Islam Is the Jewish Question of the 21st Century

28 Jul

Imagine a noted scholar of religion, who happened to be Jewish, writing a book on the historical Jesus. Then imagine him appearing on a television show, where he is repeatedly badgered with some version of the following question: “What’s a Jew like you doing writing a book like this? Raises questions, doesn’t it?” And now watch this interview with noted scholar Reza Aslan, who happens to be Muslim, and tell me that Islam is not the 21st century’s Jewish Question.

58 Responses to “Islam Is the Jewish Question of the 21st Century”

  1. Chris Harlos July 28, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    Appalling. Buy this man’s book. Boycott Murdoch properties (yes, one can live quite well sans WSJ).

    • Glenn July 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

      SIx copies of Zealot have been ordered at my local public library.

      P.S. :They also bought The Reactionary Mind at my request.

  2. Glenn July 28, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    Robert M. Price, professor of scriptural studies, a former Baptist minister now self described as a Christian Atheist, also associates Jesus with the Zealots.

    Any suppressed minority will encounter reaction–many times violent reaction–to their efforts at gaining recognition as equals to those already established in positions within a power structure.

  3. Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 28, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    Go to 0:29 and watch the expression on his face change after he hears that first question. His jaw literally drops.

  4. thesystemoftheworld July 28, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    Yikes, I was expecting it to be pretty bad and it turned out to be worse than I thought. I like at the end when she thanked him and mentioned the “spirited debate”. Is that what it was? Seems to me it was pretty much Reza Aslan patiently explaining the same concept about a half dozen times.

    The analogy to a Democrat writing about Reagan was pretty apt. I mean, why on earth would a Democratic political scientist want to study, let alone write about, Reagan? That would just be silly.

    • Glenn July 28, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

      “I mean, why on earth would a Democratic political scientist want to study, let alone write about, Reagan?”

      Perhaps to study the strength of an opposition’s argument?

      • thesystemoftheworld July 28, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

        Keep an eye out for the tag Glenn.

      • thesystemoftheworld July 28, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

        Forgot to escape a few characters, anyway, keep an eye out for the sarcasm tag.

  5. Dan Allosso July 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    Would it have killed her to call him Dr. Aslan? Oh, yeah, it would’ve…

  6. lberns1 July 28, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    Thank you for reaffirming why I don’t watch MSM anymore.

  7. Krishan Bhattacharya July 28, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    I have a feeling that this book (if it isn’t already) has a good chance to produce a slew of reviews and counter-reviews and interesting meta discussion. Everything about it, the author, the title, the apparent claims made by Aslan, seems ripe for conflict.

    I have to agree with Emma Wasserman above. If the reviews thus far are accurate, Alsan’s attempt to portray Jesus as a Jewish nationalist can’t amount to much more than speculative projection (although it is true that others have made similar cases). There isn’t much evidence for the existence of Jesus. Historically, he’s about as substantial as Siddhartha or Moses. For all we know, they could be as fictional as Bilbo Baggins. On balance, however, it seems likely that there was some such person, if only because that would be the simplest explanation for the existence of the Gospels, canonical and otherwise, and the religion(s) that grew up around them.

    The idea that Islam is the The Jewish Question of the 21st Century seems to me to be utterly wrong in the main, while there may be a kernel of truth to it. The Jewish Question is: what place can Jews have in European society? How can Europe accept a group of religious believers whose beliefs cast doubt upon the sacrifice of Christ, and who deny that Christ fulfilled the prophecy of “Old” Testament?

    The question of Islam in Western society isn’t quite like that. Christians don’t look upon Muslims with the same feeling that they do the Jews. The whole reason for Christian antisemitism is that Christians want to go to Heaven and avoid Hell. Christ’s sacrifice and alleged fulfillment of the “Old” Testament prophecy promise them Heaven. But the Jews are still here saying “what are you Christians talking about? The prophecy has yet to be fulfilled!”. This means that the Jews cast a living, breathing doubt upon the promise of the afterlife. Christians feel that Jews are trying to drag they and everyone they love to Hell. This is the theological wellspring of Christian antisemitism.

    But Christianity doesn’t have this kind of anxiety about Muhammad or Muslims. Christians look at Muslims and say that their religion is just wrong, and they are all going to Hell. Unlike Judaism, Islam does not give Christianity any reason to doubt its truth, since Islam is so obviously man-made in their eyes.

    And of course, geopolitically, the power that Muslims have in the world is entirely different than that the Jews wielded when the Jewish Question was on the tongue of every demagogue in Europe. Islam controls many large countries and states, with huge economic and military power (although nothing compared to the West). The nations that the Jews controlled in the first half of the 20th century, existed only in the minds of fascists.

  8. Jonny Butter July 28, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    Alsan’s attempt to portray Jesus as a Jewish nationalist can’t amount to much more than speculative projection (although it is true that others have made similar cases)

    e.g. Robert Graves in ‘King Jesus’.

    But Christianity doesn’t have [the Jewish-Question-] kind of anxiety about Muhammad or Muslims.

    Sure about that? Do you really need a rational reason to be a bigot? Mix rational thought with doctrinal religious certainties all you want – you still get something irrational.

    BTW, it is sort of like shooting fish in a barrel to find really really stupid ‘presenters’ on American ‘news’ channels. Fox is the worst, but all channels of this type have lots of ignoramuses on the air – people who really don’t know shit from shinola. What they know is ‘communication’, whatever that is supposed to be.

    • Alto Berto (@AltoBerto) November 11, 2013 at 3:10 am #

      Yes, there’s always a reason as to why someone believes something. There is no bigger “No True Scotsman” than the categories of the secular/religious. Why someone does anything stems from various strains of belief that are of a particular time and place,

      The nonexistant christ theory is bunkum, you end up with more problems than you began with.

  9. Sancho July 28, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    The Muslim question in this case why a Muslim intellectual would appear on a television network which is openly hostile to Muslims and intellectuals.

    • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 28, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

      My money says that the publisher put him up to it by flattering his ego about being on national TV.

      I know this is serious social dysfunction we’re talking about, but I can’t help but find it comical. Listen to his voice before the first question. He’s so cheerful! What a rude awakening. Multiple levels of naivete were destroyed in those few seconds.

  10. Billmon July 28, 2013 at 11:49 pm #

    When you read the book, he actually seems to be arguing that 1st century Judaism was the Roman Empire’s “Muslim question”.

  11. Alo July 29, 2013 at 12:03 am #

    You’re right about the interviewer’s question Corey, but I think much of the praise Aslan is getting for his handling of this situation is misdirected.

    His approach is anti-democratic and conservative. The interviewer effectively asserts that his book is biased or has some anti-Christian agenda. Her evidence for this assertion is the fact that he’s “a Muslim”. His rebuttal is that it’s ridiculous to question the motivations of someone with FOUR degrees and TWO DECADES of study. From memory he even says something like “I’m not just any ordinary Muslim, I’m a scholar”.

    He was speaking in the heat of the moment and possibly caught off guard, so I don’t want to criticize him too much personally, but I think his response is the wrong one. What he glosses over is the fact that when the interviewer says “you’re a Muslim” and he says “I’m a Muslim”, they are talking past each other. Although they’re both using the word “Muslim”, what she means by that word and what he means by that word are completely different.

    By implying that his qualifications and profession somehow preclude the existence of any anti-Christian bias, he ratifies the type of argument from authority that she later deploys against him by referring to the credentials of his critics. His only response at that point is, effectively, “scholars gonna disagree”, waving away the quotes without reference to their merits.

    In short, Aslan’s focus on his credentials bolsters rather than undermines the notion that it’s ok to judge an argument by the credentials of the person making it. She says his religious affiliation weakens his argument, and he says his academic achievements (four degrees, PhD, etc.) strengthen it, but both share the position that the characteristics of the person making an argument are relevant. From my perspective, this is an anti-democratic, conservative, harmful view.

    • I am not so sure about that. I think it is perfectly legitmate to reference one’s own professional milestones in answering the question as what business one has in investigating a particular topic. To say “I studied this stuff and earned degrees on it bestowed upon me by persons duly authorized to do so [which is to say, the professors to whom he is to defend his theses]” is a valid reply to anyone who questions one. After all, we have much better cause to trust a surgeon on questions medical than we would our uncle merely because said uncle carved last year’s Thanksgiving turkey and mangaged to hang on to all ten of his fingers.

