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Who gets to speak, where, in front of whom, and about what  
July 31, 2013 5:22 PM   Subscribe

Why the controversial (and somewhat backfired) Lauren Green interview of Reza Aslan is is about more than just Fox News idiocy.  
posted by Artw (162 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I could not bear to watch the FOX interview but I saw Aslan being interviewed on The Daily Show and was sorry I hadn't really known much about him before and got on the loan list at the library for his book. I'm happy if this stupid "controversy" gets more people to read his book. He's a thoughtful man.
posted by jessamyn at 5:29 PM on July 31, 2013 [14 favorites]


It's also gobsmacking ignorant because Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet. It's like asking why a Christian would write a book on Moses because he was the founder of Judaism.
posted by graymouser at 5:35 PM on July 31, 2013 [33 favorites]


I agree with Lauren Green, the bias within the publishing industry is breathtaking. For example, J.K. Rowling wrote books about wizards despite being a muggle herself and there is no evidence Thomas Harris is a cannibal. Neither of these authors have ever disclosed this.There must be some kind of agenda here.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:36 PM on July 31, 2013 [53 favorites]


Is there something in Islam itself that makes believers more susceptible to radicalization?

One might ask the same question about the conservative Christian churches....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:42 PM on July 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


I agree with Lauren Green, the bias within the publishing industry is breathtaking. For example, J.K. Rowling wrote books about wizards despite being a muggle herself and there is no evidence Thomas Harris is a cannibal. Neither of these authors have ever disclosed this.There must be some kind of agenda here.

Thankfully neither published by Harper Collins
posted by mattoxic at 5:43 PM on July 31, 2013


Aslan's poise was amazing.
posted by entropone at 5:45 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I haven't read the book, but I have been reading a lot of stuff about the Bible, and I heard Dr. Aslan on Fresh Air. There's nothing at all radical about the theory Aslan proposes. His book appears to aim for a synthesis of a leading school of Jesus scholarship for a popular audience. Bible scholars who write for a popular audience are routinely criticized by evangelicals, but usually not with this much Islamophobia.
posted by chrchr at 5:45 PM on July 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is there something in Islam capital-Z Zealotry itself that makes believers more susceptible to radicalization?

/point of the book
posted by Sys Rq at 5:48 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


heard the guy on NPR, and he was talking almost pure politics from a Roman perspective. Ground that has been covered before yet nonetheless fascinating.

The Fox interview highlights the extent that our "news" or information has disintegrated into lowest common denominator territory. Surely the interviewer has some semblance of intelligence or integrity? What drives these questions, mere money?


Sys Rq raises a point. But who are the Zealots now and what is their goal? Personal enrichment at the discomfort and expense of others?
posted by Max Power at 5:54 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


NPR/Fresh Air did the interview Christ In Context: 'Zealot' Explores The Life Of Jesus with Aslan and it's fairly in-depth.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:55 PM on July 31, 2013


Damn if that Barnes & Noble argument wasn't an awful, awful derail. I agree with pretty much the whole argument, but suggesting that a bookstore's relative inventory is about privilege and not a business decision is asinine.

Does anyone really believe that a store like that had a political or social agenda anything like Fox News?
posted by graphnerd at 5:56 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


is about more than just Fox News idiocy.

It's also about laziness and simplemindedness of the kind that Fox both exemplifies and nurtures in its viewers. When I first watched this I saw two things going on. The first, which everyone comments on, was the "you wrote a book about something so you must be attacking it" mindset, which is understandable in Fox since that's pretty much what's going on in all the books they're familiar with, by Coulter and O'Reilly and the rest. The idea of a scholarly book wouldn't even occur to them.

The second part was the "how do you respond to the following one-liner attack by [ignorant blowhard]?" part. This is the standard Fox lazy-ass playbook: nobody at Fox read the book, not her, not anyone on their staff. But that doesn't matter: their script for this kind of interview is completely standardized. "Somebody said some shit. What do you say to that?" Her staff only needs a few minutes to prepare for an interview of this kind.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:57 PM on July 31, 2013 [33 favorites]


Omid Safi struggles to find a new angle on a rather simple story. It might also be about privilege, but so what? Any media company has the right to choose what goes on air. And We all know Fox News acts as an echo chamber for a certain American demographic.
posted by cman at 5:57 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone really believe that a store like that had a political or social agenda anything like Fox News?

Having an agenda, political or otherwise, is not a requirement of the exercise of privilege.
posted by rtha at 5:58 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Having an agenda, political or otherwise, is not a requirement of the exercise of privilege.

Fair enough. But certainly privilege can't just be synonymous with 'popularity' or 'interest', can it? Because that's what's driving the shelf space mentioned in the article.
posted by graphnerd at 6:03 PM on July 31, 2013


FOX constructed a narrative where a Muslim man wrote a book with the agenda of undermining the faith of Christians. I think the "privilege" discussion in the second link is almost giving them too much credit. They didn't know or care what was in the book. That was obvious from watching the interview. Aslan was just a character they could cast as a villain.
posted by chrchr at 6:04 PM on July 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ah. Sorry for the detail, I misread that initially, and upon rereading I see I missed the key point about the "Religion" shelf.
posted by graphnerd at 6:05 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reza Azlan hasn't disclosed he's a Muslim? Seriously? I rarely laugh uproariously at the Internet, but this was definitely one of those times.
posted by Apropos of Something at 6:07 PM on July 31, 2013


BTW, if you never watch Real Time with Bill Maher (and who could blame you?), you should watch Aslan's appearance on it last week. It included at least one remarkable revelation.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:09 PM on July 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


As we all know, only religious people can study Jesus.
posted by jenlovesponies at 6:11 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


The real issue is not Fox News’s idiocy. (or at least not just Fox News’ idiocy).
It is Privilege. It is about who gets to speak, where, in front of whom, and about what.


This is exactly right. When I watched that interview, I was reminded of all those dudes who lost their shit when they learned a woman was going to do a video series on video games. Like how dare this guy - who's not only not even a Christian but a Muslim no less! - have the temerity to write about Jesus?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:12 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this Fox interview from a few years back has a different tone, for some reason.
posted by Red Loop at 6:14 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interivew by Michael Krasny on Forum - Jesus Christ: Savior or Politician?

Aslan had become a Jesuit earlier in his life, and I seem to recall he described himself as a Sufi in this interview when I heard this on the radio.
posted by Golden Eternity at 6:16 PM on July 31, 2013


Mother Jones piece: Now, forget for a moment that Aslan's personal religious beliefs and practices aren't actually relevant to this conversation.


I agree, but I hope MJ remembers this when it's reporting on Evangelicals, Catholics, etc. With the name changed, I'd love to see this sentence in pretty much every article ever, actually.
posted by resurrexit at 6:16 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree, but I hope MJ remembers this when it's reporting on Evangelicals, Catholics, etc.

Instances of Christian scholars writing about Islam and getting misrepresented, impugned and essentially told that their faith colors how they write about Islam are likely rare.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:23 PM on July 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


Muslims writing books on Jesus: not OK. Male congressmen legislating mandatory vaginal ultrasounds: A-OK!
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:23 PM on July 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


Apropos of Something: "Reza Azlan hasn't disclosed he's a Muslim? Seriously?"

His name is ASLAN. He's representing himself as LION JESUS. How was I supposed to know he was Muslim? /sarcasm
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:24 PM on July 31, 2013 [47 favorites]


Damn if that Barnes & Noble argument wasn't an awful, awful derail. I agree with pretty much the whole argument, but suggesting that a bookstore's relative inventory is about privilege and not a business decision is asinine.

