Reza Aslan’s book No God But God continues to reassure and obfuscate. Some editor at Random House obviously thought this book would be just the ticket — the thrusting young academic, a “good Muslim” eager for Reform, and fitting right in with the dreamy belief of some that
1) “democracy is on the march” in the Middle East
2) “democracy will necessarily bring with it all sorts of wonderful things, so that Infidels can sit back, relax, and not worry about the islamization of Europe and silly things like that.”
That editor was someone who knew nothing about Islam.
There is no end to this.
A commenter here at Jihad Watch once asserted that “it is pluralism, not secularism, that defines democracy. A democratic state can be established upon any normative moral framework as long as pluralism remains the source of its legitimacy.”
Really? Is that what defines the liberal democracies in the modern world — “pluralism”? And not, rather, extreme solicitousness for the autonomy of the individual, the kind of solicitousness that can be found in the Bill of Rights?
One wonders if Reza Aslan has permitted himself to read another, more sober and piercing Reza, that is Reza Afshari, who has written intelligently on the incompatibility of the Sharia with modern ideas of human rights. This incompatibility is expressed, for example, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One wonders if he has given thought to “freedom of conscience” and why, when non-Muslims under Muslim rule were permitted to stay alive and even to practice their religion, their numbers inevitably dwindled as individuals could no longer endure the various disabilities, beginning with the jizyah but hardly ending there, that constituted that system of deliberate humiliation and degradation that we now know call, from the word “dhimmi,” dhimmitude.
“Pluralism” is not enough. If the population were to be parceled out among various “beliefs,” this would still not necessarily imply freedom of conscience. (And what happens to those who are resolutely without belief? Are they tolerated, or accepted as full equals, as well?) In other religions, apostasy is not now punished. In Islam, it can lead to a death sentence. And even the most seemingly up-to-date, tolerant, relaxed Muslims get extremely defensive when one raises this issue. I discovered this years ago when, among a group of advanced Kuwaitis, the kind who send their children to the American school and spend much of the year outside of Kuwait, there was a real chill and then a series of amazing lies when I raised the issue of Mr. Hussein Qambar Ali, the Kuwaiti apostate, about whom a great deal was written 6 or 7 years ago.
Reza Aslan’s book is essentially transparently inane. This has not kept it from being praised by, inter alia, John Esposito, about whom the less said in polite company the better (except by James Schall or Habib Malik); Noah Feldman (whose claim to temporary fame — and lasting tenure — is that of being the Yeshiva-Bokher-who-Practically-Wrote-the-Constitution-Of-the-New-Iraq); and by Tom Reiss, whose spent five years tracking down the identity of Kurban Said, or Lev Nissenbaum, the author of the well-known “Ali and Nino,” which takes place in old Baku, with starcrossed Muslim boy and Christian girl. Reiss”s research may have given him a William-Dalrymplish delight in the mysteries of the Muslim-East-and-its-encounters-with-the-West. But that is not the same thing as taking the trouble, through late lucubrations, of being versed in the theory and practice of Islam.
Aslan says that “there are few scriptures in the great religions of the world that can match the reverence with which the Quran speaks of other religious traditions.” There are several things about this statement that are worth noting. The first is that there is no reverence — none — in the Qur’an about how other “religious traditions” — whatever that may mean — are spoken about. None. Not a single passage. And then, of course, there are the Hadith and the Sira — one hopes that somewhere, sometime Reza Aslan, who was born in Iran and raised in easygoing America far from the Islamic Republic of Iran, will deal with them with some honesty and depth. (Had he had the misfortune to have been raised in the Islamic Republic of Iran, one suspects he would not be writing the nonsense he has written). For the Qur’an, the only “religious tradition” is that of Islam; Judaism and Christianity are not part of another “religious tradition” but are simply wrongly-received (by their benighted followers) versions of the one and only true belief — Islam itself. Judaism and Christianity are not even permitted to be rendered with any accuracy: the Muslim Jesus is far from the Christian Jesus, and Judaism is also a parody of itself in the incondite hodge-podge of the Qur’an.
But the second thing to note is the absurdity of his claim that “few scriptures in the great religions of the world that can match the reverence with which the Qur’an speaks of other religious traditions.” Well, how could Judaism speak of “other religious traditions”? Its sacred books certainly could not contain any commentary on Christianity or Islam — can Reza Aslan guess why? And Christianity could not show “reverence for other religious traditions” except Judaism, and there, like IBM wishing to seize market share from Apple, of course some of the early Christians (who were all Jews) had to say something not quite nice about Judaism or those who followed it. After all, would IBM go around and say how wonderful Apple was, in order to take away its customers? Yet, is it not true that there has always been a recognition of a connection between Old and New Testaments, between Judaism and Christianity? And this is true even if some Christians have not exactly demonstrated in their behavior an awareness of this, or done anything to prevent that quest-for-market-share that helps explain some parts of the Gospel of John or the use to which the description of Christ’s death, to metastasize first from anti-Judaism into antisemitism, and then from antisemitism into the full-blown pathological mass-murder within living memory. This should have made, but did not, the slightest exhibition of antisemitism into something that would be met with the fiercest condemnation, ostracism, and punishment.
And how, conceivably, could the sacred texts of such ancient religions as Buddhism and Hinduism, long predating any of the monotheistic ones and conceived in distant India, conceivably have made any mention at all of other religions, much less shown that “reverence” for other “religious traditions” that Reza Aslan blandly claims as characteristic of Islam?
He really has to think a little bit more about how when B comes after A, we should not fault A for failing to mention B. It is called chronology. Learned historians know all about it. And so do schoolchildren.
But not Reza Aslan.