Bill Maher returned to HBO’s schedule this week after what was supposed to be a peaceful holiday break. Instead, he launched a new season of his edgy talk show “Real Time” during a week in which two of the issues he holds close to his heart — religious extremism and free speech — took over the global stage.
Maher railed against the terrorists who this week killed staffers at Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo whom he called “my heroes.” And he welcomed a guest to his panel who has direct knowledge of what it’s like to be persecuted for writing something that a certain group finds offensive: author Salman Rushdie, whose 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” prompted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni of Iran to issue a fatwa calling for the author’s assassination.
“Who’s ready for a little free speech in America?” Maher asked as the show opened. “There are people in the world who don’t like you joking about them.”
Rushdie took pains to note that the entire Muslim world is not against free speech, but rather a radicalized portion of the overall community, which he called “a deadly mutation in the middle of Islam.”
He also pointed out that many Muslims, including people in Iran, expressed outrage about the Hebdo massacre, and suggested that perhaps a recent spate of violence by extremists has prompted shock from many of the religion’s adherents. “Maybe they are cracking,” he said, suggesting a fissure has begun to widen between extremists and other Muslims.
Maher’s other guests included Chris Hardwick, host of Comedy Central’s “@midnight”; former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; Democratic strategist Paul Begala; and former “Tonight” host Jay Leno.