      • Alo July 29, 2013 at 9:41 am #

        Nope. What degrees you have had “bestowed upon” you tells me absolutely nothing about the persuasiveness of your argument. It also tells me absolutely nothing about “what business” you have investigating a particular topic. Persuasive arguments are persuasive no matter who makes them, and bad arguments are bad no matter who makes them.

        Similarly, a person’s motivations for investigating a topic are not relevant to the persuasiveness of their argument, so the question “what business do you have investigating this topic?” must always be dismissed outright. It is a nonsensical question. No topic is off-limits to anyone. There have been plenty of brilliant works written by people whose true motivations (if we knew them) we would regard as suspect (irrational vendetta, pursuit of fame, etc.), and there have been plenty of terrible works written by people whose true motivations were pure.

        The absolute impossibility of ever “knowing” another’s intentions renders inquiry into intentions irrelevant. This is the point Reza Aslan should have made in response to the interviewer’s assertions of bias. This is the point everyone should make in response to assertions of bias. “Show me where my argument is flawed or unclear. Point to the part of the text that you disagree with or don’t understand. If you can’t do that, your ‘critique’ is meaningless.”

      • The point of my reply is not to dismiss the value of persuasivement arguments. The point of my reply is to push aside the question of expertise when investigating a matter in which one has devoted his/his professional training. Consider the fact that the “questioner” in the video did not concern herself at all with anything “persuasive” that Professor Aslan seemed to have been invited to discuss. Rather, she focussed almost entirely on his right to choose a “politcal” Jesus as his topic because the Professor is a Muslim. She came very close to Islamophobic accusation, and the professor caught this when he used the word “agenda” (a word the questioner did not use, but came close to in her inquisition-style interview) in his response to her. His persuasive thesis (a word I use, rather than “argument”) made it into the discussion and that was only by way of the sheer patient will of the Professor to shoe-horn it in, in reply to a question about his motives that clearly was not designed to invite that response.

        But back to the matter of degrees. Professor Aslan did his studies in his chosen discipline, and was acknowledged for it by those who have the job of applying reviews to his intellectual production. He is entirely within his rights to aggressively, even impolitetly, point out that the subject upon which he currently writes is a subject that he has studied, and has had submitted peer-reviewed works, for many years. I am not so sure I would have been as patient as he.

      • Keyboard Resistor (@freespeechlover) July 31, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

        I agree. If I want to have surgery, I want to know how many surgeries the surgeon has done, outcomes but also where he or she went to medical school, because training matters.

  12. Jonny Butter July 29, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    “The Muslim question in this case why a Muslim intellectual would appear on a television network which is openly hostile to Muslims and intellectuals.”

    I think Sancho wins the thread so far, although Alo does make the important point that what matters is the argument itself, not credentials, etc. The unfortunate part of Alo’s rhetorical tack, however, is that he(?) is implying an inverted responsibility. The professor would probably like to actually make his case. The Fox news idiot is precluding him from doing so because of what – in her view – he is, not his reaction to her. Alo’s implicit equivalence between the two sides is misleading. There really is no equivalence. The moron sees the Muslim as ‘other’ and tainted and therefore incapable of having a worthwhile opinion. She knows the entire book is worthless before reading it because he’s ‘one of THEM’ (anti-semitic arguments anyone?). She even thinks he ought to understand that (anti-semitic arguments anyone else?)! The professor is put back on his heels, saying that he has a well informed argument because he’s studied this stuff for many years. With that he’s not really arguing from authority – he’s arguing for the right to argue. The moron thinks he’s disqualified no matter what.

    I have to admit that I couldn’t even watch the whole video. It’s limbic porno™.

    • “…he’s not really arguing from authority – he’s arguing for the right to argue. The moron thinks he’s disqualified no matter what.”

      Exactly. I wish I’d written that.

      • Jonny Butter July 29, 2013 at 11:00 am #

        Yeah, DP, it occured to me that she’s arguing that his opinion is *less* valid (regardless of what he’s done with his life) so there can’t be an equivalence. She’s the only one arguing from authority – I mean Authority.

      • Spot on!

        And she clearly knows what counts as “authority” what does not, doesn’t she? After she is on tv at Fox, and that’s qualification enough.

      • Alo July 29, 2013 at 11:00 am #

        It highlights my point perfectly. Aslan is ARGUING for the right to argue. He’s saying that his credentials and profession GIVE him the right to argue, implying that those without credentials or a scholarly profession have no such right. He’s saying that Green’s criterion for determining who gets to argue (religious affiliation) is wrong (which it is), BUT he’s saying that his criteria for determining who gets to argue (qualifications, profession, etc.) are right. He clearly does not accept that everyone—irrespective of qualifications, experience, etc.—has the right to argue. This is the anti-democratic heart of his approach.

        Attempting to demonstrate that a particular person has the right to argue is always counterproductive. The right to argue is not debatable. It’s a background assumption. Anyone suggesting that someone doesn’t have the right to argue bears the onus of explaining why. Needless to say the flaw in their claim will become apparent. This is what I was referring to when I said that Aslan and Green mean something different by the word “Muslim”. This is what Aslan should have interrogated Green about.

        He could have said: “I’m sorry, please explain what you mean by ‘Muslim’ and why you think I fall into that category and how you think that relates to the persuasiveness of the argument contained in my book.” I’m sure that Aslan would have been able to point out the flaws in her concept of “Muslim” very easily, meaning that she would have had to either own her Islamaphobia openly (rather than it just being implicit) or back away from her original position.

      • Jonny Butter July 29, 2013 at 11:23 am #

        He clearly does not accept that everyone—irrespective of qualifications, experience, etc.—has the right to argue.

        I admit that I couldn’t bear to watch the whole video, but I didn’t see, and would not expect to see, anything that supports your claim. How is is clear that he does not accept that everyone has the right to argue? If you have a citation, please share it. What *is* unmistakably clear is that he is being *prevented* from arguing *despite* his qualifications, experience, etc.

        Now, as a tactical matter, I agree with you: it’s bad to argue for your right to argue. You can never win that argument, because the person who thinks you don’t have that right has no rational argument for what they think. But I have a hard time believing that this academic is saying no one but specialists like him are allowed to venture an opinion.

        And be careful what you wish for re: ‘democratic’ debate. For example, what does it mean to say that she has the right to question his translation of an aramaic word? It doesn’t mean anything. But saying he *doesn’t* have the right to have an opinion despite having studied the exactly pertinent stuff, means a lot.

      • Alo July 29, 2013 at 11:36 am #

        JB, as I alluded to in an earlier comment, Aslan specifically says: “it’s not that I’m just some Muslim writing about Jesus, I am an expert with a PhD…”

        Thus he distinguishes himself from “just some Muslim”, implying that while her argument might apply to ordinary Muslims, it doesn’t apply to him because he’s “an expert with a PhD”. He also repeatedly refers to himself as “a scholar”, and “an expert”. If he thought that such characteristics were irrelevant to the validity of a person’s argument or a person’s right to argue, why would he make them the core of his argument? It’s not a passing reference. He keeps coming back to his supposed status as a “scholar”, clearly implying that it is this status (rather than his existence as a human being) that is relevant to his right to argue.

      • No, the professor is not in any way implying that those without credentials have no right to “argue”. Bluntly, I cannot understand where you read such an implication. Rather, he is clearly stating that his expertise is a factual feature of his professional training and that, as a professional – and, yes, “credentialed” – historian of religion, he has the prerogative to choose a political Jesus as a subject of his professional inquiry. It’s what he does for a living, and this is what he is trying to tell her in reply to her displaced “objections”. Furthermore, as a professional and credentialed historian OF RELIGION, Professor Aslan is uniquely situated to compose and submit his thesis for public and professional review.

        The interviewer’s thrust, for want of a better word, is that the Professor’s faith ERASES his expertise. That is the source of her discomfiture. Professor Aslan wants you to know that he indeed trained for this work, and he wants you to know this because the fact that he trained for it will be reflected in the work itself, and could even give one cause to examine it closely and seriously.

