Q&A with Bill Maher

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Where do you see the War on Terror going in the next five to ten years? Is it going to get worse?
We haven't been attacked again because they're reloading. They need to husband their resources, and they are theatrical. They knocked down the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon — it takes a lot to top that. And they're patient. The blood feud that's going on now in Iraq dates back to 632 A.D. So, please — 2001 was a blink of an eye.

I do think Giuliani is right in saying that there are people who are trying to come here to kill us. The difference between today and 2003, when we invaded Iraq, is that back then it was a relatively small number of young Muslim men. Now, thanks to this clash of civilizations we've created, the threat could come from anywhere. The Glasgow guys who crashed a car into the airport and burned themselves alive? They're like Islamic losers. The hatred is so intense, they can't even wait to get their shit together. They're just "Go now! I've got a car and some fire, and I'm just going to do it!" That's very frightening to me.

What would it take to reverse it?
Getting out of Iraq would be number one. Look, you're talking to someone who thinks religion is crazy and makes people do crazy things. But there is still the human instinct to survive. By invading Iraq, we have made it a much closer race between the human instinct for survival and "I'm going to strap on a bomb and kill these motherfuckers who invaded."

Speaking of religion, do you see people getting more or less rational in the coming years?
Both. People are finally catching on that religion is childish and dangerous. One out of five college-age people are now atheist or agnostic. About as many college-age people are atheist or agnostic as are Republicans. Europe is over religion — they're religious in name only. So the older, wiser continent, they've moved beyond that. But of course, much of the world has not. That's probably why we could not achieve peace in Iraq — it's just not how they think. Freedom is not nearly as important to them as the freedom they perceive they'll achieve after they die in paradise.

What about religion in this country? Is it becoming less of a political force?
I really feel like there's a movement building. This is the issue of the day, and people are beginning to under stand that religion is the problem. Now, when the president shows up at a disaster site and says he's going to pray, it means nothing. He might as well show up and say, "I'm going to hope. I'm on it — I'm going to wish it were so." It's meaningless at best. It's difficult to steer the ship of state toward some sort of safe harbor when at least half the people in this country essentially think we should do that by splitting open a chicken and reading its entrails. I'm suggesting we use a compass.

Will hot-button issues like gay marriage fade away as older generations start dying off?
No. It will be an issue like flag burning and immigration — something a political operative can pull out of the bag of tricks and say, "Ah! Be afraid, they want to threaten your marriage!"

Nothing will change until some of those 71 million people who didn't vote in 2004 start to vote. The people who don't vote are the more liberal people; conservatives by their nature are up in the morning and organized and go to the polls and read their fliers from the Republican Party. You know, they're squares. I'm not putting them down. You need squares to run shit. That's just their nature. And the people who are sleeping it off from the club last night — I mean, Barack Obama has the youth vote, which is wonderful, except that youths don't vote.

An economist wrote a book recently arguing that it's better in a democracy if fewer people — those who are actually educated about the issues — vote.
There should be some sort of test, although you could never do that, of course. Given how much this country gives back to its people, I don't think it's too much to ask that citizens should have to prove they know the basic ABCs on what the fuck is up. We ask nothing of our citizens, to the point where people can walk around feeling pride that they don't know anything.

So what do you see improving in the future?
Disco. I see disco fucking trouncing punk music in the next decade, finally coming back to correct the punk thing, which was not a corrective! [Laughs] What do I see improving? [Long pause] Well, um....

You may have just answered the question.
The correct answer is: [hums the "Jeopardy!" theme]

Did you think much about the future as a kid?
Of course. We imagined it as so much better than it came out. We would be riding in jet packs, cars would fly, we'd just be orbs of perfect energy. You wouldn't even have a head — you'd just be a glowing ball interviewing me. But it didn't really change that much. When you look at Star Trek, the only thing that really came to pass was the cell phone. That transmitter they flip up and down is exactly the same thing. But beaming us places? That's never happened. We can't even get the airlines to work.

How do you think this period in history will be remembered?
As the calm before the storm. There will either be a horrendous terrorist attack or there will be, in the next twenty, thirty years — ten, maybe — some sort of environmental horror that changes the way people live. We have not yet been forced to alter our addiction to utter convenience. People will, in some sense, look back on this era the way Scarlett O'Hara looked back on the era before the war came — "Remember when we used to have mint juleps with the Tarleton boys at Tara?" This will be like the antebellum South. Right now we're in the good old days.

What's your best-case scenario for the future?
First of all, some Democrat better win it in 2008. Then that person should go for broke and say to the people, "Now I have to tell you the truth. I couldn't do it when I was running, because you are a bunch of babies who can't take the truth, and you know damn well you wouldn't have voted for me if I said that. But we're going to take these painful measures."

The sad part of it is, the money is there to do almost anything we want. It's not as if you'd have to raise taxes so much. If you took the money being wasted on Iraq, corporate welfare and the drug war, you would have trillions of dollars to work with. That's the core of it. Whoever is the next president has to get at this corporate state we've found ourselves living in.

Has your career unfolded the way you expected?
When I was twenty, I wanted to be Johnny Carson. And maybe when I get older, I'll want to be Johnny Carson again. It's a lot easier to just ask Lindsay Lohan about her latest rehab flameout than to study up on the issues and talk real substance like I do every week. It's boring, but there might come a time when I say, "You've heard me. I've made my point. I've had my time on the soapbox. And nobody took my advice."

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