Throughout the argument Maher was trying to smear all Muslims as extremists without any concrete evidence.Recommend

  • BlackHat

    A British aid worker/volunteer was beheaded by the IS. Children are being used as suicide bombers. Shias and minorities are being massacred. Does not condoning any of these make one an islamophobe? Are Muslims being criticized for saving modern science by translating various works by ancient Greeks, Indians, Persians and others? Are they being looked down upon for having built the Alhamra or the Taj Mahal? You have forgotten what made Islam glorious. This is 21st century not 7th century. Terror will not work in your favor.Recommend

  • Shivesh

    This article is fine but it’s the need of the hour that liberal Muslims around the globe should speak more and make their voice more heard , else a small minority will decide how the large majority would be seen by the rest of the world.Recommend

  • Baham

    Bill Maher is another EXTREMIST!
    having some negative views against Islam is also extremism
    and as far as ISIS goes they are ignorant people.
    all of us are against themRecommend

  • Faulitics

    The opinions held by Bill Maher reflects majority american opinion. Recommend

  • siesmann

    3 out of 5 panelists are there defending Islam.And nobody called Islam a race.Racist is a term used in general for anybody who has negative views about a people.They compared the people hating Islam to white racists anyway,and didn’t call them racists.That said, Islamophobia is a fact indeed,and promoted by certain media groups.Recommend

  • hare

    India doesn’t get bashed for no reason… its all about their policies about Pakistan
    In recent election in Pakistan non of the political parties said anything against India but in Indian election situation was exactly oppositeRecommend

  • Anjaan Aadmi

    It is no secret that Ben Affleck has political ambitions, just like George Clooney … therefore hardly any surprise that he is simply being politically correct while talking about Islam and the Muslims … after all he will have to approach the Muslim voters in the future … !!Recommend

  • Observation

    Anyone who belongs to Islam cannot be considered as an objective person to comment on this . The fact that Ms Zara hafeez has no problem in writing this blog just shows the lack of awareness in general ! Recommend

  • Farhad

    Kudos to the writer. Unlike other publications that I’ve come across writing about this issue, Zara Hafeez takes a different angle and highlights the ‘necessary’ while letting Ben Affleck keep his thunder. Excellent writing. Thank you Ms. Hafeez. Recommend

  • badself

    Actually all of this hatred being spewed at people of faith has caused me to stop reading or watching, so that didn’t work so well.Recommend

  • Jayman

    We may reject somebody for speaking the unvarnished truth. But I would love to know what it was that Maher said that was NOT the truth. What appalls me is the silence of the same people over the excesses that are happening in the name of that religion.Recommend

  • Blue Marble

    The interview with Reza Aslan is quite disturbing. Not because he exposes CNN bias, but we have a prominent Muslim, an accomplished scholar of history, sociology and religion like Reza Aslan, a man who was not just born into Islam but chose Islam (after having converted to Christianity for a period), gets so defensive that he cannot be intellectually honest about the elements of his faith that promote violence, and instead responds with baseless allegations of bigotry.

  • Hmm…

    I think ,the reason for rise in Islamophobia is the inability by non-muslims,to distinguish between moderate,peace-loving muslims & radical Islamists. The root cause of the difficulty is that both groups (peaceful & violent) quote from the same text-so non-muslims find it hard to differentiate between the two groups.Thus peaceful muslims,suffer discrimination & a bad name,because of the activities of radicals.Recommend

  • abhi

    It is suprising that you are calling Bill Maher Islamophobe while the two statement you quoted are factually correct. Blasphamy and Apostasy are crime with captial punishment by law in all the Ismlamic countries and no one raises a voice against them. Ben Affleck only showed his ignorance about Islam when he countered Bill Maher not with facts but with emotions.Recommend

  • abhi

    It seems moderators are having tough time in moderating the comments.Recommend

  • Kiran

    I’ve never seen a news channel in Pakistan bash India, They have bigger issues to worry about other than what India is upto, you know like fighting terrorism in their own country…Recommend

  • hassan

    India is not bashed in the pakistani media. In fact most of the time people admire Indian economic and scientific progress.Recommend

  • Maaz

    Excuse me! I don’t particularly like maher but the point he was trying to make neither ben was trying to understand nor the majority of the Muslims will try to understand. He was simply saying that in Islam if a Muslim leaves his religion he should be “killed”. And the majority of the Muslims will not be against it and will say yes the person should be killed and majority won’t have a problem with that. So open up your ears and listen to what the guy is trying to say before taking side. The problem with Muslims is that we live In a cave of superiority complex.Recommend

