The adulation that the mainstream media heaps upon Reza Aslan is a singular demonstration of how superficial and biased the mainstream really is. For Aslan is no scholar, and if he were not a Muslim and a Leftist, his frequent howling errors of fact would have consigned him to media oblivion long ago. No non-Muslim conservative would ever have become a media star making the errors Aslan has made and behaving the way he has. He has made the ridiculous claim that the idea of resurrection “simply doesn’t exist in Judaism,” despite numerous passages to the contrary in the Hebrew Scriptures. He has also referred to “the reincarnation, which Christianity talks about” — although he later claimed that one was a “typo.” In yet another howler he later insisted was a “typo,” he claimed that the Biblical story of Noah was barely four verses long — which he then corrected to forty, but that was wrong again, as it is 89 verses long. Aslan claimed that the “founding philosophy of the Jesuits” was “the preferential option for the poor,” when in reality, that phrase wasn’t even coined until 1968. He called Turkey the second most populous Muslim country, when it is actually the eighth most populous Muslim country. He thinks Pope Pius XI, who issued the anti-fascist encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, was a fascist. He thinks Marx and Freud “gave birth to the Enlightenment,” when it ended in the late 18th century, before either of them were born. He claims that “the very first thing that Muhammad did was outlaw slavery,” when in fact Muhammad bought slaves, took female captives as sex slaves, and owned slaves until his death. He thinks Ethiopia and Eritrea are in Central Africa.
A “renowned religious scholar” such as Reza Aslan should not make such elementary mistakes. But this is, of course, the man who writes “than” for “then”; apparently thinks the Latin word “et” is an abbreviation; and writes “clown’s” for “clowns.”
“Religious scholar Reza Aslan ponders Donald Trump, the power of pop culture and faith in America,” by Gina Piccalo, Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2016:
Muslim religious scholar Reza Aslan is Internet famous for keeping his cool. The Iranian American author of the 2013 bestseller “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” once confronted a relentless Fox News anchor with such unflappable poise, it made him a viral sensation.
In reality, Aslan confronted the relentless Fox News anchor by lying repeatedly about his credentials. And in other corners of the Internet, he is not famous for keeping his cool, but for losing it, slinging frenzied abuse at those he hates and, when confronted and exposed about it, claiming risibly that his adolescent insults were automated.
After a successful career in academia, he’s moving beyond punditry to spread his message via pop culture. He’s co-founder of BoomGen Studios, host of the new Ovation TV talk show “Rough Draft” and of CNN’s forthcoming docuseries on religion and culture, “Believer.” “Zealot,” meanwhile, is on its way to becoming a Lionsgate feature film. At his Mt. Washington Home, the 43-year-old sat for a discussion that ranged from Donald Trump to the power of pop culture to faith in America.
From a sociological perspective, how do you explain the rise of Donald Trump?
The most important thing to know about Donald Trump is he is not a fringe character. Forty percent of Americans — not 40% of Republicans — think there should be a national registry of Muslims, 56% of Americans think that we should actually bar all Muslims from entering the United States. We keep asking: How is it that this man is getting such support in the elections. How? Because people agree with him.
How do you think Trump’s rise has affected Muslim Americans?
We now know, what has always been the case, which is that a large swath of us [is] xenophobic, racist and Islamophobic. And we pretend that we’re not. And now it’s out in the open and can’t be ignored any longer….
As far as Aslan is concerned, these poll numbers (which Aslan misrepresents in the first place) indicate that a large number of Americans are “xenophobic, racist and Islamophobic.” He has nothing to say about the possibility that they could be reacting to jihad terror attacks and the endless threats of mass murder and destruction from the Islamic State.
You were a born-again Christian and converted to Islam. How would you apply that notion of identity versus beliefs to your own experience of religion?
If you asked me this question when I was 16 and an evangelical Christian, I would say religion is the entirety of my identity, because that’s what I was taught. And then I went to university and began studying religion, and that’s when I realized what it truly is about.
So for you, religion was more about the beliefs than the identity?
Yes, it was all about beliefs. People who are religious are probably unwilling to recognize how much of what they believe is rooted in who they actually are and not the teachings of their religion. We think people derive their values from their scriptures. But it’s more often the case that people insert their values into their scriptures.