        It is worth noting that this discussion only happens because of the political stakes involved. Consider Nate Silvers “departure” from the New York Times to ESPN, for example. Professional expertise is a matter of debate when power is the question. Knowledge that goes against the grain of power or cultural interests is suspect, even when such knowledge is the labor of one who should be in a position to deliver such knowledge. But given the matters of political import – from political Islam to American electoral politics – have been discoursed upon in commercial journalism and popular culture by staggering ignoramuses to successfully deleterious effect in a decades long effort to secure profits for media and the sustainment of injustices by the powerful against the weak, these ignoramuses have styled themselves as “experts” exactly because they befoul the airwaves and newsprint and e-communications with their ill-informed opinions that their bosses pay them to excrete. So, along comes someone who submits a new history book for our consideration and has to defend not just his right to write such a book, but even his CAPACITY (by arguing for his professional training) to write such a book. Along with his right, it is his CAPACITY that is under assault in the interview. Like Nate Silver, Professor Aslan has cause to know whereof he writes. It is this “cause” that is in contention, the very fact of it, ONLY because cultural bigotry and/or political power is being challenged. Indeed, expertise is itself suspect. Charles Pierce is laughing somewhere at this moment.

        If Professor Aslan had released a new book on superstring theory, not a damn soul would lift keypad or voice-box one to challenge his right and “authority” to write such a book should he, during an interview, list his professional training that allowed him to compose such a work. His Muslim faith would never come up for discussion then, would it? Heck, he would not even have to list professional training – the interviewer would do it for him. Certainly, an interviewer’s purpose in such a gesture would be to assure the viewer that the present interviewee does know whereof he speaks/writes. Now, would THAT be an illegitimate use of the argument from authority? Would THAT imply that others had no such “authority”? Indeed, not once did Professor Aslan suggest that he was right because of his “authority”. Rather, he states that he can do this work because he is trained. He had to say this repeatedly because his faith was proffered as cause to regard his work as suspect. What the hell else is he supposed to say in the face of that challenge? If it has any “relevance to his argument” [thesis] it is only because his training made him capable to do the homework necessary to construct his thesis.

        Professor Aslan’s (correctly) defensive posture is not the point. The crypto-Islamophobic attack on him (yeah, I called it that) to ERASE the fact of his expertise, is. I love that the Professor gets his back up; the interviewer deserves his responses by the idiocy of her questioning. Why is his historian’s expertise not good enough only because of his faith? The “I’m not just some Muslim” comment was the correct response because the Professor is replying to an accusation (from a Fox News editorialist) referenced by the interviewer that the Professor’s work is merely that of “an educated Muslim’s opinion”: he was, in point of fact, called “just some Muslim.” My God, what would YOU say to that except to reiterate your professional training as an historian?

        Like Jonny Butter, I also smell a troll.

    • Alo July 29, 2013 at 11:28 am #

      I never claimed that Aslan’s “wrong” is equivalent to Green’s. I’m not interested in identifying good guys and bad guys or balancing one wrong against another. A critique is a critique, nothing more. I offered a critique of what Aslan said during the interview. By doing so I did not in any way absolve the interviewer of any responsibility or imply that what she did is in any way acceptable. I thought that the flaws in Green’s approach were pretty obvious, and they had already been pointed out by many people on this blog and in other places. I thought the flaws in Aslan’s approach were being overlooked. Thus the need for a critique.

      This is, in my understanding, how the tradition of critical theory has worked for decades. Critiquing someone else’s critique of capitalism is not the same as defending capitalism. This approach is premised on the idea that the key to winning, politically, lies in making the right critique in the right way: in short, calling people “idiots” or “morons” gets us nowhere.

      Also, to argue from authority is to attempt to create a connection between one’s personal characteristics and the persuasiveness (or correctness, if you like) of one’s argument. Green does not do this. She does not try to say that her opinion is rendered MORE valid by the fact that she is a Fox News Presenter. As far as I recall, she never refers to her own personal characteristics at all. Thus she is not arguing from authority.

      However, perhaps I am nitpicking here because what Green DOES do is imply that argument from authority is valid. She does this by implying that an argument about Jesus made by a Christian would be more persuasive than one made by a Muslim. Accordingly, she endorses argument from authority, which I think is what you were referring to.

      In any event, we all know the problems with Green’s questions and why they deserve to be heavily criticized. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the problems arising from Aslan’s response.

      The problem for me is this: if you were someone who shared Green’s conception of Islam and her assumption that a Muslim’s opinion on Jesus is necessarily flawed, would Aslan’s response have dissuaded you? I suspect not. Even if you became convinced that Aslan in particular has some credibility in this field, his response would have been very unlikely to convince you that “Muslims” in general (even ones who aren’t scholars with four degrees!), have the same right to comment on Jesus as everyone else. In that sense, Aslan’s response fails to address the underlying problem.

      • Jonny Butter July 29, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

        if you were someone who shared Green’s conception of Islam and her assumption that a Muslim’s opinion on Jesus is necessarily flawed, would Aslan’s response have dissuaded you? I suspect not.

        I suspect not, too. And I suspect the approach you would have him take would also not dissuade. I could be wrong, but I don’t see it.

        However, perhaps I am nitpicking here because what Green DOES do is imply that argument from authority is valid. She does this by implying that an argument about Jesus made by a Christian would be more persuasive than one made by a Muslim.

        Yes, I think this is nitpicking – the provenance is the same either way. But the second sentence is wrong: she is saying that an argument about Jesus from a Muslim is not merely less persuasive; she’s saying that it’s both unpersuasive and invalid ipso facto. Not the same at all.

        I see you are backing off your earlier claim that he ‘clearly does not believe that everyone… has the right to argue’. No citation?

        The reason I argue with you is that I smell a little concern trolling here, albeit a relatively sophisticated kind. If what you are really interested in is more effective rhetorical battle against stupidity and bigotry, you have an odd way of showing it. In fact, you won’t even call those things what they are. Whenever people complain that, in the face of stupidity and bigotry, calling those things by name is wrong because it hurts one’s ‘persuasiveness’, my eyes start to roll. I think you are looking for an excuse to slap Aslan. Yes, he might have done better; yes, he was flabbergasted, which shows lack of preparation, perhaps. I think you are looking for a reason to slap him. Why would that be?

        And I think you protest a little too much when you say, for example, that you’re not interested in ‘good guys and bad guys’ nor in
        ‘balancing wrongs’. You’re not interested in those things? Why comment at all then?

  13. Jonny Butter July 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    JB, as I alluded to in an earlier comment, Aslan specifically says: “it’s not that I’m just some Muslim writing about Jesus, I am an expert with a PhD…”

    Thus he distinguishes himself from “just some Muslim”, implying that while her argument might apply to ordinary Muslims, it doesn’t apply to him because he’s “an expert with a PhD”.

    That is unfortunate, no doubt about it. I wouldn’t call that ‘clear’ evidence that he ‘does not believe that everyone… has the right to argue’. But it’s not so good. However I think you are being uncharitable: he was being off the cuff with a (sorry) stupid interviewer and we have the luxury of taking our time. Clearly he didn’t mean that only he has the right to argue. He was trying to point out that he has been studying primary texts in the original languages for 20 years, and she…well you know.

    • bensday823 July 30, 2013 at 3:30 am #

      Christians and Muslims have a variety of disagreements about Jesus. I’m a little fuzzy on the nature of these disagreements, but am under the impression that Muslims view Jesus as a man and Christians see him as something more than a man.

      As I’ve said elsewhere I don’t think it’s wrong to ask a Muslim author if his book reflects the traditional Islamic view of Jesus. His being a Muslim wouldn’t totally discredit him, but a Muslim might rest their argument about the historical Jesus on unstated premises that a Christian wouldn’t accept (and the reverse would also be true). The interviewer wasn’t arguing that his book should be ignored because it was written by a Muslim, rather she wanted to know if it was written from a traditional Muslim perspective and thus based on certain background assumptions Christians don’t share.

  14. Jonny Butter July 29, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    I would like to just say that I am only speculating in my comment above. I don’t know anything about Alo and you can always be wrong when you say you suspect concern trolling. But since I can’t figure out which is his/her chief goal – devising better persuasion or devising better rational arguments? – I will remain puzzled for now.

