Comedian and HBO talk show host Bill Maher sparked a major debate last week over Islam, arguing that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are actually not extremist outliers but represent the inherent violence and intolerance of Islam itself, and by extension its 1.6 billion followers. This is not actually a new debate (we've been having it on-and-off in America since September 2001), it's not just Maher making it, and, to be really clear about this, the arguments are both factually incorrect and deeply bigoted. (READ: It's not just Bill Maher. Islamophobia on cable news is out of control.)
Still, Bill Maher is popular, and his ideas are unfortunately not uncommon, so you may find yourself facing some version of his argument in your daily life. There a number of ways you can respond: by pointing out Maher's factual errors, by noting that ISIS is widely loathed in Muslim-majority societies, and so on. (READ: Everything you need to know about ISIS.)
Or you could show them this one tweet, from Libyan-American Hend Amry, which skewers Maher-style Islamophobia concisely and just about perfectly. (The meme is originally by lawyer and commentator Arsalan Iftikhar.)
5 of the last 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners were Muslim. So according to Bill Maher, we're all Peace Prize winners! pic.twitter.com/SDY3w51A3D— Hend (@LibyaLiberty) October 10, 2014
Amry's point: if Maher's argument is that the rise of ISIS proves that all of Islam is extremely violent and intolerant, then by the same logic wouldn't the spate of Muslim Nobel Peace Prize-winners prove that all Muslims are also extremely peaceful?
Here are the winners in the photo: Shirin Ebadi (Iranian activist, 2003), Mohamed ElBaradei (former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 2005), Muhammed Yunus (microfinance pioneer, 2006), Tawakkol Karman (Yemeni activist, 2011), Malala Yousafzai (Pakistani activist, 2014).
This tweet is a very straightforward way of making a point that shouldn't need to be made, but does: generalizing across a vast and diverse demographic group based on the actions of a few of its members isn't just bigoted, it's logically ridiculous. The fact that we are so ready to embrace that reasoning when it lets us promote deeply negative stereotypes about Muslims, including on major news outlets, is just another of many signs that Islamophobia is increasingly rampant in America.
So the next time someone asks you "why are so many Muslims violent," before you launch into a detailed rebuttal debunking the misconceptions and errors behind the question, simply ask in response, "Why are so many Muslims Nobel Peace Prize laureates?"