Here Aslan is essentially saying that words have no meaning, that the various scriptures of various religions have no essential content or character, that the religions themselves are meaningless and interchangeable, and that people are never inspired to change their behavior by the teachings of a religion, which anyway don’t exist since religions are wholly and solely what people decide they will be. Can a religion’s teachings transform a believer into a violent, war-mongering person, or a peaceful, pluralistic person? For Aslan, the answer is no: religions are just putty, to be formed by those who believe in them into any shape they like. So tomorrow Muslims could begin to declare that there are five gods, despite the Qur’an’s fierce monotheism, and Christians could begin murdering people while screaming, “Jesus is Lord!”
This is, of course, completely absurd. If it were true, there would be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim terrorists in equal proportion, instead of a preponderance of Muslim terrorists. Religions don’t just depend on what the believer brings to them; believers are also shaped by what they teach. But as far as Aslan is concerned, they don’t teach anything: “people insert their values into their scriptures.”
How does this idea apply to religious extremists then? Aren’t they all reading the scripture the same way?
The thing they have most in common is that they already possess an either anti-establishment [view] or are prone to violent tendencies. A report that just came out said something like 80% of Europeans who join [Islamic State] in Syria have a criminal record. But when someone says they are acting violently in the name of Islam, that … negates any other contributing factor that could be involved. We don’t really care about his drug addiction or his history of violent tendencies or his arrest record.
Yes, and we don’t because drug addicts or people with a history of violent tendencies from Christian or other non-Muslim backgrounds don’t become terrorists in anything like the numbers that Muslim drug addicts and Muslims with a history of violent tendencies do.
But 9/11 changed the conversation forever about Islam and terrorism.
Actually, no. Sixty-one percent of Americans have negative feelings toward Muslims today. That’s 20% higher than the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. It’s not that 15 years ago, we were attacked by 18 Muslims and ever since then we have been Islamophobic. Instead, it’s the result of a very well-organized, extremely well-funded, concerted effort by a handful of organizations funded to the tune of now more than $50 million to convince Americans that the 1% of the population of this country that is Muslim is on the verge of a complete takeover. We are at a far greater threat from white supremacist terrorism. Since 9/11, right-wing terrorists have killed far more Americans than Islamic terrorists have.
Aslan would really have us believe that my colleagues and I are so clever, so well-funded and so powerful that we have hoodwinked millions of Americans into thinking that the jihad is a threat. In reality, Osama bin Laden, Nidal Malik Hasan, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Syed Rizwan Farook and all their comrades and allies have done that, not Pamela Geller, Steve Emerson, Frank Gaffney and me. Aslan here ignores the Fort Hood, Boston, Chattanooga, and San Bernardino jihad massacres, plus innumerable thwarted jihad plots in the U.S., as well as jihad massacres around the world and numerous boasts of imminent conquest and destruction from the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and other jihad groups. And Aslan’s claim that white supremacists are a greater threat than jihadis is based on a study from last summer, which based its findings on the number of those killed by white supremacists and by jihadis since 9/11. Not only did this study skew the results by leaving out 9/11, but it also ignores the many, many foiled jihad plots, and lumped in many psychopaths with no ideology with genuine white supremacists. It also ignored the international jihad movement: if it had counted the casualties of the global jihad vs. white supremacist terrorism not just in the U.S. but worldwide, there would have been no comparison.
Let’s shift gears to your creative endeavors.
I truly believe the best way to shift perceptions in this country is through pop culture. It’s always the most efficient way of doing so. We’re trying to develop television shows, feature-length films, projects that work to create a different perception of the people, the cultures, the stories, of the Greater Middle East. Part of that involves simply having Muslims and Middle Easterners being normal on TV. [With] “Rough Draft,” I wanted people to see a Middle Easterner being a host and talking about writing and not talking about politics or religion. “Believer” is my attempt to take the work I’ve done for the last two decades and present it in a very accessible, fun, participatory way that still allows you to see someone else’s religious faith in the hopes that you realize that it’s all just different metaphors for the same emotion….
Will all this stop jihad terror? Of course not. Will it render more Americans complacent about the jihad threat and unwilling to support any serious resistance to it? Probably.