    • You are right. All we can “know” of someone here is what s/he writes here. And that is poor “knowledge” indeed, without adequate context.

      For this reason, I concede the point.

      But I still smell me some troll meat up in this joint!
      ;)

  15. jonst July 29, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    I’m sorry, it just seems silly to me to equate anything someone on Fox news says, or the MSM, for that matter, with some larger implication implicit in a statement like “…Islam is the Jewish Question of 21st century.”. That is a pretty grand statement.

    • This is a very long reply to a very, very important question raised by “jonst”. For its length, I very deeply apologize, but I had to do a bit of homework it over a couple of days to render it as clearly as possible and to sustain its accuracy. A reader will quickly note that nothing that I say here is new or original. But sometimes it does pay to re-visit the well-understood and the obvious.

      Here goes.

      The risk is in framing the matter as a discourse authored by the powerful about the weak. Like the Negro Question (or “Problem”), the Woman Question (or “Problem”), the Jewish Question (or “Problem”), the Islam Question (or “Problem”?) has been a Question of what the Western Powers are to do about this pesky “subaltern” population. If you read the magazine “Foreign Affairs”, you know this to be true. After all, there is no Christian Question, no White Question, no Male Question… You get the idea.

      Anyway, I would submit that some respondents appear to have misunderstood the title of the post. I hope that I am not one of them. Professor Robin is clearly referencing the Karl Marx essay that replies to and critiques Bauers’ claim that Jews need to renounce Judaism to shorten their path to political liberation in Germany’s (ostensibly) secular (but actually Christian) state, by noting that civil rights do not negate political impositions in other realms of lived existence. Marx’s (naïve? ironical/sarcastic? critical?) use of the stereotyped Jew as a financially shrewd and practical huckster who has imposed himself on the rest of society through the capitalist culture of finance which also operates as a function of this Jewishness, a Jewishness which is the very essence of that bourgeois culture which simultaneously rejects the Jew as “alien”, remains, as everyone knows, the most contested element of his essay. I don’t want to dive into those waters. Rather, what I seek to do here is to borrow a very tiny piece of Marx’s materialist critique and apply it to the title of Robin’s post in order to consider the power of its suggestiveness as it relates to Islam in the present historical moment. Robin is on to something, and some of the respondents have taken what I believe is a misguided umbrage.

      Professor Robin is not suggesting that Muslims of the 21st century face any species of the eliminationist project that stared down the Jews in 20th. There are nearly one a half billion Muslims on the Earth, and they are scattered all around said Earth in many nations. Such a heinous project would be doomed to fail not least due to the logistics of genocide, but due as well (believe it or not) to the deep well of horrific disgust that would angrily manifest itself once such a project was publicly considered. Obtaining any cooperation on that project would be difficult in the extreme. Rather, posing the matter as “Islam is the Jewish Question of the 21st Century” recognizes the publicly understood fact that the “West” faces another challenge to its sense of itself in the present moment and will continue to for the foreseeable future. But this challenge will play itself out as the West, led by the United States, contends with the Middle East-located portion of the Muslim world in pursuit of fossil fuel resources (the largely unstated project) in dialectic with a reconsideration of its own ideologically based domestic political project of national identity (a project that is much more publicly debated). In Marx’s day, and for centuries prior, the “Jewish Question” referenced the fact of Jews living in larger society all across Europe (Middle Eastern Jews were not a subject of that discussion). In the present time, the “Islam Question” mirrors some aspects of that reality, but with the very important difference that Muslims also reside in many nations outside of Europe and the United States, constituting vast majorities in many of those other nations.

      I think the issue here is quite clear and it should now be stated baldly. The “Islam Question” centers on the rising Islamophobia in Western nations, including the United States, existing in a material relation with the ongoing Western pursuit of fossil fuel resources in territories largely populated by Islamic peoples. What gives the “Question” resonance is the stout unwillingness of these Islamic peoples to tolerate the level of imperialistic abuse heaped upon them by both foreign powers and their local reactionary acolytes that constitute the dictatorships dominating a large part of the Arab/Muslim world. Unlike other victim populations, a small element of the Muslim population has been willing to bring to the West a tiny flavor of the violence that it suffers every day at the hands of empire and its local enforcers. Sometimes, they are even willing to bring a miniscule fraction of this violence directly to the Western nations’ very geography. It is this violence that we call “terrorism”. It is this terrorism that persons working for official Western interests will link solely to Islam.

      Therefore, the “Question”, which now can be asked, is: Within the context of an imperialism organized around the interests of resource extraction, how can the Western powers and its global corporate clients, in their pursuit of the continuation of this project, successfully deploy an image of the “Muslim” such that this project is assisted in its goals? Further, how can the West maintain its own image as that of a tolerant, modern, liberal, welcoming, secular, democratic center that simultaneously excludes and demonizes the “Muslim” in a fashion that can also escape the scrutiny of domestic critics, its likely Muslim victims, and world opinion – while simultaneously undertaking the project of resource extraction in the Arab/Muslim Middle East? Simply, what makes this a “Question” is the fact that the afore-named project is often facilitated by either direct military means or by alliances that necessarily require militarily-based contractual arrangements between nations, and as such will consequently meet with often stiff resistance. Thus, these means will tend to have consequence to the populations native to the areas in question as well as to the West’s own domestic populations. This is particularly true for those Western nations that devote substantial political and/or material resources in pursuit of the project of participation in direct extraction, or in negotiation with interests where such extraction is done by others, and the result is the obtaining of a share of the extracted and/or processed fossil fuel resources and its generated profits. Understood thusly, the “Islam Question” does NOT in any way turn on a dispute on how – or even if – the Muslim may find “liberation” should he or she live as a citizen in the Western nations. There simply is no such discussion. Rather, the matter is quite to the contrary.

      The reader may have noticed that this writer takes for granted the continued effort by the Western powers to sustain the project of fossil fuel resource extraction primarily (but not exclusively) from the Middle Eastern nations, and to do so at the expense of the native population of these nations and with the support of their local governments. The geography of these nations will either directly contain the fossil fuel resources, or can permit access to other locations in the region (or, otherwise assist in the inhibiting of such access to rival interests) where such resources are found to reside. Typically, the governments for these nations will tend to be repressive in nature. Taken for granted as well is the historic racism necessary to arouse Western public opinion in support of any such project, given its utility in the effort to disguise such a crass undertaking.

      Concretely, the real “Jewish Question” of the 19th and early 20th centuries was really quite simple: Liberation, Assimilation, Exclusion, Expulsion, or Elimination? The project of national/racial identity and solidarity did not include Jews – the “problem” was that they existed, and the “Question” was what to do about it. It took a world war, the criminalizing of genocide, the colonial advent of the State Of Israel, the Cold War, global decolonization, and local liberation movements inside the Western nations themselves (including the United States) to change the trajectory of that project on the European continent. These days the “Islam Question” is a bit more complicated, and the trajectory of the new and latter-day democratic project finds its articulation within the context of a global capitalism that is sustained by fossil fuel extraction taking place largely in a region populated by persons of many faiths, but overwhelmingly Muslim – a faith also officially sustained by nearly all of the governments of that region. This extraction sustains the world’s wealthiest economies, all of which are located outside this region, and with little benefit to the region’s domestic populations — but nearly all of that local benefit redounding almost solely to that region’s domestic elites (who, by the way, are also Muslim). Often with Western military assistance, these elites facilitate access to the fuel resources. It is this context that constitutes the profound complexity of the “Islam Question”.

      In contrast, the “Jewish Question”, unlike the “Islam Question”, did not involve resources or imperialist expansion or corporate globalization operating in a post-colonial world. That there was a “Jewish Question” was simply a function of just straight up, often bloodthirsty, racism on the European continent. The material interests of historic anti-Semites, culminating in Nazism, should not be understood as the same project of deployed cultural Islamophobia operating within the context global capitalism, in spite of the overlap of racism in both cases. But to deny the existence of any kind of serious “Islam Question” as a (if not “the”) question of the 21st century is to deny objective reality. To point out its unlikeness to the “Jewish Question” as a means to such denial is simply dishonest.

