Talk show host Bill Maher is known for his anti-religious rhetoric and Islamophobia, but this time the controversial comedian took his views too far when he compared Zayn Malik, a Muslim and former member of British boy band One Direction, to the recently found guilty Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnev. In the web-only segment of “Real Time With Bill Maher” posted last week Maher discussed Malik’s career move to leave One Direction and then placed a picture of the singer’s face next to an image of Tsarnev and asked, “Where were you during the Boston marathon?”
Maher’s joke messed with the wrong crowd. One Directioners were outraged by Maher’s mocking of Malik’s Muslim faith and appearance and the joke set off a firestorm of criticism on Twitter with the hashtag #RespectForZayn.
terrorist jokes aren't funny and being a muslim doesn't make you a terrorist #RespectForZayn— H. (@pinkfloydharold) April 5, 2015
making fun about someones religion is never funny and it only shows how pathetic and irrelevant you are #RespectForZayn— tina loves z (@hesrevenge) April 6, 2015
Fans even started a petition on Change.org demanding Maher apologize for the segment.
Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesperson for Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR),also called out Maher’s joke as “another example of [his] casual racism and anti-Muslim bigotry” in an interview with ThinkProgress.
Hooper went on to further note how Maher’s identity as a liberal atheist and voice for the left paired with his consistent anti-Muslim views conjures up an Islamphobic sentiment in progressive communities.
“He legitimizes Islamophobia on the left,” Hooper said. “I don’t view bigotry or intolerance as liberal or progressive.”
While Maher’s Muslim bigotry has earned him his fair share of liberal critics, his continued popularity and influence raises questions on how the comedian may be validating discrimination and shaping a racist perspective in liberal circles. Will his justification of ridiculing Islam as free speech push progressives to follow in his footsteps? Islamophobia is already widely accepted in American culture and Maher’s redundant theme of Muslim hatred continues to perpetuate the ignorant assumption that Muslims are terrorist extremists — even in the progressive sphere.
Read more: What If The Chapel Hill Shooter Was Muslim?