Bill Maher is easy to hate—and conservatives love to do so. The former host of “Politically Incorrect” and current talkmaster of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” thinks “religion is a neurological disorder,” expresses only the greatest contempt for even the mildest of non-libertine values, thinks it’s cool to say “f---“ a lot, and worships Bill Clinton as a personal God.
Throw in his incessant chatter about white racism in America, and it’s easy to believe he hates this country. But “I don’t hate America,” maintains Maher. “I love America.” Amazingly, it’s true. Maher loves America genuinely, and for all the right reasons. The clear-headedness with which he does so, is something conservatives should love him for.
The proof lies in Maher’s mostly overlooked—by the Right and the Left alike—2002 book When You Ride Alone, You Ride with Bin Laden. Dismissed as a goof-book, it’s dead serious, dead-on, and quite possibly the best book on what’s wrong with present-day America and the domestic part of war on terror—which is, as most readers of this Website will agree, the all-consuming scourge of political correctness. With the recent absurd random searches in the New York subway after a terror scare—pretending that old black women have the same chance of toting a bomb as young Middle Eastern-looking men—serving as a reminder of the phony security measures implemented across the country, Maher’s book is as timely as ever.
Ride Alone, whose subtitle is What the Government SHOULD Be Telling Us to Help Fight the War on Terrorism, consists of a collection of essays with accompanying color prints—some are altered official World War II posters, some are original artwork—all of which should be reproduced and plastered across the country by civic groups or the U.S. government itself.
Take the one on airport security, which encapsulates at a glance the suicidal stupidity of this country’s post-9/11 “safety” measures: The poster shows a white boy and a white granny receiving special scrutiny from three TSA officials—shoes, purse, extra body check—while Osama bin Laden passes unhindered through the metal detector. “Political Correctness is Dangerous,” reads the top; “Demand Real Security,” urges the bottom.
Unlike the entity charged with protecting us, the federal government, Maher gets it. “We’ve been brainwashed into believing that it’s a sin to discriminate,” he writes. “But discrimination doesn’t mean racism; it means telling unlike things apart. Iowa grandpas and nine-year-old girls from Ohio are simply not looking to visit ‘a painful chastisement upon the Western infidels.’… Having robots and nitwits check everyone equally is a sure recipe for disaster. It’s a mindless, exploitable system of window dressing and posturing…. It’s randomness when we need focus. It’s heads up asses when we need heads up.”
“Why We Fight,” declares another poster, featuring the Statue of Liberty draped in a burka. In the matching essay, Maher’s politically incorrect credentials shine the brightest.
“We are in a Clash of Civilizations, and nowhere is that more clear than in the treatment of women. I sometimes look at pictures of women covered with tarps like the infield at Fenway Park, and I think: What if these were black men in some white country? Black men being beaten for showing an ankle or a wrist? Black men starving to death because they weren’t allowed to work or stoned to death for having sex? There would be protests, riots, U.N. boycotts. Jesse Jackson’s head would explode. Al Sharpton would call a press conference.”
“Isn’t it time,” Maher asks, “we stopped ignoring the elephant in the living room and let go of our fair-minded fantasy that all religions are basically the same and that other cultures that suppress human rights aren’t inferior, they’re just different? Excuse me, but primitive is primitive.” Can you imagine even the toughest-talking Republicans in Congress saying that?
Chanting “Islam is a religion of peace” is our president’s idea of approaching the ideology that seeks to annihilate us. Shamefully, a vulgar TV comedian possesses deeper moral clarity than the leader of the (still) free world: “In the interest of our own preservation and safety, we have to pull back the veil from Islam’s face and see it for what it is, not just a religion but a philosophy that fuels the fire of anti-Americanism, an ideology that, like communism, is in theory benevolent and humane but in the hands of many people, vicious, repressive, and deadly. When making a stand against communism, we didn’t defend it as a peaceful idea that had been hijacked; we didn’t pretend that it wasn’t dangerous just because we hoped that most people living under it would rather be free like we are. We fought it.”
While Maher supplies plenty of condemnation of the government’s approach to fighting terror, he also suggests strategies that are positive and inspiring—and so obvious they should be no-brainers. If, as this administration never tires of telling us, the vast majority of Muslims living in the U.S. are brimming with patriotism and love for America, why not tap into that invaluable resource? Featuring the classic Uncle Sam in the “I want you” pose beneath Arabic script, with drawings of three Arab-looking men—one as a speaker, one as a translator, one as a spy—the bottom of the poster reads, “YOU can be a hero in America!”
For those Muslims who have created uproars over the most minor of inconveniences at a safety check, Maher has these words: “Is this the time for Muslim and Arab-Americans to be grousing over profiling and tolerance? Or is it a time to stand up and be counted as among those patriots uniquely qualified right now to render service to their country?” Maher tells the story of Texas-based Saudi national Dr. Al Badr al-Hazimi, who, on 9/11, was arrested and taken to the east coast for a week of interrogation, mainly because he had the same last name as two of the hijackers. After he was cleared, Dr. al-Hazimi said, “Given the circumstances and the unusual situation, my treatment was fair.”