      How all of this relates to Professor Aslan is quite simple. How centers of power (in the present case, an international media conglomerate) participate in addressing the “Islam Question” is demonstrated by the shabby treatment of a Muslim scholar of the history of religion who is also a scholar of literature, by a blow-dried and studio-lit, former beauty queen runner-up of an ignoramus. On a show that probably went largely unwatched even by that media corporation’s most devoted viewers. That is, until the video of the interview went viral. One may be forgiven for suspecting that the interviewer got herself an “Attagirl!” from the management at Fox (if you saw the documentary “OutFoxed”, you will know what I mean here): first, she insulted a Muslim intellectual on the air because he is Muslim; second, by doing so she raised the profile of a Fox show. “Attagirl!” indeed.

      And thus, sadly, it appears we have our answer, at least for the time being. How long into the future of this new century will this continue? Will it get worse? What can be done about it, if anything, intelligently?

      Renouncing Islam is not going to liberate Muslims; becoming “modern” won’t do it (it did not help Professor Aslan); renouncing faith generally won’t do it. And I say this as an atheist. The focal point is the West’s continued reliance on fossil fuels extracted by direct force and/or that such extraction is facilitated by repressive local governments, in locations that have large Muslim populations that take exception to the force and violence that they endure and which remain a function of the extractive project. The West’s ideological effort to demonize their faith because they fight back against invasion and repression and the destruction of their local societies is also a function the project to obtain the fossil fuels, to control the destination of such fuels, to reap massive profits thereby, and so on.

      Unfortunately, some of that “fight back” will be heinously misdirected, claiming innocent victims in and out of the Middle East. Some of it will reiterate some of the most horribly reactionary politics to justify itself, blaming the wrong people and misunderstanding history. Some elements (official and not) within the local populations in some of the Middle Eastern nations will calculate their own interests. Taking advantage of regional repression or of social disruption and/or breakdown, their criminal – even genocidal – violence will be requested, encouraged, facilitated, exploited – and rewarded – by Western interests, in the strategic pitting of Muslim against Muslim, in the time-honored spirit of cynical cooptation. And all such events are, and will be, easily appropriated by both Western reactionaries and even local governments in the Middle East, for ideological ends.

      I daresay that if oil and empire had never been a part of the history between the Middle East and the Western powers, the “Question” would be a very different “Question” indeed – and I am even assuming, under that “what if” condition, the existence of the state of Israel. That nation’s relation with the rest of the world, but especially the United States, would also be very different.

      *whew!*

      Let me close by apologizing again for the length of this reply. I hope Corey doesn’t get mad at me for this.

  16. jonnybutter July 29, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    Commenter “political football” at Crooked Timber is succinct here:
    “The questioner literally compared him to a Democrat writing about Reagan, as though there would be something wrong with that. This shows a remarkable misunderstanding about the purpose and practice of scholarship, and Aslan was entirely correct in reminding her that scholars are engaged in a different practice than Fox News.”

  17. bensday823 July 30, 2013 at 2:15 am #

    No Islam is not “the Jewish question” of the twenty first century. There are 1.4 billion Muslims, dozens of Muslim countries, and Muslims control a huge portion of the earth’s land and resources. Muslims are not some tiny helpless, persecuted, minority. Nobody with even a cursory knowledge of world affairs, and world history, would make that comparison.

    As to the clip Corey posted, it doesn’t prove what he thinks it proves. There is nothing wrong with asking a Muslim author if his book reflects the traditional Islamic view of Jesus, just as there is nothing wrong with asking a Catholic author the same question. It’s also a free country where Muslims can openly seek converts, and even if it weren’t I wouldn’t have a problem with Dr. Aslan doing so.

    • Sancho July 30, 2013 at 2:21 am #

      Several commenters have pointed out that the original Jewish Question was how, or even if, a religion fundamentally at odds with Christianity should be accepted and practiced in dominantly Christian societies.

      Nothing to do with the power or persecution of Jews (except perhaps secondarily), and Islam meets the criteria for the current era.

      Be careful of questioning the knowledge of others.

      • bensday823 July 30, 2013 at 3:08 am #

        Sancho,

        That may have been the Jewish question during the middle ages, when freedom of religion simply didn’t exist, but it was not the modern Jewish question. The modern “Jewish Question” was nationalistic, not religious. Namely where do diaspora people’s fit in a world of ethnically based states? Yuri Slezkine’s book, The Jewish Century, deals extensively with these issues.

        -Ben

      • Sancho July 30, 2013 at 3:31 am #

        Which still doesn’t juxtapose the weakness of the Jewish community then with the strength of Muslim nations now, and isn’t the historical Jewish Question.

        It’s a very minor point to get hung up on, and the subtext of your complaint seems to be that Muslims should have less credibility than Jews in all matters becaus they’re not stateless.

      • bensday823 July 30, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

        Sancho,

        It depends on how you define Jewish Question. If your defining it to mean the situation Jews found themselves in during the 20th century, that’s just innacurate. If you defining it more narrowly as a question of what role Muslims can have in non-Muslim societies it still isn’t a perfect analogy.

        I wouldn’t argue that Muslims have less credibility, that’s a separate question.

        -Ben

  18. bensday823 July 30, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Let me clarify my point. If what Corey means is that the situation of Muslims in the twenty first century is similar or equivalent to the position of Jews in the twentieth that’s a mendacious comparison. If he means the question asked about Muslims in the twenty first century is similar to the question asked about Jews in the twentieth, he’s wrong.The question asked about Muslims is whether Islam is compatible with Modernity, nobody asked that question about Judaism as a religion (even if in the Haredi’s case it might not be entirely unfair).

    • neffer July 30, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

      I find myself in complete agreement here with bensday823. And, I should also reiterate that particularly with respect to someone of Muslim background, it is important to be sure that what is spoken about, when writing about Christianity, relates to the Christian Jesus, not the Islamic Issa.

      Moreover, having read at least one book by Aslan and having seen him debate with the Atheist writer Sam Harris, the fact that you see Aslan squirm does not reveal all that much. Harris, as you may know, is particularly critical of Islam – although he tears into Christianity as well -, debated Aslan some years ago and, when Harris did his thing, Aslan began squirming big time.

      Aslan’s book about Islam – the one I read, anyway – was a coffee counter style book pretending to be a serious book. His Islam exists only in his mind. Which is to say, I do not see him as a serious scholar. And, it is entirely conceivable that he did not distinguish Islam’s Issa from the Christian Jesus.

      As for the view that Jesus was political, well, there is considerable scholarship on the issue. Bear in mind what New Testament scholars have – at least way back when I was in school – taken the view that the only statement definitively attributed to a person who could be Jesus (i.e., the one statement that is consistent with what might have been said at the time and place where he supposedly lived) is “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Everything else is conjecture, of which there has been quite a lot.

      • You know, I just have to say this. What criteria does neffer have to claim that Aslan is not a serious scholar? What is neffer’s own educational/scholarly background that places him/her in a position to pass such judgment? S/He claims that s/he read one book by Aslan. But please note, dear reader, that s/he doesn’t bother to tell us which one, and therefore cannot tell us how that book s/he claims to have read is any kind of evidence that Aslan is not a serious scholar, and that the unnamed book in question is a “coffee counter style book pretending to be a serious book”. neffer – do you really think the other people who come to this post are so stupid as to accept your claims about an unnamed text you claim to have read and about which you offer no analysis – and from which you derive no citation – that can be investigated by other readers? Your unsubstantiated claims about an unnamed book – is that the best you can do in your effort to slap Professor Aslan?

        And then there is this from you: “His [Aslan’s] Islam exists only in his mind.” You know that for sure, neffer? What is your authority on that claim? How well do you – can you – know another man’s “Islam”? What is your yardstick?

        Seriously, neffer? Do you really think that little of us?

        And I saw the debate you reference (anyone can find it on youtube). Aslan’s problem is not that he is Muslim – no, you did not say that, but the present context cannot be ignored: simply, why did you find it necessary to mention that debate here, hmm? Where did THAT input come from? What justifies it? Had to look around for that, so that you may join in slapping party, no? Is that the extent of your “research” on Professor Aslan? Apart from the unnamed book you say you read?

        In his debate with the Islamophobic atheist Sam Harris Aslan’s only vulnerability is that he is a person of faith and not that he is a Muslim. The debate was Professor Aslan’s idea; and by the way, Aslan defends the Bible – does he get any points for that?