Does anyone really believe that a store like that had a political or social agenda anything like Fox News?


All such selections are inherently political, even if not as crudely as Fox News, because they are assembled according to principles, ideologies, and yes, even biases, conscious or unconscious, possessed by those who assemble them. Every librarian knows it, anybody who selects books for a bookstore's inventory and has an ounce of self-awareness knows it, and you ought to know it, too.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:27 PM on July 31, 2013 [8 favorites]


A somewhat cynical take on this incident.
posted by dhens at 6:28 PM on July 31, 2013


(Not that I necessarily think this was done specifically to drum up sales, mind you.)
posted by dhens at 6:29 PM on July 31, 2013


All media appearances by authors to talk about their books are done ti drum up sales. That Aslans mere presence would drive the host into a bizarre stuttering tape-loop of bigotry was less predictable.
posted by Artw at 6:34 PM on July 31, 2013 [15 favorites]


His name is ASLAN. He's representing himself as LION JESUS.

I had exactly this thought. Please stop reading my mind.
posted by rtha at 6:35 PM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


A friend of mine who is getting his PhD in religion and is no friend of Fox News is cynical of the whole controversy. I don't know what to think, personally.
posted by gauche at 6:41 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


That Aslans mere presence would drive the host into a bizarre stuttering tape-loop of bigotry was less predictable.

You don't watch much Fox News do you.
posted by echocollate at 6:42 PM on July 31, 2013 [10 favorites]


There was a story going around yesterday where Aslan said something like "I kind of had a guess about what I was getting myself into by doing that interview." Honestly, after reading that, I've been surprised that I haven't seen any counterreactions from right wingers that essentially boil down to "It's his fault! He admits that he knew BEFORE THE INTERVIEW that we're dumb!"
posted by Flunkie at 6:43 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I read a galley of this book and it's incredible. It's respectful of the Christian faith, incredibly illuminating when it comes to the history of Judaism in the Roman Empire, and a truly edifying glimpse into the politics and the culture of the time period.

The author explains his background as a Christian, and why he parted from the religion-- and also praises the exploration of the history surrounding Christ as something that has deepened his current faith. It's one of the few purely historical books about Jesus that doesn't handwave or outright dismiss the resurrection.

Fox seriously went out of their way to be offended by a book that is both illuminating and thoughtful, aware of both its audience (people interested in Biblical history) and its subject (the people who worship within the religion founded by the subject.)
posted by headspace at 6:45 PM on July 31, 2013 [15 favorites]


"It's his fault! He admits that he knew BEFORE THE INTERVIEW that we're dumb!"

A proper bigot doing due diligence would at least come up with a back-up talking point if they had an idea their target might be ready for the first. She's not even good at her job.
posted by Artw at 6:47 PM on July 31, 2013


The Fox News business is despicable as per usual, but you gotta admit the motivation behind titling a book about a Jesus "Zealot" isn't pure academic inquiry.
posted by xmutex at 6:53 PM on July 31, 2013


you gotta admit the motivation behind titling a book about a Jesus "Zealot" isn't pure academic inquiry.

You've read it, then? Not having done so myself, I don't gotta admit anything of the kind. I have read enough about the book to support a fair-minded presumption until I do read it that the title is appropriate to the thesis.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:57 PM on July 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


Reza Aslan on Jesus: A Biblical Scholar Responds
posted by triggerfinger at 6:57 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


you gotta admit the motivation behind titling a book about a Jesus "Zealot" isn't pure academic inquiry.

Yeah but "Political Insurrectionism As Evidenced In The Life of Jesus of Nazareth: A Scholarly Examination" just isn't as concise.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:58 PM on July 31, 2013 [20 favorites]


This reminded me of the 2008 heavy handed, and oh-so-obvious, photo editing of images of two guys from the New York Times. The point of view is not a subtle bias, but shouting "THIS PERSON IS UGLY AND WRONG!"

I wonder what fans of Fox thought.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:59 PM on July 31, 2013


Yeah, let's trot out the "well, on balance he kind of..." WHAT? Went on a book tour? Sold his book? Knew Fox News would, one way or another, NOT hurt him? He gave them every chance to conduct themselves as journalists, and they performed as expected. The only cynicism is in all of the other scholars out there trying to take him down a peg. Like HMM MAYBE HE WENT INTO THIS THINKING THEY'D MAKE ASSES OF THEMSELVES... No shit, the case is blown wide open! His indignation at the interviewer's inability to move into any meaningful territory whatsoever is still just as righteous -- how can this institution exist, and how painfully, depressingly god-awful stupid can its viewers be to feel "catered to" by an interview like this?
posted by lordaych at 6:59 PM on July 31, 2013 [9 favorites]


you gotta admit the motivation behind titling a book about a Jesus "Zealot" isn't pure academic inquiry.

No. That's just false. "Zealot" is how Jesus's contemporaries would have described him. It is the name for the specific religious/political movement from which he emerged. That's what the book is about.
posted by chrchr at 7:15 PM on July 31, 2013 [30 favorites]


Nice to see that readers here are more focused on dissing Fox than religion . I love historical fiction and so focus on the art and not the artist.
posted by Postroad at 7:15 PM on July 31, 2013


My reading of this isn't that it's privilege, though I don't doubt that might be a part of it. I thought the most telling point was when she compared a Muslim writing about Jesus to, effectively, a Democrat writing about Reagan. (Either Colbert or Stewart of course showed examples of such books on his show.) The assumption is that everyone writes as a partisan and that a relatively objective (academic) approach is impossible. She can't respond to his claims of objectivity, or at least academic detachment, as a credentialed scholar because in her world there is no such thing.
posted by sfred at 7:18 PM on July 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


No. That's just false. "Zealot" is how Jesus's contemporaries would have described him. It is the name for the specific religious/political movement from which he emerged. That's what the book is about.

Sure, you're absolutely right, I'm just thinking you're underestimating a bookseller's marketing motivation. I'm certain you can appreciate a marketing guy's idea of what kind of reaction a big ole picture of Jesus with a title ZEALOT all big and bold might provoke.
posted by xmutex at 7:24 PM on July 31, 2013


She can't respond to his claims of objectivity, or at least academic detachment, as a credentialed scholar because in her world there is no such thing.

This is what I found most disturbing; she appeared to not even grasp the concept of objectivity, or of a commitment to truth and evidence rather than an agenda.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:25 PM on July 31, 2013 [28 favorites]


Sure, you're absolutely right, I'm just thinking you're underestimating a bookseller's marketing motivation. I'm certain you can appreciate a marketing guy's idea of what kind of reaction a big ole picture of Jesus with a title ZEALOT all big and bold might provoke.

So what exactly is your point here? I'm sincerely having a hard time parsing it. He is a scholar, and he wrote a book. The book is scholarly, and he wants to sell it. What does any of this have to do with the Fox thing?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:29 PM on July 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


Fox interview with Brent Bozell about the Aslan interview, including complaints about the liberal media.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:31 PM on July 31, 2013


A proper bigot doing due diligence would at least come up with a back-up talking point if they had an idea their target might be ready for the first. She's not even good at her job.

"Mr. Aslan, you claim that you wrote a book on Jesus because you have four advanced degrees in religion and yet, in the dedication of your book, you say that it is the 'love and acceptance of your wife and her family that has taught you more about Jesus than all your years of research and study.' Well, which is it? Sustained interest and investigation or love and support from your Christian wife?!"
posted by Bokmakierie at 7:34 PM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Lauren Green should have stuck to commanding Battlestar Galactica.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:37 PM on July 31, 2013 [10 favorites]


This isn't the first popularbook about a historical Jesus. John Dominic Crossan's books about the historical Jesus were reviled as well:

One of the most persistent criticisms of Crossan's work is that he's turned Jesus into a peasant insurrectionist because his Irish ancestors battled the British Empire.

