WASHINGTON - Hollywood A-lister Ben Affleck has delivered a spirited defence of Muslims worldwide on a TV talk show hosted by a fellow liberal with little time for the Islamic faith.
Affleck, well known for his progressive views, was promoting his latest film "Gone Girl" on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" when the conversation turned towards Islam.
"Islam at the moment is the mother lode of bad ideas," said fellow guest Sam Harris, a philosopher who claimed that 20 per cent of the world's Muslims are either jihadists or Islamists, according to "a bunch of poll results."
Oscar-winner Affleck recoiled at the broad-brush portrayal of the world's second-biggest faith.
"So you're saying that Islamophobia is not a real thing," snapped the actor, who tackled the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis in his 2012 political-thriller "Argo." "But why are you so hostile about this?" said Maher, a left-wing comedian and atheist who shared Harris's contempt for Islam.
"It's gross, it's racist," a visibly frustrated Affleck said, likening it to calling someone "a shifty Jew." "How about the more than a billion people, who aren't fanatical, who don't punish women, who just want to go to school, have some sandwiches, pray five times a day, and don't do any of the things that you're saying all Muslims do."
Affleck went on to say that "we've killed more Muslims than they've killed us, by an awful lot," and argued that the Islamic State group "couldn't fill a double-A ballpark in Charleston, West Virginia," his wife Jennifer Garner's hometown.
Not that Maher was swayed: He called Islam "the only religion that acts like the Mafia, that will f***ing kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book."
As the Friday night flap became a Monday morning topic of water-cooler banter, Maher stuck to his guns, telling Salon.com: "We are not bigoted people - on the contrary, we're trying to stand up for the principles of liberalism." Asked by the online news site if he expected Affleck, a frequent guest on his show, to get so upset, Maher replied: "You know, I don't want to talk about this."