Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reza Aslan Talks About Islamophobia at UC Riverside (April 13)

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Resa Aslan

On April 13, Muslim writer and activist, Reza Aslan, spoke at UC Riverside, where he is a professor of creative writing, before a crowd of almost 300 people, mostly students. His topic was Islamophobia, which he described as "an American problem". The event was sponsored by the Middle Eastern Student Center. Introductory remarks were given by  UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox.

Note: I was present for this event. I am paraphrasing Aslan's words, but I videotaped the event. There is a gap of approximately 60 seconds after the first 15 minutes or so while I was changing the memory card in my video camera.

Aslan began his talk by talking about his experiences growing up in the 1980s as the child of Iranian immigrants. It was the time of the Iran hostage crisis, and he spoke of trying to pass himself off as a Mexican kid. "It wasn't a good time to be an Iranian in the US," he said. (Comment:It wasn't a good time to be an American in Iran either.)

As far as Islamophobia was concerned, Aslan noted that immediately after 9-11, there was not an outbreak in Islamophobia, and Americans rallied around their Muslim friends and neighbors. It has been in the subsequent years that Islamophobia has become a real problem. This Aslan attributed to people like Robert Spencer, Frank Gaffney, Pam Geller, Brigitte Gabriel, Daniel Pipes and others, part of a well-planned and well-funded "cabal" whom he described in mocking terms bringing laughter to the audience. According to Aslan, others, like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michelle Bachmann, Allen West, and Peter King have followed their lead. This has led to those who have carried out acts of violence against Muslims. Aslan supplemented this with slides showing statistics of hate crimes against Muslims and percentages of Americans having negative perceptions of Muslims. One slide stated that in an 11 day period in 2012, 8 mosques were vandalized, attacked, or burned to the ground. He also cited a report by the liberal Center for American Progress about Islamophobia and said that anti-Muslim sentiment was now the highest it has ever been.  At one point, referring to the attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, Aslan said that the FBI had concluded that the attacker had assumed that he was attacking Muslims because he assumed that "Muslims wear turbans". (Comment: That seems like an assumption on Aslan's part. The shooter, a white supremecist, killed himself during the attack. This writer is unaware of subsequent information that indicates he was specifically targeting Muslims.)

At one point, Aslan told the audience that "none of you are going to be killed by a terrorist". While showing a slide that said people were more likely to be killed by their furniture, Azlan said that people have more chance of being killed by "a lazy boy". (Don't tell that joke in Boston.)

Aslan compared prejudice against Muslims with previous problems experienced by other religious groups including Catholics and Jews, who are now a part of the fabric of American life. He predicted that in another generation, Muslims would also be fully integrated into American life.

After his presentation, Aslan took about 4 questions form the audience. At this point, there were two giant 800-pound gorillas in the room. Aslan had devoted his entire presentation to describing Islamophobia in America as if it all existed in a vacuum. He gave only passing reference to Islamic terrorism and said virtually nothing about  the horrors going on around the world, the intolerance towards non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries, or the campaign of genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria to say nothing of Egypt, Libya, northern Nigeria and other countries. He didn't even provide a definition of Islamophobia, a rather tricky term.

This writer got the first question (8:50 of the third clip) and began by saying that most Americans did not blame all American Muslims for the horrors going on around the world. Yet, Aslan was asked to explain his definition of Islamophobia. Was it a dislike, a hatred, or a fear-and if a fear, was it an irrational fear of Islam as a religion, as a political ideology, or Muslims as a people? Secondly, would he condemn groups like Christians in Syria and Iraq, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Nigeria or Pakistan, the Baha'i or gays in Iran as being Islamophobes?  Aslan asked the writer to repeat the second part of that two-part question.

As to his definition of Islamophobia, he mentioned anti-Semitism as an example and said that everyone knew that meant bigotry against Jews although not all Jews were Semites or all Semites Jews. By the same token, he said that he didn't care to break down the term Islamophobia (as the questioner did), but preferred to simply call it bigotry against Muslims. (Comment: That gets a lot of people off the hook in my view including those he mentioned earlier. It could be inferred that those who simply criticize some aspects of Islam and relate them to terrorism, or other forms of violence and intolerance by Muslims do not fall into that category of being bigoted against Muslims themselves. Aslan should have addressed those points as well.)

As to the second part, Aslan said that he really didn't understand the question, but said just because someone was treated badly didn't excuse bigotry. He compared it to the person who gets mugged by a black guy. That doesn't justify him or her putting blame on an entire group of people and saying all black people are thieves. He mentioned  Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who had "an awful" personal experience, but that didn't excuse her statements about Islam. (Comment: Ali, an apostate from Islam, experienced forced genital mutilation as a child and an attempted forced marriage, which led her to flee her family and renounce Islam. She lives in fear for her life, while Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch film producer, was savagely murdered in the Netherlands for co-producing a film with Ali about Islamic mistreatment of women. That was the "awful" personal experience(s) Ali suffered, and which Aslan did not mention.) Aslan also said that just because a Copt in Egypt has suffered violence doesn't excuse being bigoted. (Comment: The bad experiences Copts are experiencing are killings, burning down of their churches, kidnapping of their children and forced conversions. That seems excuse enough for me.)

Another question from a young lady referred to a Pew Research study, which said that 23% of 1.5 billion Muslims support stoning. Aslan added death for apostates to the topic and replied that those numbers were especially high in Egypt, but very low in Tunisia as an example (5%).  (78-79% of Egyptians wanted sharia law and 62% supported the death penalty for apostates, but 70% supported freedom of religion, according to Aslan.) He made the point that it was in countries governed by secular dictatorships where these numbers were highest.

In conclusion, Aslan simply attacked those who find fault with Islamic ideology while not honestly addressing the reasons for people's fears-a word he used to describe Islamophobia. Is it really bigoted to speak out on the horrors taking place virtually on a daily basis and to seriously question whether Islam itself is the root cause? Does he really blame non-Muslims in Muslim-majority countries as being bigoted  "Islamophobes" when they are being persecuted and living in real fear for their lives? He implied that he did. As to the rise in Islamophobia in the years following 9-11, could it not be argued that:

1- There have been thousands of Islamic terrorist attacks world-wide since 9-11, coupled with intolerance and violence against non-Muslim minorities and

2- More people have taken the time to research Islam?

Aslan was playing to a young, college audience and his theme was designed to appeal to them; Bigotry is wrong. That is true, and Americans should not assign blame to all Muslims. Yet, Aslan cannot effectively talk about "Islamophobia" unless he is prepared to honestly discuss the reasons for it instead of blindly attacking the critics-and dismissing the victims as bigots.

Above is the video that I took.

1 comment:

Gary Fouse said...

I find it astounding that the people who are committing genocide are the ones complaining that people don't like them.