Crossan says growing up Irish "makes you skeptical about empire."


Crossan, one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar started out as a Catholic priest before leaving the priesthood to marry.

I have had this on hold at the library. The controversy has made it as popular as any history non-fiction I've seen recently. Can't wait to read it.
posted by readery at 7:41 PM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Lauren Green should have stuck to commanding Battlestar Galactica.

Weren't Lauren Green, Michael Layundon and Dayun Blocker in Bonayunza?
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:51 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Is there something in Islam itself that makes believers more susceptible to radicalization?"

"One might ask the same question about the conservative Christian churches....
"
Well yes actually, but traditionally it works a lot better than it often does now,
"Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists." - MLK in "Letter From A Birmingham Jail"
posted by Blasdelb at 8:14 PM on July 31, 2013 [10 favorites]


Postroad, the subject of the fpp is clear and it's not about how high minded and righteous you are. But thanks for leading by example... wait
posted by lordaych at 8:16 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lauren Green should have stuck to commanding Battlestar Galactica.

Heck, I'd respect her more if she went back to shilling for Alpo.
God, we're old.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:17 PM on July 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


Fox News Is Rushing to Defend Its Reza Aslan Interview
posted by homunculus at 8:25 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fox News Host Never Asked Baptist College Professor Why He Wrote Book About Islam
posted by homunculus at 8:34 PM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Scholarship and expertise are not reliant on one's identity (the question of influence by way of experience is separate), but rather on factors such as training, sources and the use of these sources."

via Islawmix
posted by raihan_ at 9:32 PM on July 31, 2013


That Aslans mere presence would drive the host into a bizarre stuttering tape-loop of bigotry was less predictable.

Every question or comment that Lauren Green presented seemed scripted, except that Reza Aslan threw her off script from the get go. She had no idea how to recover so just bulldozed her way through. Interesting strategy.
posted by horizonseeker at 9:52 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


FOXNews is the Klan with slightly more professionalism. Stop respecting them enough to interact with them. Seriously, there's nothing that can possibly gained from them, just ignore them.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:55 PM on July 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was shocked by what a shameless boor the interviewer was, not just in her questions, but in her very manner. She wasn't even pretending to be interested in hearing what Aslan was trying to say. She came across as not even really paying attention to the words that were coming out of her own mouth. It was that smug, impenetrable, totally disengaged method of eliciting compliance, a bit like the man at the airport telling you to remove your shoes, ma'am. remove your shoes. ma'am, remove your shoes. It was even more disrespectful than the shouting down I was expecting. Aslan seems capable of astonishing gentleness.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:12 PM on July 31, 2013 [9 favorites]


triggerfinger: "Reza Aslan on Jesus: A Biblical Scholar Responds"

Heh. This is why I tend to dislike a lot of "Biblical scholars" these days - the lack of rigor in their reasoning:

"Maybe they don't teach this in some churches, but Christian thought developed a great deal in the decades following Jesus' death, a fact Aslan recognizes."

Yep, that's right - we're not sure of much, and there isn't much evidence about it either way, but the one thing we do know is that the Church is obviously wrong. We don't have any firm evidence for that, since documentary evidence of "the decades following Jesus' death" is unbelievably slim. We just know it. You could call it faith, but it's not - it's "Biblical scholarship." (One wonders how many of these people realize that "Biblical scholarship" as a discipline was invented by Spinoza.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:49 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


His composure during that interview was fantastic to watch. I don't really like appeal to authority arguments, but otherwise his approach was great. I do wonder what Aslan's motives are in propping up the Jesus myth though. And, I don't wonder why, in America, Aslan's views are as radical (or close to reality?) as one is allowed to get.
posted by Chuckles at 11:11 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think he's trying to "prop up the Jesus myth." From other interviews I've heard with him, he's coming from the idea that a historical Jesus existed and was crucified, which he backs up with historical documents. He said this book is an exploration of what a man's life would have been like in that time period and in that place.
posted by jaguar at 11:15 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't really like appeal to authority arguments, but otherwise his approach was great.

I didn't see him trotting out his credentials as supporting any argument -- the interview didn't progress to anything he actually says in the book, and wasn't ever going to, not with an interviewer like her. He trotted them out in response to the question of why a Muslim gets to write a book like this. He answered that he wrote it as a scholar, and here's what he means by being a scholar... oh yes, who happens to also be a Muslim.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:39 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't really like appeal to authority arguments, but otherwise his approach was great.

It wasn't an appeal to authority ("I'm right because I have a degree in this subject.")

Her argument (or implication, anyway) appeared to be that he is a Muslim, and that, because he is a Muslim, he has no right to say anything about Jesus and Christianity.

He answered this by saying that his relevant characteristic in this matter is that he is a religious scholar with certain very relevant credentials.
posted by pracowity at 11:43 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


gauche: "A friend of mine who is getting his PhD in religion and is no friend of Fox News is cynical of the whole controversy. I don't know what to think, personally."

I think Aslan knew that any PR is good PR and was at least prepared to push back against a close-minded interview, but your friend is completely tone-deaf* to the utter hostility of the interviewer. The entire interview was an ad hominem slur, not a good faith inquiry into his personal fucking ethnography.

* dare I also say, professionally jealous?
posted by stratastar at 3:20 AM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Every question or comment that Lauren Green presented seemed scripted, except that Reza Aslan threw her off script from the get go. She had no idea how to recover so just bulldozed her way through. Interesting strategy.

Sorta like some tier 1 customer support interactions I've had.
posted by NoMich at 4:03 AM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sorta like some tier 1 customer support interactions I've had.

"Have you tried turning your hatred of Real Christian Americans™ off and on again?"
posted by zombieflanders at 5:01 AM on August 1, 2013 [17 favorites]


Pew pew pew.
posted by pracowity at 5:07 AM on August 1, 2013


A friend of mine who is getting his PhD in religion and is no friend of Fox News is cynical of the whole controversy. I don't know what to think, personally.

Your friend sounds like he's trying too hard to project a "world weary cynical graduate student" persona.

Going on book tours and being interviewed on television (or on an online program of a news channel) is part and parcel of letting more people know about your book, something which is generally unnoticed. The thing is that it is essentially impossible to predict whether a TV interview or an incident during a book tour will "go viral" or not. Green was, for all intents and purposes, following a Fox News script that was followed dozens of times before without incident. Aslan was a bit more prepared, but he himself was not doing anything that hundreds of authors have not done before-- talk about their book to an interviewer who might be interested, hostile, or possibly clueless and hope that a few reviewers become intrigued while the rest of the world never heard about it.

This situation isn't much different than if someone filmed Aslan giving a book tour talk at Barnes and Noble when suddenly in front of the camera a baby panda started cuddling with a kitten and then it turned out that George Takei was in the audience and everyone could hear him say "Oh Myyyyyy....." Fortuitous for Aslan but ultimately nothing much more than a few happy coincidences that worked in his favor. No one claims that book tours are part of some kind of cynical capitalistic exercise beyond the pale of what we normally accept.