Says Maher: “Now, there’s a phrase you rarely hear from Americans: ‘given the circumstances’… We have become so hyper-entitled to our individual liberties and our personal rights, so conditioned to automatically put ourselves before the greater whole, that we forget tolerance works both ways, that all of us have the freedom and perhaps the duty to choose to endure heightened scrutiny ‘given the circumstances.’ How about some tolerance for our extremely reasonable suspicion that the terrorist is more likely to be both Arab and Muslim, being the people in the world who hate us and are doing something about it!”
Compare Dr. al-Hazimi’s attitude to that of the Arab-American Secret Service agent who was temporarily stopped from boarding an airplane. He got a lawyer; he held a press conference; he demanded an apology. The president backed up him all the way. As Maher says of the agent: “He was an Arab with a gun, and he took exception to being pulled aside while his credentials were checked. He’s willing to take a bullet for his country, but a flight delay is apparently out of the question.”
Maher also recognizes the absurdity of the “American abuse of power” charges: “No country with comparable power ever trod so gently on the rest of the world, something foreigners [and many Americans, he should add] often pretend they don’t know…. Name another nation that could conquer the world, but chose not to.” More than that, he explains why he loves America. “As I’m sure you know by now,” he tells readers, “I’m not much for tradition or sentiment—but America doesn’t need sentiment to make its case as the greatest nation on earth, right now anyway, and that’s good enough for me. I’ll deal with the Ming Dynasty later, and perhaps stop there for lunch.”
Not everything in Ride Alone will make patriots’ hearts soar—Maher manages to throw in ludicrous and offensive accusations of American racism and stinginess, and blames U.S. politics for AIDS deaths in Africa. But while Maher is completely wrong about some American qualities, he is completely right about what it takes to save American lives.
The most powerful message in the book is directed not at the recklessness of the U.S. government, but at the self-satisfied complacency of the average American. A poster with a giant pick-up truck adorned with American flags proclaims: “Put a Flag on Your Car…it’s Literally the Least you Can Do.” The explanation at the bottom: “Empty Gestures Don’t Win Wars!” As Maher recognizes, “the problem with the flag at this moment in our history is we’ve become masters at fooling ourselves into thinking there is a way to get everything with very little effort.”
“Loose Lips Might Save Ships” is Maher’s update of the government’s famous World War II poster. He reminds readers that the 9/11 hijackers “lived amongst us without fear of being stopped before the struck, and that’s pathetic on our part. Pathetic that after the first World Trade Center bombing…vigilance was still neither asked for by the government nor volunteered by the people.” Recalling a time when Americans believed in protecting themselves and their country, Maher wants readers to “look at the World War II posters: We used to be able to trust our citizens to be our eyes and ears. But then again, we used to have common sense, and hold it in some esteem. Political correctness is almost always the opposite of common sense.”
“Victory begins at home” reads the poster that every American should have hanging on his front door. It shows a battle-weary soldier above the words” What we do here… Can bring him home sooner.” What can we do? “The concept I’m talking about,” says Maher, “is sacrifice.” Some people do it for their families, some people do it to get rock-hard abs, but not many of us seem willing to do it for America.”
This is where Maher is right about today’s Americans: We “confuse freedom with not being asked to sacrifice. The fact that you can’t have everything you want exactly when you want it has somehow become un-American…. Even in the wake of an event so invasive and frightening as September 11, not one person in a leadership position in America asked anyone to really give up or rethink anything. Pandering to a spoiled citizenry had become so ingrained, it remained in place even as buildings and complacencies crumbled. ‘Keep shopping!’ the president told us…”
The poster that serves as the title of the book—a take-off on World War II’s “When you ride alone, you right with Hitler!”—urges Americans to “Join a car-sharing club today!” While conserving natural resources in any way is a touchy subject with most conservatives, it will be hard for them to argue that there isn’t a link between buying oil and making terrorists richer. It’s a simple fact that “the countries that have the money to offer large cash awards to the families of suicide bombers, or to send little boys to madrasses, the prep schools of hate, are getting that money from people using lots of oil.”
And, as Maher explains, “I chose ‘ride alone’ as the title of this book because it not only pays homage to a time when sacrifice was cool, but also warns us in a larger sense what happens when we ride alone. We’ve become a nation of individuals, accustomed to ‘getting mine’ and ‘looking out for Number One.’ Even the Army’s recruitment ad shows a soldier running alone and tells you you’ll be ‘an army of one.’”
No number of armies of one can defeat the enemy we face. To have even a fighting chance of avoiding a chemical or nuclear bomb in an American city, Americans must work together. We must be vigilant. We must be willing to do what it takes. Instead, the majority of people in this great country—liberal and conservative alike—have been standing idly by, more concerned with who wins “American Idol” than with the body parts scattered in London or Madrid or Bali. The completely intact bodies—leaping fully conscious from the top floors of the World Trade Centers to avoid being burned alive—are completely forgotten.
By steadfastly refusing to adjust any part of their lives by pretending that “otherwise the terrorists win,” Americans are directly complicit in the evil being unleashed against them. This laziness and spinelessness is even more dangerous than the human monsters plotting to annihilate us—because it makes defense impossible.
A foul-mouthed TV talkshow host gets it—when will the rest of America?
Karina Rollins has new-found respect and admiration for Bill Maher, a man she despised before stumbling across Ride Alone. She urges every reader of this column to buy the book.
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