Tavis Smiley Calls Out Bill Maher’s Troubled Stance on Muslim Men

What? You didn't hear that Bill Maher is now an expert on women's rights?

By Jamilah King Feb 22, 2011

Comedian and talk show host Bill Maher is apparently now an expert on women’s rights in the Middle East. In a segment of Real Time with Bill Maher on Tuesday night, the host got into an argument with guest Tavis Smiley after trying to make a point about journalist Lara Logan’s sexual assault while covering Egypt’s revolution.

Maher: We’re never gonna have this revolution happen unless there’s a sexual revolution that goes with it.

Tavis Smiley cringes uncomfortably in his seat. To which Maher responds:

Maher: Really Tavis, Muslim men don’t have a problem with women?

Smiley: I’m not gonna argue that. Let me just say upfront that I argue with you…Obviously what happened to Lara Logan is reprehensible, horrific. We can’t find a language to describe what happened to her. But having said that…if our readiness for Democracy in this country is based upon, determined by, demonstrated by our respect for women, then we ain’t ready for Democracy in this country.

Maher: That is a false equivalent. Please. Are you serious?

Maher then goes on to argue his point, citing, among other things, that in 19 of 22 Arab countries women can’t vote. "In Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive a car, sail a boat, fly a plane. Which is why their tampon ads are just horseback riding." Then he goes on to cite what he calls "anecdotal" evidence.

"Talk to women who’ve ever dated an Arab man, the reviews are not good," Maher says."They have a sense of entitlement. They may say they put women on a pedestal, as long as they’re obedient, they’re on the pedestal."

Guest Michelle Caruso-Cabrera astutely chimes in, saying, "Every man I’ve ever dated has a sense of entitlement."

Smiley: All I’m saying, respectfully, is that I don’t disagree with the fact that they got a long way to go. What I’m trying to suggest to you is that when we have these conversations about how they treat women, as if somehow we treat women better in this country, it demonizes Muslims all over.

Maher: It’s not demonizing! That’s saying that I’m prejudiced. I’m saying I’m not prejudiced. That’s pre-judging. I’m not pre-judging, I’m judging. They’re worse. What’s wrong with just saying that?

Of course, there’s no escaping the obvious: Neither Smiley nor Maher is a woman, or from a Middle Eastern country. But Smiley does deserve props for standing his ground, and calling Maher out on his unchecked privilege. But let’s hear it in the comments. What do you think?