In fact, I'd argue that the reason this clip is popular is because it is precisely not a cynical exercise-- it's a moment that could not have been "planned" or created but instead occurred organically.
posted by deanc at 5:23 AM on August 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


I am torn between two of the fantastic Fox bobblehead moments:

Resa talks about the 20 pages of notes from academics including those who both agreed and disagreed with him quoted in the book and the response being "But you're a Muslim and there are some academics who disagree with you, GOTCHA!"

or another possible top one

"But you've never mentioned you're a Muslim, ah-hah! Double-GOTCHA!"

"I mention I am a Muslim on page 2 of the book and in every written, audio or video interview because it seems to be so very important to everybody. It sounds like you haven't read the book at all".

Hi-larious.

Also, on a side note - it's not the first time I've seen historians arguing whether Jesus was actually a rebellious little bugger. I have read books and articles over the last few years ago tying him into both the Zealots and the Sicarii. I might have a peek and see what the fuss is about.
posted by longbaugh at 5:47 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here is Reza Aslan's reddit AMA.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:07 AM on August 1, 2013


I love the title card on the screenshot of that link homunculus posted: "Liberal Media Attacks Fox Reporter Over Interview with Muslim Author of 'Zealot'"

Apparently they missed The American Conservative's appraisal: "But even if Green’s line of questioning weren’t laced with xenophobia, ignorant about the purpose of scholarship, or breathtakingly incurious, it would still be problematic."

It's all about controlling the narrative; damn the context and damn the details.
posted by echocollate at 6:10 AM on August 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


pracowity: " It wasn't an appeal to authority ("I'm right because I have a degree in this subject.")

Her argument (or implication, anyway) appeared to be that he is a Muslim, and that, because he is a Muslim, he has no right to say anything about Jesus and Christianity.

He answered this by saying that his relevant characteristic in this matter is that he is a religious scholar with certain very relevant credentials.
"

Yes. Here's the transcript.
LAUREN GREEN:
Well, this is an interesting book. Now, I want to clarify, you're a Muslim. So why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?

REZA ASLAN:
Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament and fluency in Biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades who just happens to be a Muslim. So, it's not that I'm just some Muslim writing about Jesus. I am an expert with a PhD. in the history of religions. But I have been obsessed with Jesus --

LAUREN GREEN:
But it still begs the question, though, it still begs the question, "Why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?"

REZA ASLAN:
Because it's my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That's what I do for a living, actually. So, I mean-- it would be like asking a Christian why they would write a book about-- Islam; I'm not sure about that. But-- and honestly, I've been obsessed with Jesus for really 20 years. I've been studying his life and his work and the origins of Christianity both in an academic environment and on a personal level for about two decades. And, just to be clear, this is not some attack on Christianity. My mother is a Christian. My wife is a Christian. My brother-in-law is an evangelical pastor. Anyone who thinks that this book is an attack on Christianity has not read it yet.
The strangest part of this whole thing has been watching the right wing media insist that either his sole degree is in creative writing while ignoring the rest of the degrees the guy holds, or attempt to attack the actual degrees in religion that the man holds by saying he's not qualified to write a book about Jesus.

What are his degrees? Wikipedia:
Aslan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in religions from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard Divinity School, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. Aslan also received a Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. His dissertation was titled "Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework".

posted by zarq at 7:05 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The strangest part of this whole thing has been watching the right wing media insist that either his sole degree is in creative writing while ignoring the rest of the degrees the guy holds, or attempt to attack the actual degrees in religion that the man holds by saying he's not qualified to write a book about Jesus.

While the other fun part has been watching people on Metafilter write things like ""Mr. Aslan, you claim that you wrote a book on Jesus because you have four advanced degrees in religion" when in fact he doesn't.

There's people saying stupid things on both sides.

No. That's just false. "Zealot" is how Jesus's contemporaries would have described him. It is the name for the specific religious/political movement from which he emerged. That's what the book is about.

That's not really sufficient. The use of words requires an awarenss of their present meaning as well as their historical meaning.
posted by Jahaza at 7:18 AM on August 1, 2013


Because it's my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament.

I mean, part of Aslan's answer there is just false. He is not a professor of religion.
posted by Jahaza at 7:28 AM on August 1, 2013


There's people saying stupid things on both sides.

No, there aren't. Only one side is saying stupid stuff, the (Fox-news) conservative side. Azlan's only non-religion related degree is his MFA, but even that I'm unwilling to pass judgment on because I don't know whether his final project/thesis work was on religious writing. His sociology degree was definitely religious because he moved to that department from a religious-studies department, taking his research with him, because of disputes in his old department. It's like telling someone who says he has a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry-- "A-HA! That's NOT TRUE! You have a degree in CHEMICAL ENGINEERING!"
posted by deanc at 7:29 AM on August 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


There's people saying stupid things on both sides.

Both sides do it! Fox News asks 'why would a Muslim write about Jesus'? And Metafilter miscounts his degrees in religion, inflating them from 3 to 4. See! they are exactly the same!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:31 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


His dissertation was titled "Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework".

I'm quite surprised that someone whose academic research interest is in sociological theory can write so well and clearly about non-theoretical historical topics.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:33 AM on August 1, 2013


He is not a professor of religion.

"You're not a professor of logic! That's a lie! It says right here on your resume that you are a professor of PHILOSOPHY!"

Trying to play the "both sides are wrong" game is pretty obscene.
posted by deanc at 7:33 AM on August 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


Both sides do it! Fox News asks 'why would a Muslim write about Jesus'?

That's a basic softball journalistic/human interest question.
posted by Jahaza at 7:35 AM on August 1, 2013


No. That's just false. "Zealot" is how Jesus's contemporaries would have described him. It is the name for the specific religious/political movement from which he emerged. That's what the book is about.

That's doubtful, as

1) the idea that Jesus was a capital-Z Zealot has been a minority position in the Quest for the Historical Jesus for a full two-and-a-half centuries (beginning with Reimarus, the scholar chosen by Schweitzer to define the beginning of the Quest, in a book that itself is defined as the beginning of the 'modern' Jesus research, admittedly after a significant gap of time as scholars found Schweitzer's work so thorough they didn't have much to add other than developing the major forms of criticism still used today). These Zealots were violent and unwaveringly anti-Roman. And when I say "minority position," I mean before this book, I did not read an article that careless threw the word around re: Jesus that was published in the last 60 years, and at the more carefree might have preceded the big-Z with "one might allow that Jesus had sympathy for" or similar hedge words.
2) not even Aslan is claiming that is the case. He seems to be describing Jesus as a lower-z zealot, mixing commonplace terminology with the additional meaning of 'anti-Roman', but not Zealot-as-such. I mean, his introduction to the term (as well as to the term 'Essenes' etc.), and immediately follows it up with--and I'm quoting here--"it is difficult to place Jesus of Nazareth squarely within any of the known religiopolitical movements at the time. He was a man of profound contradictions, one day preaching a message of racial exclusion [...] the next, of benevolent universalism; sometimes calling for unconditional peace [...] sometimes promoting violence and conflict." (page xxiv). His definition of Jesus "before Christianity" (a title I have a lot of problems with, for what it's worth) was "the politically conscious Jewish revolutionary who, two thousand years ago walked across the Galilean countryside, gathering followers for a messianic movement with the goal of establishing the Kingdom of God" (page xxx) and that Jesus' context is "an era marked by the slow burn of a revolt against Rome" (page xxxi).

So, listen. Dislike of Rome was pretty damn common in 1st-century Palestine (which is what the Romans called it), which is why between 66 and 135 CE, there were no less than three Jewish-Roman Wars (the last lead by a failed messianic figure, Bar Kochba). Aslan is just emphasizing his anti-Roman sentiment, which is at least a breath of fresh air given the ongoing "he was eschatologically-focused!" "nuh-uh!" / "he was trying to work within the frame of Judaism!" "nuh-uh!" / "he was more Hellenistic than Jewish!" "no, he was more Jewish than Hellenistic!" arguments that are cycling around.

