Reza Aslan, the author and expert on religion who burst into fame after a comical 2013 FoxNews.com interview, had sharp words for Bill Maher after the HBO comedian on Friday night said this, among other things:
President Obama keeps insisting that ISIS is not Islamic. Well, maybe they don’t practice the Muslim faith the same way he does. But if vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe, and they do, that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea or drawing a cartoon or writing a book or eloping with the wrong person, not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS, it has too much in common with ISIS.
CNN hosts Don Lemon and Alisyn Camerota took up the matter last night with Aslan. They noted that Maher continued his anti-Islam monologue by referencing the “circumcision for women, not respecting the rights of women, not respecting the rights of gay people.” Then they placed Maher’s allegations in front of Aslan, who ripped them apart: “When it comes to topic of religion, [Maher is] not very sophisticated the way he thinks.” The scholar noted that the problem of female circumcision is a “central African problem,” and not a Muslim problem.
When Lemon asked Aslan to “be honest” and admit that “it’s not a free and open society for women” in Muslim-majority countries. Aslan: “Well, it’s not in Iran, it’s not in Saudi Arabia. It certainly is in Indonesia and Malaysia, it certainly is in Bangladesh, it certainly is in Turkey. I mean, again, this is the problem is that you’re talking about a religion of 1.5 billion people and certainly it becomes very easy to just simply paint them all with a single brush by saying, well, in Saudi Arabia, they can’t drive and therefore that’s somehow representative of Islam. It’s representative of Saudi Arabia.”
On a roll, Aslan later said, “These kinds of conversations that we’re having aren’t really being had in any kind of legitimate way. We’re not talking about women in the Muslim world. We’re using two or three examples to justify a generalization — that’s actually the definition of bigotry.”
And with that, a piece of advice from the Erik Wemple Blog: Reza Aslan v. your average cable news host is a mismatch. Don’t go there, producers, unless your people are schooled in the religion, politics and geopolitics of the Muslim world. In this segment, Lemon and Camerota were not, and they struggled in something of an inexplicable effort to defend Maher’s point of view, as if they owed him as much.
Maher’s views on Islam have drawn similar backlashes in the past. In a Time magazine piece in May, Safe Nation Collaborative President Rabia Chaudry directed these thoughts at Maher: “If we are to accept your rationale, we have to also accept that, if many Muslims are doing good things around the world, and they all believe in Islam, then Islam is responsible for the good that they do.”