        As well, what you speciously call Aslan’s “squirming” — when does that happen, during his defense of the Bible? The Koran? Maybe it happens during his general defense of faith as a viable modality of experience? And why do you say that? Are we supposed to draw some kind of conclusion of some sort based upon your decision to characterize Aslan’s participation in the debate as “squirming”? It is true that on the matter of reading faith’s sacred texts as “sacred history” Aslan is on very weak ground indeed. What does that even mean? But Aslan finally hits his stride when he tells Harris that Islam has nearly one and half billion adherents, and therein much diversity obtains. A grace note is his use of liberation theology’s willingness to resort to violence as an example of religious faith historically situated. He notes that few people would declare that Catholicism is a “deranging” faith because a large cohort residing therein would take up arms against capital and in defense of the poor. As Aslan notes, Harris has forgotten the 1980’s.

        Aslan is at his best when he points out to Harris that violent “jihadism” results from a belief that one’s very identity is under assault, and that belief can be sustained by objective reality – and not merely from being a Muslim.

        Harris’ attempt to make Islam the culprit by noting that the 9/11 hijackers were educated and from middle class backgrounds and not from the ranks of the dispossessed fails because he misses the point, which is that these people believe themselves under attack – and can point to instances of such attack. And frankly, they do have some cause to believe it and Aslan cites such instances. The murder of a Dutch cartoonist who created racist images of the prophet Mohammed (I saw those images, by the way – “racist” is my characterization of the work; and, obviously, that DOES NOT mean the artist should be maimed or killed because of that) by a person who is Muslim is meaningless without this understanding. Even if the killer had never seen a hungry day in his life, had never had to crawl out from under a bombed out building. All that that killer had to believe is that a lowly cartoonist is part of “The West”’s own global jihad against Islam – and therefore by extension against him. After all, some Western nations do have a military presence along side that of the United States in the Middle East, and every single day tragedy comes out of that, the bulk of it borne by the local residents – Muslims. Compare that to the deaths and injuries caused by Muslims committing violence in the Western world. No Arab/Muslim nation has troops stationed in any Western country, killing anything that moves and committing atrocities. There are no “Islamic” drones flying over Western capitals.

        I have seen many debates between atheists and believers of many faiths and, happily, not all atheists are anti-Muslim bigots like Harris (or Hitchens). Here is an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiJnCQuPiuo

        And one more thing – this is not that interviewer’s first effort at anti-Islam bigotry at Fox. Check this out: http://mediamatters.org/blog/2013/07/29/fox-reporter-lauren-greens-double-standard-on-r/195114

        Thanks to the legacy of empire and its ongoing manifestation in global, oil-based capitalism, elements of the “West” (whose mouthpieces can be found not just in government but in its propaganda proxy called the corporate media, and not all of whom will be male Whites) are feeling particularly paranoid these days. Muslims live everywhere around the world in huge numbers and cannot be ghettoized. Hence, the “Clash of Civilization” nonsense.

        Islamophobia tries by ideology what it cannot do physically, which is to contain an entire global population within boundaries of some sort. The most common means is the denial of the diversity of Islam’s adherents, reducing them to a “Them” that is committed to being against a similarly non-diverse “Us”, with their “difference” betraying their fundamental “wrongness”, and terrorism as their “argument” of choice. Such is the reduction of the “Muslim” to a discursive trope of imperialist politics. The question that remains is how long will it be until any failure of this project finally makes Islamophobia no longer worth the effort?

  19. neffer August 13, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant,

    Words fail me when reading your rant against me. I was not writing an article on Aslan. I was posting a comment. Grow up and get real.

    For your information, the Aslan book I read was No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. The Islam it discusses never existed. What he wrote is fairytale stuff. He is a good writer but no scholar of religion, in my humble view. And, as for his recent book, that has been the criticism from others. See e.g., this review of his new book: http://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/449/reza-aslan-what-jesus-wasnt/?print .

    In the debate with Harris, the point I had in mind – and this is from memory – was when Harris attacked Islam. You could see Aslan’s discomfort with the debate. Such could be due to being nervous during a debate. That is possible. Perhaps, I misperceived. But, his moving around was, I recall, most pronounced when Islam was attacked by Harris.

    I do not understand your attack on Harris. And, your insinuation of Islamophobia is rather ridiculous. Harris is not a bigot. I do not know what the Fox newscaster believes because I do not watch much TV or Fox news in particular.

    My observation on the Fox news topic is that it is natural for a person to look askance at outsiders who criticize. That is normal human instinct. It is not necessarily prejudice. Consider the hostility with which Muslims take criticism of Islam. Jews do not like non-Jews to criticize Jews. Christians do not like the views of non-Christians about Christianity. Normal human instinct is to take the criticisms of outsiders harshly.

    Criticism is not a form of bigotry.

    • Aro August 13, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

      I’m no defender of DP, as you can see from my earlier comments, but neffer: “looking askance at outsiders” is ALWAYS bigotry. Classifying people as “outsiders” and “insiders” is bigotry. Treating people differently because you think they fit into a particular box (e.g. “Muslim”) is bigotry. There is nothing “natural” or biological about this. Put down the evolutionary psychology nonsense and pick up a sociology or social psych textbook. Seeing people as “insiders” and “outsiders” is a culturally determined phenomenon that is extremely malleable and highly context-dependent. Defending your bigotry as mere “criticism” doesn’t wash.

      • neffer August 14, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

        Aro August 13, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

        I’m no defender of DP, as you can see from my earlier comments, but neffer: “looking askance at outsiders” is ALWAYS bigotry. Classifying people as “outsiders” and “insiders” is bigotry. Treating people differently because you think they fit into a particular box (e.g. “Muslim”) is bigotry. There is nothing “natural” or biological about this. Put down the evolutionary psychology nonsense and pick up a sociology or social psych textbook. Seeing people as “insiders” and “outsiders” is a culturally determined phenomenon that is extremely malleable and highly context-dependent. Defending your bigotry as mere “criticism” doesn’t wash.

        Yours is the view of a person who seemingly holds nothing dear to your heart.. Otherwise, you would not write what you wrote. For people who actually believe something deeply, it is difficult to listen, without raising defensive mechanisms, to those who criticize those beliefs. And that is not bigotry. That is normal human nature.

        My view is that Aslan is not much of a scholar of religion. That includes not being much of a scholar of Islam or Christianity. I do not think he claims expertise about Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other religion.

        Turning everything coming from your political opponents into bigotry is, itself, a form of bigotry. It speaks rather poorly of those on who do it including a great many people on the Left, who have created their own orthodoxy and are defensive (not really all that dissimilar from the Fox news person with respect to a Muslim criticizing Christian mythology) about anything that is inconsistent with that orthodoxy.

        By the way, I was not defending Fox news. I was attempting to explain why a person would react as the Fox newscaster did.

        Also, I have, as I noted, actually read a book by Aslan, so if I hold him in low estimation, it is the result of my impression of what he wrote. If I did not say this elsewhere, Aslan is the believer in a fairytale version of Islam, not a close examination of its teachings, its virtues and its shortcomings. However, that is something which many – not all, of course – on the Left (and on the Right) have done, to their own discredit.

    • Aro August 14, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

      Your arrogance in presuming to know how deeply I believe in something is breathtaking. It is also symptomatic of a failure to distinguish between an argument and the characteristics of the person making it. What I personally believe in and how “deeply” I believe in it are entirely irrelevant to the argument I made.

      Again you claim knowledge of what is “normal human nature” and what isn’t. I hope you’ve got a mountain of anthropological evidence for this sweeping claim. Can’t you see how absurd it is to claim knowledge of the limits of human capacity? Claim knowledge of what is common, if you must, but it’s the height of solipsism (not to mention intensely pessimistic) to claim knowledge of what is fixed and universal.

      In any event, your position has shifted significantly. In the post I was responding to, you characterised defensiveness in response to criticism *by outsiders* as human nature. But now you say it’s defensiveness per se that is natural. I disagree with both claims, but only the first is bigotry. Being unwilling to listen to criticism (regardless of whence it comes) is frustrating, but it is not bigotry. Being unwilling to listen to criticism *when it is made by a person with certain characteristics* is bigotry.