I still have yet to pick it up (and frankly don't want to spend the money on a pop-book if I can instead afford something scholarly), other than to flip through my friend's copy to give you the quotes above, but it's being widely discussed in The Field (never completed my MA, so I'm not quite part of The Field but certainly not out of it) with the general consensus being it's ok but quite flawed, like how it totally misrepresents the Arian position (ctrl-f Arius if you want to avoid the nitpicky--but valid--stuff about Contra Celsum).

Admittedly, most pop books wind up quite flawed, because by definition they cannot be as precise and technical as is needed to actually support their arguments. Done correctly, they are popularized versions of previous works by the author--e.g. the Crossan book mentioned above, which was popularized from his The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. Aslan's errors, omissions, and dubious interpretations cannot, given the lack of a technical book of his on the subject, cannot be as easily explained away as Crossan's because there's no back-up document to explain things and to cite its sources. And every book has something that would classify as an error, an omission, or a dubious interpretation to someone in this field, but some of his are egregious (the review I linked ended with "Frankly, it’s exhausting to read a book like Zealot, and constantly have to pause in mid-thought to ask if Aslan is giving me the straight dope.")
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:35 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


"You're not a professor of logic! That's a lie! It says right here on your resume that you are a professor of PHILOSOPHY!"

It's not at all the same. Religion is not a subfield of creative writing.
posted by Jahaza at 7:35 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


While the other fun part has been watching people on Metafilter write things like ""Mr. Aslan, you claim that you wrote a book on Jesus because you have four advanced degrees in religion" when in fact he doesn't.

A single instance of someone making a joke in the voice of the Fox News reporter is as bad as the entirety of conservative Islamophobia? Are you just being contrarian Because Liberals or do you really believe this?

There's people saying stupid things on both sides.

I love the smell of false equivalency in the morning.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:36 AM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Jahaza: " I mean, part of Aslan's answer there is just false. He is not a professor of religion."

He was the first full-time Islamic studies professor in the state of Iowa. Was the title revoked?
posted by zarq at 7:36 AM on August 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


Jahaza: "I mean, part of Aslan's answer there is just false. He is not a professor of religion."

I get the feeling people misunderstand how professorship works. One can be a professor of religion with a degree in anything. I know professors of religion who have no degrees at all. It's just a job a university gives you. Reza Aslan was clearly given that job by the University of Iowa.
posted by koeselitz at 7:42 AM on August 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Jahaza: "That's a basic softball journalistic/human interest question." (RE: Fox News asks 'why would a Muslim write about Jesus'?)

Most journalists wouldn't use the softball as the basis of the entire conversation.

Fox doesn't actually hire journalists. They cause problems because they ask questions. Fox hires pundits instead. They only ask the questions they are SUPPOSED to ask. You know, the ones where they and the audience already know the answer.

For all you can say about Jon Stewart, good or bad, liberal bias or not, when he interviews someone about a book they wrote, you can be damned sure he won't be asking a question that was answered on page 2. It's a sad, sad state of affairs when a parody show on a cable comedy network does a better job of journalistic interviews than a major network news program can manage.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:42 AM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ah, I see. He left that post in 2003.
In August of 2000, while serving as the Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Aslan was named Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Iowa, becoming the first full-time professor of Islam in the history of the state. When the Pentagon and World Trade Center were attacked in September of 2001, Aslan put his expertise of the Middle East to work for both the university and the greater Iowa community by traveling throughout the state speaking to public and private organizations, businesses, churches, mosques, and universities.His efforts in Iowa received national attention in such periodicals as U.S.A. Today, U.S. News and World Report and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In 2003, Aslan left his post at the University of Iowa to concentrate full-time on writing

posted by zarq at 7:42 AM on August 1, 2013


koeselitz: "Reza Aslan was clearly given that job by the University of Iowa."

If he's no longer with the University and hasn't been for 10 years, can he still say he's a Professor of Islamic Studies?
posted by zarq at 7:43 AM on August 1, 2013


Both sides do it! Fox News asks 'why would a Muslim write about Jesus'?

That's a basic softball journalistic/human interest question.


No, it's actually a pretty offensive and rude question.

A human interest/softball question would have been, "I understand you're a practicing Muslim. Can you talk more about what sparked your interest in the history of Jesus?"
posted by palomar at 7:44 AM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am pretty sure that Aslan was not recruited by UCR because they were looking for a scholar in the arts of romantic poetry. Presumably they specifically wanted him because of his religious studies background and found a place in their department for him to fill that niche. This false-equivalency stuff is kind of disgusting, if only because it's being used to avoid holding Fox News and the rest of the anti-Islam, anti-intellectual grifting-industrial-complex to account.
posted by deanc at 7:45 AM on August 1, 2013


If he's no longer with the University and hasn't been for 10 years, can he still say he's a Professor of Islamic Studies?

Not really, no. But it is Reza Aslan's job to write about religions. He's a professional writer, and gets paid to write about religions.

I feel like the hair splitting and false equivalency here is just poorly disguised trolling.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:46 AM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am pretty sure that Aslan was not recruited by UCR because they were looking for a scholar in the arts of romantic poetry.

In addition, Aslan edited a collection of Arab literature. As with many people who study the pre-Modern Middle East, Aslan's training is not simply confined to sociology or history, but also includes a lot of literature.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:48 AM on August 1, 2013


He was the first full-time Islamic studies professor in the state of Iowa. Was the title revoked?

Not revoked, but he no longer works there and is not, as far as I can tell, emeritus (which would allow him to keep that title); he works as a Creative Writing prof at UC Riverside. So I think he minorly misspoke in that one case.

But he did work as a prof of religious studies in Islam.

Nitpicking his credentials is not exactly productive, however. He was a prof of religious studies and has degrees in the field, including a degree in the soc of religion, which despite some quips from people that it's not a degree in the 'history of religion', the field is so bizarrely both balkanized* and incestuous that it doesn't really matter, especially given how GREAT some sociologists have been at early Christianity studies (including Rodney Stark, whose approach I personally dislike but he has moved the field forward).

(I really hope we do not next argue about whether he actually reads biblical Greek).

*It has been theorized (McCutcheon, "'Just follow the money': the cold war, the humanistic study of religion, and the fallacy of insufficient cynicism") that the entire field started when the post-Sputnik education grants began to explicitly exclude Theology, resulting in departments defined over-broadly to encourage growth and is why my old department has historians, sociologists dealing with international waxing and waning of international religious identity, anthropologists who live with First Nations people part of the year, a field sociologist, and a Freudian theorist, in a department that was so small that it could only support 60 undergraduate students actually enrolled in the program.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:51 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not really, no. But it is Reza Aslan's job to write about religions. He's a professional writer, and gets paid to write about religions.

Yes. And his initial comment was that he is a scholar of religion. Which seems like a very accurate self-assessment.

I feel like the hair splitting and false equivalency here is just poorly disguised trolling.

That's okay. I feel this comment is an attempt on your part to stifle debate. We're all entitled to our feelings.

Reasonable people can disagree without being trolls.
posted by zarq at 7:52 AM on August 1, 2013


I feel like the hair splitting and false equivalency here is just poorly disguised trolling.