  • Hank Hill

    You address none of the points that Maher and Harris make, that a significant portion of Muslims (certainly not all) hold values based in the Qu’ran that run contrary to Western values. Honor killings are widespread in Muslim countries as is the subjugation of women as second class citizens. 78% of British Muslims believe that cartoonists depicting Mohammed should be prosecuted. This runs contrary to the principles that Western law is based on: freedom of speech and religion. You dismiss Maher and Harris as Islamophobic simply because what they are saying makes you uncomfortable. Set aside your emotions and kneejerk reaction and look at some cold, hard facts. 61% of Pakistanis support the death penalty for those who leave the faith. That doesn’t sound like stereotyping, that sounds like fact. Do some research.

  • Ahmed

    I think it is ridiculous to get into the technicality of the term racism: racism has become an all encompassing term for bigotry and that’s what Ben meant when he used it. Bill Maher has an agenda and that is Israel – so just like when Natanyahu conflates Hamas with ISIS and thus deliberately attempts to mislead the world by ignoring facts and history, so is Maher trying to use a similar tactic in order to put Islam as the cause of muslim violence so he can also put Hamas and ISIS in the same box. Maher is a hired Israeli gun and this is not a conspiracy as he openly professes his loyalty to the state of Israel. Islam is merely a means to tell would be martyrs that there is something better after death.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    The problem with people such as yourself is that your “facts” just start from 5 years ago. You have not lived under dictatorships or have had a third world country experience to figure out why people are the way they are. And these so called western values are not western, they are values common to all humanity but lacking realization in the muslim world not because of Islam but because of lack of justice, lack of education, lack of basic maslow human needs, and what muslims, in most cases, rightfully see the destruction of muslim countries by “Christian” armies, like Bush called his war on Iraq a crusade. People don’t just turn extreme because of religion but that religion becomes a rallying cry to all to think or imagine a world where the law of the almighty is supreme and hence there will be fairness. This so called picking of facts, which are admittedly horrendous to say the least, and then blaming an entire 1.6 billion people is bigotry because it is circular in nature as the conclusion has already been drawn and facts just extend support.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was a very perceptive comment….except that on Pakistan TV and society in general there is very little India bashing…..and I say this in a very loose general sense.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Most of the time, yes, it is not “bashed”, I agree. Recommend

  • Indian

    I didn’t know that. You cleared up,a misconception of mine.Thank you.Recommend

  • badself

    Agree. A lot of brainwashing that people don’t even bother to investigate, but follow the herd along. In this age of information it would take a few hours to realize what is true and what is not. Maher is an out of date intellectual snob, and Affleck is awesome for calling him out. Recommend

  • mimi sur

    you have hit bull’s eye .Recommend

  • abhi

    It is because inability of moderate muslims to criticize wrongs within Islamic world.Recommend

  • abhi

    What he said was very simple. Most of muslims consider death penalty for blasphemy as appropiate punishment. Is it not correct?Recommend

  • abhi

    You cannot dimiss this as purely for ratings. What Bill Maher and Harris are putting up a very rational argument. When it comes to Islam any criticizm is immediatly labeld as Islamophobia. Did you hear any word like Hinduphobia or Christianphobia or Jewphobia?Recommend

  • Joel

    You summary of this interview is that;

    “He, like many others, is carrying on with the assumption that, by default, all Muslims share inherent traits of violence, extremism and terrorism, and that they are all just a bunch of warmongering, illiterate, stone-aged fanatics.”

    Later in the very same interview Harris said;

    “There are hundreds of millions of Muslims who are nominal Muslims who don’t take the faith seriously, who don’t want to kill apostates, who are horrified by ISIS and we need to defend these people, prop them up and let them reform their faith.”