      So I agree: to treat claims made by one’s “political opponents” as inherently defective would be a form of bigotry, because it would be judging a claim’s merits on the basis of the characteristics of the person making it, rather than evaluating the claim itself (pre-judging = prejudice, see?). But why categorize certain people as “political opponents”? I certainly don’t engage in such pointless categorization. I didn’t claim that “looking askance at outsiders is bigotry” because I perceive you or anyone else to be a “political opponent”. I claimed that because I believe it’s true, and I would make that claim no matter who I was talking to.

      As for Aslan, I’ve read his past work and I’m sympathetic to many of your criticisms of it. Two points need to be made though:

      (1) If you imagine that your criticisms of Aslan’s work are in any way connected to what Green did during this interview then you need to watch the interview again. At no time did she question the characterization of Islam he makes in No God But God or critique the contents of that book. She didn’t even critique the argument he makes in Zealot. This is why the interview got so much attention: she plainly implies that his personal characteristics (e.g. the fact he calls himself a Muslim) undermine the argument contained in his book. This is pure prejudice, and one of the reasons that it needs to be called out as such is that there are legitimate criticisms to be made of Aslan’s work. Saying that his work is flawed because of what he “is” prevents the legitimate criticisms from being heard. Unfortunately, as I noted previously, Aslan’s reply— that his work should be respected because of what he “is” (i.e. “a scholar with a PhD”)—upholds the same principle: that it’s ok to judge an argument by the characteristics of the person making it.

      (2) A work cannot be judged on the merits of its author’s past work. The ostensible topic of Green’s interview was Aslan’s latest book, Zealot. Whether Aslan has made poor arguments in the past (and I agree with you that he has) cannot be the basis of a critique of Zealot. Either the arguments in Zealot are poor, or they are good, but in either case they remain poor/good irrespective of Aslan’s past work.

      You seem to want to debate whether or not Aslan is a worthy scholar of religion. Why bother? Would his status as a worthy scholar of religion make Green’s behavior more or less appropriate? Would it make his reply to Green more or less appropriate? The Green/Aslan interview highlights some blatant prejudice (on both sides, I would argue: both against Muslims and against non-scholars), and is worth discussing for that reason. Aslan’s worth as a scholar of religion is not relevant to that discussion.

      • neffer August 15, 2013 at 11:09 am #

        What I personally believe in and how “deeply” I believe in it are entirely irrelevant to the argument I made.

        I agree entirely with this point. I had in mind the mindset which might have led you to have written what you wrote. As I noted, yours was a point which would be made by someone who holds no beliefs deeply. That was an observation, by the way, not an argument. It does not invalidate your view – although I think your position about the Fox news Aslan “interview” is wrong because it confuses normal human defensiveness with bigotry and because, more than likely, you are taking the question out of context – i.e, out of the context that Aslan appeared on Fox news to hawk his book to an audience which includes a lot of devout Christians.

        Claim knowledge of what is common, if you must, but it’s the height of solipsism (not to mention intensely pessimistic) to claim knowledge of what is fixed and universal.

        I was making a simple observation. I suggest going into a church or synagogue or mosque and informing the believers there that what they believe is the founding historical events of their religions are all wrong. Try, as a Christian or Jew, telling a believing Muslim that Patricia Crone’s Hagarism theory about the origins of Islam is the truth – (e.g., that Muhammad was not even from Arabia and Islam is possibly an offshoot of Samaritanism and Judaism). Observe the reaction and then tell me I am wrong. Or, as a Jew or Muslim, tell a devout Christian evangelist that Jesus, if he actually exists, was an ordinary political leader. I have done that quite a number of times. You can expect considerable defensiveness from the person. That’s anecdotal, of course, but it corresponds with common sense.

        No. I have no study that I can cite to prove the above. However, it is true.

        In any event, your position has shifted significantly. In the post I was responding to, you characterised defensiveness in response to criticism *by outsiders* as human nature. But now you say it’s defensiveness per se that is natural. I disagree with both claims, but only the first is bigotry. Being unwilling to listen to criticism (regardless of whence it comes) is frustrating, but it is not bigotry. Being unwilling to listen to criticism *when it is made by a person with certain characteristics* is bigotry.

        Well, let’s see. Many people find it difficult to take criticism from their parents. That has been a topic in countless numbers of novels and other books. I guess that is bigotry, at least on your theory.

        The American Heritage Dictionary defines bigotry as “The attitude, state of mind, or behavior characteristic of a bigot; intolerance.” Is it actually intolerant to adopt a defensive attitude when someone challenges your belief system? No. It is not. Does it become intolerant when the “someone” who challenges your belief system does not share your beliefs to begin with? No. It is not. It is normal behavior from a normal person.

        The claim for bigotry is nonsense. It is politics, plain and simple. And, it is, in fact, a nasty form of politics which brands its opponents as bigots and racists by means of hunting for statements, removed from normal context and common sense, so that they can be placed into a microscope and spit out as examples of intolerance and bigotry when, returned to their real context, they are normal.

        (1) If you imagine that your criticisms of Aslan’s work are in any way connected to what Green did during this interview then you need to watch the interview again.

        I have no such view. I rather doubt that the interviewer even really read Aslan’s book. I think the interviewer was given a summary of the book.

        Unfortunately, as I noted previously, Aslan’s reply— that his work should be respected because of what he “is” (i.e. “a scholar with a PhD”)—upholds the same principle: that it’s ok to judge an argument by the characteristics of the person making it.

        His reply rather suggests that he understood the question as one about his qualifications to write on a topic, not as a challenge to his background. Which is to say, what he may have thought is something like this: “because I am not a Christian, in the absence of scholarly achievement on Christianity, my book will not be taken as worthwhile to purchase.” While Aslan did not rise to the bait you see being placed in front of him, what he did was, I think, rather intelligent, because he wants people to buy his book. That is why he went on Fox – he knows that the audience for a book about Christianity includes a lot of Fox viewers, among whom are a number of people who know that Aslan is Muslim. Hence, it would be normal for a Christian to ask why a professor of creative writing – i.e., Aslan’s day job -, not a professor of religion, who is not a Christian ought to be taken seriously by a Christian. So, he answered the question in the way most likely to be accepted by the audience he hoped to attract. Given that the book has been a success, I suspect that he was quite happy with the interview.

        Discussion the context does not invalidate my comment that it is a normal human reaction for a person of one belief system to be more defensive when a person of a different belief system writes about the first person’s belief system. Rather, I am providing the context which your methodology removes.

        (2) A work cannot be judged on the merits of its author’s past work.

        I agree. However, the review I cited above makes it rather clear that the book is similar, so far as being a work of less than serious scholarship, to No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, which I have read. So, I rather doubt it is worth my time to read the book to find out its merits, if any.

        You seem to want to debate whether or not Aslan is a worthy scholar of religion. Why bother? Would his status as a worthy scholar of religion make Green’s behavior more or less appropriate? Would it make his reply to Green more or less appropriate? The Green/Aslan interview highlights some blatant prejudice (on both sides, I would argue: both against Muslims and against non-scholars), and is worth discussing for that reason. Aslan’s worth as a scholar of religion is not relevant to that discussion.

        I am not debating whether Aslan is a scholar of religion. That was his answer to the question in issue.

        Contrary to you, I think the question was reasonable, although it might have been a lot better worded – the wording suggesting a degree of defensiveness by the interviewer. I think it perfectly natural for an author to be asked for qualifications. I think it thoroughly natural to ask someone why, as a non-believer in the topic being discussed and as a person raised in a different belief system, whether that someone has sufficient knowledge to write a book on that topic.

        Let’s remove this from politics. Let’s talk about someone from England writing a book about baseball. It is perfectly natural to ask whether such an author has any qualifications, given that the author grew up in a place where baseball is not a national pastime and, worse still, where people tend to think baseball to be a boring, difficult to follow, game. On your theory, the question would be bigoted.

        Yes, I agree that a book should be judged on its merits. But, Aslan was trying to hawk his book and being asked a question to explain his qualifications, as a non-Christian, to write about the origins of Christianity, is fair game. Again, what people say has to be judged within the context it is being asked. And, to reiterate: the context was his appearing on TV to hawk his book to an audience made up, in some considerable part, of Christian believers.