I don't think it's trolling. I think it's anger and lashing out-- lashing out at having conservatives called to account for their stupidity and for a long track record of stupidity and the religious equivalent of red-baiting. The false-equivalency hair-splitting is just an attempt to distract from the fact that the movement has been called out and is being pummeled for a long, ongoing track record of religious prejudice and outright malicious ignorance, as well as a certain resentment at seeing their own boogiemen-- liberals and professors, no less-- get the better of them.

Sometimes, you take your lumps when you screw up or when people you don't like get the better of you. Sometimes one side really is better and more truthful and more correct than the other. This is one of those times, and if that means that much of what you believe in and adhere to is actually a lie, it would be a good idea for you to think deeply and deal with that reality.

It might not be pleasant to have to accept that Reza Aslan is a well-regarded scholar (even if his books aren't exactly the best thing since sliced bread-- people have raised issues that Fox News wasn't informed enough to understand and ask about) and that the "religious correspondent" for Fox News is a blithering ignorant idiot, but that's the way it goes, sometimes.
posted by deanc at 7:53 AM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not you! I'm talking about Jahaza and people drawing equivalences between Fox News, who when on a racist attack against Aslan, and Mefi, who innocently miscounted his degrees. Sorry if I wasn't clear.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:54 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a basic softball journalistic/human interest question.

Um, have you watched the video/read the transcript?
posted by Artw at 7:55 AM on August 1, 2013


flibbertigibbet: " Nitpicking his credentials is not exactly productive, however.

Unfortunately, it's serving its purpose. He attacked one of the Right's sacred cows. They're going to nitpick the hell out of everything he says in an attempt to discredit him. What's annoying is more mainstream outlets are picking up that ball and carrying it. Yesterday both The Today show and Good Morning America mentioned that conservatives were saying he wasn't a professor of religion but creative writing. In doing so, they're adding a certain amount of credibility to idea that his work is somehow suspect.

It's not enough that he's a *gasp* Muslim. (Lock up your daughters *eyeroll*) He's now also not who he says he is.

For his critics, the ridiculous nitpicking of whether he's an expert is quite productive
posted by zarq at 7:58 AM on August 1, 2013


MisantropicPainforest: "Not you! I'm talking about Jahaza and people drawing equivalences between Fox News, who when on a racist attack against Aslan, and Mefi, who innocently miscounted his degrees. Sorry if I wasn't clear."

Sorry. :(
posted by zarq at 7:58 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


And before people come in and claim that Aslan was also the first professor of Islamic studies in Iowa that was fired, he wasn't. Visting professorships are temporary appointments.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:03 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


A basic softball question is "What sparked your interest in this subject?"

Because why is his religion relevant? If he feels it's relevant, he'll bring it up.
posted by rtha at 8:05 AM on August 1, 2013


If he feels it's relevant, he'll bring it up.

This is not how television interviews work.
posted by Jahaza at 8:06 AM on August 1, 2013


And I looked up what courses Dr. Aslan teaches. This fall he is teaching creative nonfiction. Last spring he taught advanced creative nonfiction, and an interdisciplinary seminar of Sufism. In 2011 he taught a course on literature in the middle east.

I think its is perfectly reasonable for Reza Aslan to tell someone outside of academia that he is a professor of religion or religious studies.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:09 AM on August 1, 2013


zarq: "Unfortunately, it's serving its purpose. He attacked one of the Right's sacred cows."

As a Christian, I hope it's okay if I giggle for a little while about the fact that you just called Jesus a "sacred cow." I imagine he would find it amusing, at any rate.
posted by koeselitz at 8:12 AM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


rtha: " Because why is his religion relevant? If he feels it's relevant, he'll bring it up."

Just to play devil's advocate here, it could definitely be relevant if the interviewer believes there's a possibility that his religious beliefs may be affecting his conclusions. It's her job as a journalist to investigate contrasts between his background and the topic he's written about. Not to wait for him to bring it up.

I don't think there would have been anything wrong with raising the topic in a different, more intelligent, more relevant way.
posted by zarq at 8:12 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Although, yeah, you weren't precisely calling Jesus himself that, it's more entertaining to tell myself that you were.)
posted by koeselitz at 8:12 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally, I felt like the most annoying thing the interviewer did was to pull the whole game of arguing with the interviewee based on the authority of other people. I mean, she actually flat-out says that Aslan must be wrong because she has met scholars who disagree with him.
posted by koeselitz at 8:15 AM on August 1, 2013


In case anyone is interested: despite me never having read any of their articles, there were pro-Zealot scholars up until fairly recently (most notably, the late Hyam Maccoby, and that's a good link if you want to hear his arguments and see how much they differ from Aslan's), but even Maccoby withdraws from the Jesus-as-Zealot theory, instead claiming that the zealots were his followers and that Jesus was merely an "convinced apocalyptist, who considered that the fight against Rome would be won largely by miraculous means" (Rev in Judea, 130). He also views the Gospels as significantly more distorting than do more scholars of Jesus. His major book on the subject (Revolution in Judea) book was also published in the early 1980s.

Also, I forgot that Palestine was a post-135 designation; before that, it was Judea. Mainly because I relatively rarely dealt with Jesus himself, but instead with post-war Judaism. I apologize for the error.

re: the interview: yes, clearly it's about privilege, and deciding that our current Other (Muslims) are not allowed to speak in public discourse about anything outside of Islam. It's all very disgusting.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:16 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think there would have been anything wrong with raising the topic in a different, more intelligent, more relevant way.

I agree, but asking a religious scholar, "what business do you have writing about Jesus?" is just about the dumbest question I can think of asking, akin to asking Oliver Sacks, "You don't have a neurological disorder. Why on earth would you write a book about them?"
posted by deanc at 8:17 AM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


deanc, oh, hell yes. Totally agree. :)

koeselitz, HA! :D

You might like this.
posted by zarq at 8:20 AM on August 1, 2013


This is not how television interviews work.

That's not how Fox News television works. I've seen plenty of TV interviews where softball questions were just that, without bringing up offensive bullshit. What TV do you watch?

It's her job as a journalist


I'm gonna challenge the assumption that she's a journalist. Nothing in her interview with him seems remotely like actual journalism.

Asking if him if he thinks his personal beliefs might affect his conclusions is a fair question, but that's not what she asked. She was affronted that a Muslim (ew!) wrote a book about something that is Christian.
posted by rtha at 8:23 AM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm gonna challenge the assumption that she's a journalist. Nothing in her interview with him seems remotely like actual journalism.

She's a graduate of Medill. Sauce for the goose...
posted by Jahaza at 8:27 AM on August 1, 2013


rtha, agree on all counts.
posted by zarq at 8:28 AM on August 1, 2013


I've seen plenty of TV interviews where softball questions were just that, without bringing up offensive bullshit.

It's simply not offensive to ask someone why they're interested in a religious faith other than their own.
posted by Jahaza at 8:29 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's her job as a journalist

Her job as a journalist was to provoke an interesting discussion of the book, what it was about, and how Aslan's claims fit in to the overall context of scholarship on Jesus. Aslan has been making the rounds on the TV shows for the past few weeks, and by all accounts seem to have handled this process reasonably. The only people who couldn't handle it was Fox News.

If Lauren Green said, "Well, Bob Smith of Directional State University says that your understanding of the crimes punished by crucifixion are wrong because of X. How do you respond?", this interview would not have turned into the kind of clusterfuck that it did.
posted by deanc at 8:29 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's simply not offensive to ask someone why they're interested in a religious faith other than their own.

Which isn't what happened. Just watch the video. She badgered him. She kept asking him why he was interested in the subject, even after he told her.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:32 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Religion is not a subfield of creative writing.