    Not sure how you could have read and understood the interview containing the second statement and then written the first statement into your article?Recommend

  • Pakistani

    Again, those are extremists.. western media highlights the terrorist activities of Muslims, why can’t it admit that innocent Muslims are being killed by Israeli and American forces? Malala is being called a western puppet because she never spoke about the Muslims who are killed by drone strikes, why doesn’t she have the courage to talk about the issues being faced by Muslims? Nobody hated Malala, she was a representative of Pakistan, everyone expected her to highlight the actual issues but she didn’t meet the expectations..Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    you should try to READ the NEWS before making such comments. Malala told PRESIDENT OBAMA that his drone attacks will create hostility and breed new extremists. Even your so called “elected” PM did not have the guts to tell him that.
    Also the number of Muslims killed by Israel pales in comparison to the number of Muslims killed by other Muslims. ISIS, Taliban and the plethora of other Muslim extremists supported by their liberal(so called) supporters. So you see if Israel kills 10 people a day no one cares for ISIS and Taliban along-with other MUSLIM extremists are killing about 500 a day.
    So bottom line, Please read to news to educate yourself about Malala and try to compare Muslim killers with Israel to see who is worst.
    FINE PRINT> I do not condone the atrocities committed by Israel. Saying that one man has killed ten ppl and another has killed 500 does not mean I am supporting the former, they are both killers but I will take the former over the latter any day.Recommend

  • Lucas

    Ok… bill is wrong. Why?

    Essentially what he is doing is like blaming all Christians (if not blaming saying all christians have the fundimental desire to act the same way) for the atrocious way the westboro baptist church members act.

    Its not that its wrong to question something, its the intent behind mentioning it! Bill kept going on and on about the death penalty for leaving the religion… but the polls showing the desire for freedom of religion amongst Muslims is higher!!

    The backwards nature of their countries may not be due to Islam… some counties before American invasion actually had better equal rights than America! Even though some consider their dress code oppressive, they have the option to not wear it when not oppressed by the militant factions trained and armed by the west.Recommend

  • Gp65

    I have seen several anchors and their guests on Pakistan TV whip up anti-India sentiment with lies such as
    – India is stealing our water ( India has always honored IWT even during wars)
    – India caused floods by releasing water from dam without elling Pakistan (the dam in question was run of the river dam incapable of storing water and India too experienced floods)
    – India sponsors TTP ( when it was Pakistan APC which decided to negotiate with them, Ch. Nissar and Imran Khan were furious when Hakeemullah was droned)
    – India has 19/21/54 (pick a number) of consulates in Afghanistan to push terrorists in Pakistan ( India has exacly 4 consulates in the exact same city that Pakistan has).

    Of course some of these same anchors and guests also used to deride Malala as a CIA agent, so…..Recommend

  • Gp65

    This is what your media tells you. Of course politicians will criticize Pakistan when there is firing going on the border which is what happened recently. Your media sought to link it woth our elections when it was no such thing. Otherwise, Pakistan bashing does not get any votes and during the 2014 federal elections, there were no such anti-Pakistan speeches.Recommend

  • guest

    those majority of Muslims are not following the teachings of Islam.. Blaming the whole religion because of some groups of its followers doesn’t make senseRecommend

  • Jamor

    If you had listened to the whole debate,you will realize that Maher and Harris are not blaming all Muslims.Harris said that in the Centre is ISIS who advocate radical means to further their cause.Then there are 20 % of Muslims who agree with ISIS but dont work within the framework of the laws of the country of residenceRecommend

  • hare

    ask a neutral person to compare the the media of both India and Pakistan..Recommend

  • Hassan

    Maam, please google ” Mustaq Ahmed India tv report” to see how ” good ” Indian Media is.Recommend

  • Siraj Alam

    Bill Maher, under the veil of commedy, gets in the habbit of slaming religions, left and right. A lot of his “comedy” has come at the expense of Mormons (thanks to Mit Romney’s run for presidency) and Christianity (Michele Bockman, Sara Palin providing the fodder). Somehow, he is able to to distinguish those “idiotic” religious chants and actions from the rest of Christians (won’t spare Mormons though, guess why).

    And then we get his attention and he slams the whole Muslim world, using his snap pseudo-liberal judgment about personal liberties and rights – no discussion about the teachings and values of Islam. Cause he is an illiterate when it comes to Islam. He is a media showman, not a journalist. Why should he indulge in intellectual and factual debate, when all he has to do is say things that resonate with westen world hyped up on 9/11, Iraq and Afghan invasion and now ISIS.

    Mr. Maher has no integrity, and we shouldn’t expect anyting better from him. He works for ratings on American TV and that’s that.Recommend

  • WhooS

    When he said ‘Race’, he was referring to the people inhabiting the Middle East.Recommend