On Friday, HBO host Bill Maher sparred with other liberal commentators about the role of Islam in the recent terror attack in London. Last Wednesday, 52-year-old Khalid Masood killed four people and injured fifty outside of the U.K. Parliament building by driving his car into a crowd and subsequently attacking people with a knife before being shot dead by police.
The attack, which the Islamic State has claimed credit for, has reignited the discussion about the role of Islam in inspiring terrorism.
In response to the attacks, Maher, an avowed atheist, argued that it is wrong for people to “pretend this has nothing to do with Islam, the religion.”
Responding to Maher’s clear-eyed assessment, Louise Mensch, a former member of the U.K. Parliament, disagreed, claiming, “It has nothing to do with Islam the same was Timothy McVeigh had nothing to do with Roman Catholicism.”
Maher responded to Mensch’s “false equivalency,” noting that “Every time some bomb goes off, before it goes off, somebody yells Allah Akbar (Allah is greatest)!” He quipped, “I never hear anybody go ‘Merry Christmas! This one’s for the flying nun!’”
Pressing further, Maher asked his liberal colleagues, “Are there Christian terrorist armies like ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab. Are there armies like that in the world that aren’t Muslim?”
Although he’s certainly not a friend of organized religion or of Christianity in particular, Bill Maher makes a vitally significant point. Ironically, sometimes it takes an unbeliever—perhaps even an avowed critic of religion—to make a profoundly important observation about religion and worldview.
For years, liberals have argued that terrorism consciously perpetrated in the name of Islam has nothing to do with Islam. In 2014, President Obama explicitly made this argument while discussing the Islamic State, saying: “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents.”
Charitably, President Obama’s statement about the Islamic State is evasive. Straightforwardly, it is profoundly wrong and dishonest. The notion that terrorism explicitly carried out in the name of Islam has nothing to do with Islam is a non sequitur; it is intellectually disingenuous.
Bill Maher deserves credit for courageously explaining that all religions are not the same and that worldview matters. Obviously, not every Muslim is a terrorist. Maher—nor any rational person—has ever suggested this. However, to suggest that ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups are not Islamic is dangerous. Islam is central to the worldview of the Islamic state and other terrorist groups. In fact, they explicitly claim Islamic belief as central to their own identity and self understanding.
Moral clarity and intellectual honesty is needed when evaluating an issue that is inherently theological. Islamic teaching makes a noteworthy distinction between Dar al Islam (countries/territories under submission to the Koran and Sharia law) and Dar al-Harb (countries/territories not yet brought under Sharia rule). Dar al-Harb literally means “House of War.” This concept can be traced to the prophet Muhammad who demanded in the seventh century that conquered territories choose between conversion and war. The Koran contains many passages that include these teachings. Thus, it should come as no surprise that various strands within Islam today (with millions of adherents) retain beliefs that can be interpreted as advocating forms of violence.
Unfortunately, secular elites refuse to acknowledge the truth that theological belief stands behind most of the major news stories concerning Islam. Although said flippantly, there is a level of insight into Maher’s comment that the vast majority of recent attacks have been preceded by “Allah Akbar” rather than “Merry Christmas.”
Remember, Bill Maher is not a friend to evangelical Christianity. He is an outspoken skeptic and an unbeliever. However, he is correct when he points out that there is a fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam and that equating the two when it comes to inspiring terrorism is “false equivalency.” Maher’s courage and honesty to recognize that theology matters is commendable.