Thousands of wags down through the ages who've hilariously relocated the Bible to the fiction section of bookshops might disagree...
posted by titus-g at 8:36 AM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Jahaza: " It's simply not offensive to ask someone why they're interested in a religious faith other than their own."

Well, first of all, it was a hostile interview from the get-go.

It became a bit offensive when he replied with a reasonable answer and multiple times said it was his field of study, yet she refused to take that as an answer.

It became unprofessional when she accused him of promoting Muslim myths about Christianity which aren't actually things that Islam teaches about Christianity. Thereby implying that he as a Muslim had some sort of nefarious reason for trying to attack Christians and their beliefs.

It veered into outright stupidity when she asked, "But then why would a Democrat want to promote democracy by writing about a Republican?" Because in her mind such a thing couldn't ever possibly happen.
posted by zarq at 8:38 AM on August 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Also, from the Mother Jones article in the FPP, her statement:
I believe that you've been on several programs and have never disclosed that you were a Muslim.
seems pretty offensive to me.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:40 AM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah but his response was priceless. "It's on the second page of my book."
posted by zarq at 8:41 AM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I believe that you've been on several programs and have never disclosed that you were a Muslim.

Yeah, THAT's bad journalism.
posted by Jahaza at 8:42 AM on August 1, 2013


But the contention as the Mother Jones writer makes it and as others here have suggested that we should "forget for a moment that Aslan's personal religious beliefs and practices aren't actually relevant to this conversation" is ridiculous. Terry Gross for instance spends a huge portion of her interview with Aslan about this book talking about his "personal religious beliefs and practices."
posted by Jahaza at 8:44 AM on August 1, 2013


But the contention (as the Mother Jones writer makes it) and as others here have suggested that we should "forget for a moment that Aslan's personal religious beliefs and practices aren't actually relevant to this conversation" is ridiculous.

A contention that never would have been made had an unqualified "journalist" not found anything to talk about during an interview about a book other than the author's religion and why someone of his religion would want to write a book. The rest of the noise doesn't matter-- Fox News basically showed itself that it was unable to comport itself in the manner of a television program interviewing an author, possibly because they are unfamiliar with the concept of books, scholarship, or the practice of interview journalism. That, I think, is a relevant issue worth exploring, regarding the intellectual matrix through which conservative TV journalism thinks. In my mind, it is an indictment of the conservative intellectual enterprise, given that they cannot even conceive why a religious scholar would write a book about a religious figure. Green herself could not get her mind around it, nor can many other conservatives, possibly due to cultural reasons.
posted by deanc at 8:51 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jahaza: " Yeah, THAT's bad journalism."

One could theoretically argue that it's fantastic journalism. An inadvertent backfire on her part that exposes a deeper truth: It has for some time been apparent to many of us that the media outlet she works for and many of the ideologues who run it do not trust Muslims. They perpetuate that mistrust, both of Muslims and Islam, in this country and to viewers abroad. Usually, Fox leans toward this bias more subtly. This time, the mistrust shown is overt.

Note also that Green slipped at one point, revealing her own personal beliefs. She refers to the "resurrection" of Jesus and the "real Jesus" as fact: "You're pointing yourself as a scholar, and I've interviewed scholars who have written books on the resurrection, on-- you know, the real Jesus, and-- who are looking at the same information that you're saying. To say that your information is somehow different from theirs is really not being honest here."

If his religion is fair game, then hers should be too. We can conclude from this that she's let her personal beliefs affect her objectivity. No surprise.
posted by zarq at 8:51 AM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


His personal and religious beliefs are irrelevant to discussion on the quality of his scholarship. His personal and religious beliefs are relevant to Reza Aslan, and who he is as a person, which what Terry Gross, IIRC, was asking him about.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:51 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's simply not offensive to ask someone why they're interested in a religious faith other than their own.

I would suggest that it depends how you do it and again ask if you actually watched the video.
posted by Artw at 8:56 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would suggest that it depends how you do it and again ask if you actually watched the video.

Yes, and they both come off badly. She steps on him as he's about to start turning from his academic credentials to his personal story. But his over the top emphasis on his credentials is ridiculous. He says, “I think it’s strange that instead of debating the merits of the book, we’re actually discussing the right of the scholar to actually write it.” But that's what he does when he falls back on his degrees to defend himself rather than talking about the book's topic or his personal story.
posted by Jahaza at 9:12 AM on August 1, 2013


he falls back on his degrees to defend himself rather than talking about the book's topic or his personal story.

His personal story is of secondary importance.

"You don't smoke and actual make a point of not working around smokers or asbestos, Dr. Smith. Why would someone like you publish a study on the treatment of lung cancer?"

It would be fair for him to respond, "I am a board certified oncologist and the director of clinical research at a university hospital!"
posted by deanc at 9:16 AM on August 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


Also, considering the emphasis some people are putting on his current title of professor of creative writing, I can understand his desire to emphasize his credentials in religious studies.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:17 AM on August 1, 2013


But his over the top emphasis on his credentials is ridiculous.

No its not. He brought up the credentials not to say that his book is fantastic and correct, but to show that this is what he does--write about religion.

He says, “I think it’s strange that instead of debating the merits of the book, we’re actually discussing the right of the scholar to actually write it.” But that's what he does when he falls back on his degrees to defend himself rather than talking about the book's topic or his personal story.

She started that debate. He defending himself. Its perfectly reasonable for him to say that 'we shouldn't be having this debate'.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:20 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, considering the emphasis some people are putting on his current title of professor of creative writing, I can understand his desire to emphasize his credentials in religious studies.

The emphasis on his title as professor of creative writing is because he claimed to be a professor of religion. There's no shame in being a writer of popular books with a teaching job largely based on that background. That's a great thing to be. Own it.
posted by Jahaza at 9:23 AM on August 1, 2013


But his over the top emphasis on his credentials is ridiculous.

He answered the stupid gotcha question in the most direct way possible - I'm not sure I see what the problem with that is?
posted by Artw at 9:28 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The emphasis on his title as professor of creative writing is because he claimed to be a professor of religion.

That is not how categories of things work.
posted by Artw at 9:30 AM on August 1, 2013


rtha: "I'm gonna challenge the assumption that she's a journalist. Nothing in her interview with him seems remotely like actual journalism."

One of the more telling moments in the interview was the very end, when she apparently accidentally slipped in a way that was very telling. She thanks Aslan for "coming on this, uh, spirited debate." I gather she's attempting to explain away the strangeness of the interview by re-framing it as a "debate," but - journalists aren't supposed to debate their subjects, are they? They don't let lapses of fact go unmentioned, yes, and they ought to force their interviewees to stick to the facts in general - but was the point of the interview really "debate"?

And even if debate is something journalists should regularly engage in, shouldn't they go in prepared for debate, as in, having read up on the facts of the matter? I think the thing that Aslan finds so annoying in the conversation is the fact that she isn't even willing to stand on her own meager knowledge of the facts. If she were, then it would be a simple matter of pointing out where she is incorrect and talking a little about the evidence. But she's not speaking for herself - she's saying over and over again in different ways that other people disagree with Aslan, so there must be a strong chance that he's wrong or uninformed. She'll say: "some people are saying your book is wrong because X. How do you respond to that?" If she'd just been willing to talk facts with him, the conversation could have gone much better, even if it had been heated.
posted by koeselitz at 9:39 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine who is getting his PhD in religion and is no friend of Fox News is cynical of the whole controversy. I don't know what to think, personally.
Your friend seems to have an extremely low bar for what qualifies as someone being "outraged".
posted by Flunkie at 9:39 AM on August 1, 2013


She steps on him as he's about to start turning from his academic credentials to his personal story. But his over the top emphasis on his credentials is ridiculous.