      • Aro August 15, 2013 at 11:52 am #

        Your obsessive references to what you believe to be “normal human behavior”, who you believe to be a “normal person”, what you believe to be “perfectly natural”, and what you believe to be “common sense”, confirm that you are not engaging in serious intellectual discussion.

        To describe something as “normal” is to blur the lines between frequency and appropriateness. “Normal” implies that something is both common and appropriate. It is a term that has no salutary function: it can only ever exclude, limit, and harm. This has been clear at least since Foucault’s History of Madness was published 50 years ago, and probably longer.

        In short, the fact that you encounter something regularly does not mean that it is a common phenomenon and it certainly doesn’t mean that it is an acceptable phenomenon. It also doesn’t mean that it is a “natural” or inevitable phenomenon. Believing in the universality of your own experiences is precisely the opposite of critical thinking.

        I never branded you a bigot or a racist. Again you are missing the distinction between an argument and the person who makes it. A bigoted argument is bigoted irrespective of who makes it, and a racist argument is racist irrespective of who makes it. I’m not in the business of categorizing or classifying individuals; my only concern is with analyzing arguments.

        “it would be normal for a Christian to ask why a professor … who is not a Christian ought to be taken seriously by a Christian”

        It may be *common* for such questions to be asked, but that doesn’t make them “normal” or appropriate. The characteristics of a text’s author (e.g., whether they are “Christian”) have no bearing on whether the text should be “taken seriously”. Some of the most valuable texts throughout history were written by people who were not taken seriously at the time. Who a culture takes seriously at any particular moment is contingent. We should constantly seek to highlight this contingency and subvert its normative foundations, not hide it by naturalizing and normalizing that which is common.

        To question a writer’s motivations because of their nationality is always bigoted, even in your scenario of an Englishman who has written about baseball. The only question that matters is: is the book any good? If not, critique it. If so, praise it. There is nothing to be gained (and plenty to be lost) from attempting to psychoanalyze the author’s reasons for writing it.

        You seem to want to divide the world into those who are qualified to write about Christianity and those who aren’t. This is an odious and indefensible distinction. *Everyone is “qualified” to write about everything.* The only question is: which writing is good and which is bad? By focusing on the author’s qualifications or motivations, we are jeopardizing our ability to answer this question (i.e. engage in critical analysis). This is what’s at stake.

  20. neffer August 15, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    Aro August 15, 2013 at 11:52 am #,

    I reiterate my claim that your entire viewpoint divorces the Fox news conversation from its context. It is a misunderstanding. Again, Aslan appeared on Fox to hawk his book and Fox is viewed by a lot of devout Christians, among whom there are a number who know that Aslan is Muslim. That is the context and the perspective against which the discussion arises. Absent that context, the questions and answers cannot be sufficiently understood.

    Your approach amounts to language sampling. Consider: in different contexts, the same statements can mean quite different things. So, the issue here is, (a) first to understand what was meant and why and (b) only then, if an issue is raised by the discussion, to label it appropriately.

    The question was asked for one or more of a number of possible reasons including, for example, that the interviewer wondered why a Muslim professor of creative writing – not a professor of religion – might know enough about Christianity to write a book about the origins of Christianity, or that the interviewer wondered about the motivation of the writer – which is also a reasonable question -, or because the interviewer thought it would allow Aslan better to hawk his book, which is, I suspect, the most likely reason for the question.

    I object to thought police type efforts to brand political opponents as bigots. I am not a Republican. I consider myself rather liberal. However, when I read what you write, it makes me rather more sympathetic to the GOP viewpoint that what lays behind the PC language campaign is a rather dangerous ideology.

    There is real bigotry in this world. Conflating a perfectly reasonable question with bigotry shows a lack of perspective and unwillingness to examine statements in context.

    • I had planned to hold my tongue (or my keyboard, as the case may be) but neffer is in dire need of one single factual correction: Professor Aslan IS A SCHOLAR AND PROFESSOR OF RELIGION, as a well as literature. See here: http://rezaaslan.com/about/

      neffer — twice you have denied Professor Aslan’s professional skill set by claiming that he is “not a professor of religion”, and by calling him only a “professor of creative writing”.

      You won’t go back to the video above where he clearly states his training to the interviewer and does so more than once (we watched the video – did YOU?) – or even do a two-second Google search to see Professor Aslan’s training listed in his website. In English.

      Ok, fine, treat yourself to your own ignorance. What I don’t understand is how it is that you make a claim that can so easily be refuted in this forum. What is it with you? And I mean that seriously. Again, I ask: do really think so little of us?

      • neffer August 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

        Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant writes:

        Professor Aslan IS A SCHOLAR AND PROFESSOR OF RELIGION, as a well as literature.

        Well, that is not actually true. His website states that “he is Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Cooperating Faculty in the Department of Religion at the University of California, Riverside.” That is not quite the same thing as being a professor of religion. Moreover, the actual website of UC Riverside, Department of Religion, does not list him at all. http://www.religiousstudies.ucr.edu/people/faculty/index.html and his directory page at UC Riverside does not list him as a professor of religion. http://facultydirectory.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/pub/public_individual.pl?faculty=4209 . It states that he is “Associate Professor of Creative Writing.” Funny that.

        He does claim that, at one time, he was a professor of religion. Perhaps. I have no idea if that claim is true. However, the current claim seems to be contradicted by his employer.

      • Corey Robin August 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

        I’ve been reluctant to wade into this argument mostly because I find it so distasteful. But here’s a thought experiment. I am currently a professor of political science and I have my PhD in political science. Let’s say I moved to another university and got an appointment in a different department — say, history (my undergrad degree is in history) or some kind of interdisciplinary major in the humanities or social sciences. I would not cease, at that point, to be a political scientist, merely because my appointing department had changed. Neffer, I’m not really certain how familiar you are with academia; you’ve intimated in the past that you are some kind of scholar, but I’ve seen no evidence of that. In any event, this is how things work in academia. Aslan has a PhD in the sociology of religion and an MA in Theological Studies; he has held previous positions as an endowed chair in religion and as a visiting professor of religion (you say “perhaps” though you’ve provided no grounds to question either claim, so unless you have some grounds, I suggest you quit it). If you want to question his arguments, by all means, be my guest; I’ve seen some smart critiques. But this ridiculous carrying on about his qualifications and his identity as a scholar is, well, ridiculous.

  21. neffer August 15, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Corey Robin August 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm #,

    I was merely answering the comment made by Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant regarding Prof. Aslan’s current position. I also noted that Aslan claimed previously to be a professor of religion. That may well be true or it also may be an exaggeration as would appear to be the claim that he is now a professor of religion. I am, of course, aware that people change departments at colleges. However, unless you know the man better than I do, I trust that you also do not know whether his biography is truthful or padded. Surely you realize that there are cases of academics who have padded their credentials.

    My point, however, had nothing to do with his actual background. In the real world, a TV producer investigating a potential interviewee’s background for a TV interview would go to the interviewee’s school website and see that he is a professor of creative writing. That would be the end of the inquiry – in the real world. From gleaning that information, it would be perfectly reasonable for an interviewer on TV to ask whether Mr. Aslan has qualifications that relate to the study of Christology. Surely, you have to admit that such is true.

    That is how things work in the news business. Things are done quickly and, if there is a source for something that seems reliable, the information is used. That is necessary background to understanding the origin of the questions put to Prof. Aslan.

    I thank you for not commenting on my main point, which does not stand on whether or not Alsan is actually a professor of religion. My point is that it is not bigoted, given that he is not a Christian and that the information which appears on his employer’s website says that he is a professor of creative writing, to inquire whether he is qualified in some way – whether by means of self-education or academic degree – to have written a book purporting to show the origins of the Christian myth.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Reza Aslan’s Ethnic-Literary Cleansing of “the Modern Middle East”: The Real Scandal is Not His New Book on the Historical Jesus « Zionist Entity - July 30, 2013

    […] hysterically on his personal blog that FOX’s interview with Aslan proves definitively that “Islam is the Jewish Question of the 20th Century.” Exsqueeze me?  You’re equating the condition of Muslims in the West today with Jews […]

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