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Ben Affleck and Bill Maher engage in highly-charged debate over Islam

A real-life drama between actor Ben Affleck and HBO host Bill Maher unfolded on live television Sunday night.

You might call it a liberal dose of highly-charged political fireworks.

The debate on "Real Time with Bill Maher" was sparked by a guest, author Sam Harris.

"We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people," the "Waking Up" author said.

That's when things got heated.

"You're saying that Islamophobia is not a real thing," Affleck said. "That if you're critical of something..."

"Well, it's not a real thing when we do it," Maher interrupted.


"It really isn't," Maher said.

"I'm not denying that certain people aren't bigoted against Muslims as people," Harris argued. "And that's a problem."

"That's big of you," Affleck said.

"Why are you so hostile about this concept?" Maher asked Affleck.

"Because it's gross, it's racist," Affleck said

"It's so not," Maher responded.

"It's like saying you're a shifty Jew," Affleck insisted.

"You're not listening to what we're saying," Maher said.

It was a rare sight on national television: two well-known liberals at odds over the limits of their beliefs.

"How about the more than a billion people who aren't fanatical, who don't punch women, who just want to go to the store and do any of the things you're saying all Muslims do - stereotyping," Affleck said.

"Wait, wait a second," Maher said.

"You're painting the whole religion with that same brush," Affleck argued.

Bill Maher is no stranger to controversy.

"Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly," Maher said shortly after 9/11 on his show "Politically Incorrect."

He also produced "Religulous," a documentary critical of organized religion.

Affleck is known not only as an actor and Oscar-winning director, but also as the founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative. The organization promotes the area's economic and social development.

His publicist told CBS News that Affleck had no hard feelings. His sources said "...everyone hung out after taping the show and had a great time together. I think they left the argument on the field."

But while it lasted, what a field day it was.

"I mean, if Filipinos were capturing teenagers and sending them into white slavery, we would criticize that," Maher said.

"You would criticize the people who were doing it, not the Philippines!" Affleck said.

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