She challenged his ability to be competent in this area of scholarship not because his credentials are not up to par, but because he is the "wrong" religion. Come on.
posted by rtha at 9:44 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fuck, as dumb as the timeline-of-professorships quibble is I'd have more respect for her if she'd Googled him enough to pull off even that, instead of the Broken Robot routine. I'm going to question her being journalist on the basis of lack of basic journalism skills.
posted by Artw at 9:48 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suppose I'm not qualified to consider this, being a non-Christian, but I wonder who could be considered "Christ-like" in that interview?

Also, am I the only person who finds trolls valuable in these sorts of threads? On top of true discussion and debate, I mean? I think of it like putting the state to it's burden of proof.
posted by JKevinKing at 9:48 AM on August 1, 2013


The emphasis on his title as professor of creative writing is because he claimed to be a professor of religion.

Why are you harping on this? Its perfectly reasonable to describe himself as a professor of religion to non-academic. He teaches and writes about religion. Academic disciplinary boundaries are actually quote porous once the PhD is achieved and someone has the freedom to make a name for themselves.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:51 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Plus an actual religious professorship.
posted by Artw at 9:55 AM on August 1, 2013


Ms. Green's title of "Religious Correspondent" makes me chortle every time I think of The Daily Show's "Senior Black Correspondent" or "Senior Woman Correspondent".

The bar is pretty low.
posted by leftcoastbob at 10:11 AM on August 1, 2013


>>Because it's my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament.

>I mean, part of Aslan's answer there is just false. He is not a professor of religion.

From Aslan's bio:
he is Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Affiliated Faculty in the Department of Religion at the University of California, Riverside. His previous academic positions include the Departments of Religion at the University of Iowa and at Drew University.
"Affiliated Faculty in the Department of Religion" = "professor of religion" in colloquial language.

Also FYI Aslan is on the faculty of Middle East and Islamic Studies at UC Riverside. Note the word "Islamic" in the title of the program--this is a department that studies religion as well, so "professor of religion" here, as well.

In short, Aslan is a "professor of religion" as well as "professor of creative writing" and his professorship could certainly be characterized a few other ways as well (professor of sociology, history, Middle Eastern studies, etc), all of them quite true.
posted by flug at 10:12 AM on August 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


I thought it was interesting that in the Reddit AMA Aslan more or less specifically declined to take up the question of whether the Christ Myth was cribbed from that of Horus. I wish he'd gone for it, it's a thing which I have rather stupidly taken at face value since i was first told about it. Turns out this widely propagated laundry list is about as true as those emails that your shut-in Aunt forwards to you about five years after the rest of the internet burns out on them. (Bill Maher also treats it as gospel [heh] in Religulous, a deeply obnoxious film that does a huge disservice to its aims.) Here's the succinct teardown from Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:12 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also FYI Aslan is on the faculty of Middle East and Islamic Studies at UC Riverside. Note the word "Islamic" in the title of the program--this is a department that studies religion as well, so "professor of religion" here, as well.

Also note that most every other faculty member is primarily affiliated with another non-religious department. A lot of schools have religious studies programs staffed by a multi-discipline hodgepodge of professors. For example, my favorite religious studies class when I was in college was taught by a very religious member of the physics department.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:23 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


This illustrates that, for conservatives, there is nothing that Reza Aslan could do that would not get him criticized. He is a muslim, therefore he is suspect.

He says he is a muslim on the second page of his book, they criticize him for not disclosing he is a muslim.

He accurately describes what his job is, they criticize him for not using his formal job title.

I mean, he can't win!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:38 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


What a dumb argument. "Professor" is a profession (heh) as well as a title. A person who has held the position of Professor of Religion and remains qualified in it may call himself that irrespective of his current job title. It would only be misleading if it were expressed as a formal job position at a specific institution when it isn't the case. Even if Reza Aslan had no current salaried position at any University and was devoting himself to his books, he would still be able to call himself "a professor of religion".
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:42 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


He is a muslim, therefore he is suspect.

This is the obvious subtext of the one person in this thread hung up on ridiculous semantics about someone's job title. Especially when you consider that Muslims put Jesus up on their totem of top dudes of all time, ever, the whole thing is just ridiculous.

I'm more interested in Lauren Green right now. Here's part of her bio from Fox News:

Outside of her career at FNC, Green is a reputable concert pianist with a degree in piano performance from The University of Minnesota. She has interviewed some of the most prominent people in the classical music world including Placido Domingo, Pierre Boulez, Joshua Bell and has covered such events as the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and opening night of The Metropolitan Opera. In 2004, she released her debut album, "Classic Beauty."

A graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Green was named Miss Minnesota in 1984 and was the third runner-up in the 1985 Miss America contest.


She's seemingly a sensitive, bright, accomplished woman who has probably fought very hard to get where she is. Is she proud of her work? Is she truly a vapid talking head who also plays classical piano and graduated from one of the nation's top Journalism schools?
posted by cell divide at 11:38 AM on August 1, 2013


But wait, there's more! Turns out that Jesus wrote "Carpenter" on his arrest sheet when the Romans picked him up. But he hadn't been working as a carpenter for several years, and in fact nobody was employing him as a carpenter at that time. Stop the presses!
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:41 AM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm starting to think that such arguments aren't even trolling as much as they are a nervous tic: like, I'm honestly starting to believe that some people are just made uncomfortable by a lot of people agreeing with each other and HAVE to be like "Well I mean, he was kinda snotty, also creative writing"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:42 AM on August 1, 2013


FYI, Jahaza has disabled his account.
posted by zarq at 11:54 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


wow! what?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:01 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


She's seemingly a sensitive, bright, accomplished woman who has probably fought very hard to get where she is. Is she proud of her work? Is she truly a vapid talking head who also plays classical piano and graduated from one of the nation's top Journalism schools?

My assumption is that money talks.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:04 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


So does it follow that a Christian can't write about Jesus because there is an obvious bias there?
posted by leftcoastbob at 12:05 PM on August 1, 2013


Yes.

Also, only Dr. Who fans can ride segways without looking smug.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:47 PM on August 1, 2013


Both sides do it! Fox News asks 'why would a Muslim write about Jesus'?

That's a basic softball journalistic/human interest question.
posted by Jahaza at 7:35 AM on August 1 [+] [!]


If you're going to be this ridiculously one-eyed, maybe you should consider your own prejudices and assumptions.

You also haven't disclosed in this thread that you're a Catholic before commenting. Why is that?
posted by Space_Lady at 1:04 PM on August 1, 2013


FYI, Jahaza has disabled his account.

Oops. Sorry for the immediately preceding comment, didn't realise I was arguing against a dead account.
posted by Space_Lady at 1:09 PM on August 1, 2013


She thanks Aslan for "coming on this, uh, spirited debate." I gather she's attempting to explain away the strangeness of the interview by re-framing it as a "debate," but - journalists aren't supposed to debate their subjects, are they? They don't let lapses of fact go unmentioned, yes, and they ought to force their interviewees to stick to the facts in general - but was the point of the interview really "debate"?

I think the name of the segment (if not the entire program) is Spirited Debate.
posted by NoMich at 1:44 PM on August 3, 2013


Reza Aslan—Historian? Yes, the author was attacked on Fox News for daring to be a Muslim writing about Jesus. But does his book actually meet the historical standards he claims?
posted by homunculus at 10:46 AM on August 11, 2013


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