Bill Maher took aim at the term “Islamophobic” while paying tribute to his friend Salman Rushdie on Friday’s episode of his show Real Time With Bill Maher.
The comedian and late night show host said that calling someone “phobic,” whether discussing transgender people or religions, is simply a way of shutting down debate.
Rushdie was stabbed ten times in the neck, face, and abdomen while speaking at an event in New York on Friday.
Hadi Matar, 24, has been charged with the attack, which left Rushdie in critical condition — though he has since been removed from a ventilator and is reportedly able to speak.
In 1989, Rushdie went into hiding after publishing the novel The Satanic Verses, which was highly critical of Islam. At that time, the government of Iran issued a fatwa, or decree, calling for him to be killed.
Along with the fatwa, then-Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, offered a $3 million reward for Rushdie’s head. The fatwa remains active to this day, and in 2012 an Iranian religious foundation added an additional $500,000 to the reward.
Addressing the attempted murder on his show, Maher began, “first, I have to say something — it’s somewhat personal but also national news. A dear friend of mine, good friend of this show, got stabbed today, Salman Rushdie. I’m sure people have seen this news.”
“We don’t know the motivation yet, but Sal did have some enemies in the past, as I recall. So I’m guessing Hadi is not Amish,” Maher said.
The host continued on to explain that Rushdie “was giving a lecture, how about this for irony, about how the US is a safe haven for exiled writers and other artists under threat of persecution. And making that speech itself is unthinkable in most Muslim countries.”
“Salman Rushdie, living in most Muslim countries without getting stabbed every day is unthinkable. So don’t come at me with ‘Islamophobic,’ ‘phobic’ means fear, right? Well, Sal had a good reason to be fearful. And when you say ‘phobic,’ it’s just a way to shut off debate,” Maher said.
“You know, there are ‘transphobic,’ ‘Islamophobic,’ and we should have a debate about this. Sorry, but you know, these things don’t go away. Islam is still a much more fundamentalist religion than any of the other religions in the world,” Maher asserted.
Maher has long been outspoken against fundamentalist religions.
“And that means they take what’s in the Holy Book seriously. And that has been dangerous for a long time. It’s still dangerous. This was 1989 when he was first threatened,” Maher concluded.
At this point, Maher’s guest, Piers Morgan, read a quote from Rushdie which said “the defense of free speech begins at the point when people say something you can’t stand.”
According to a report from BBC, Rushdie has severed nerves in one arm, damage to his liver, and will likely lose an eye.