Reza Aslan Lecture


Dr. Reza Aslan, a religious scholar, professor, and author of the New York Times number one bestseller “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” spoke to hundreds in the Memorial Chapel Oct. 22 during a lively presentation on “The Islamophobia Industry.”

While his book “Zealot” has received an enormous amount of publicity, Aslan was asked to speak at Redlands as part of the University’s Muslim Journeys series, with the goal of sharing information on Muslim beliefs and culture with a wide audience. He began his lecture by talking about his family’s move from Iran to the United States during the Iranian Revolution, his experience as a young immigrant, and how that shaped his view of terms like “melting pot.”

“I’ve never agreed with that term,” he said. “We’re a sponge – we absorb every culture, every new generation of immigrants who come to our shores. This country is in a constant state of evolution.”

Aslan then delved into the topic of Islamophobia. He shared a commercial that ran against the Park 51 community center in New York City, often referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” which Aslan pointed out was “neither a mosque, nor was it at Ground Zero.” Over images of the Sept. 11 attacks and men shooting guns, a voice warned that “they declared war against us…and now they want to build a 13-story mosque at Ground Zero.”

“The message you just heard said ‘they’ killed and now ‘they’ want to open this facility,” Aslan said. “As clear as you can get, what is being said is that 18 mostly Saudi members of Al Qaeda are American Muslims. ‘They’ attacked us now ‘they’ want to build a mosque at Ground Zero. This rhetoric didn’t exist before 2008.”

According to Aslan, anti-Muslim chatter started to grow around this time because “hate is profitable.” “Misinformation experts” like Robert Spencer, Pamela Gellar, Daniel Pipes and others began to write “pseudo-scientific” reports that instilled fear of Muslims. The “echo chamber” – namely conservative talk show hosts like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh – then need to have guests on their programs, so they interview these authors, and politicians go on to use their messages as talking points. The money comes from people paying for subscriptions to websites or publications, as well as from speaking engagements.

What was once a fringe idea is now “infiltrating the mainstream,” Aslan said. “Six or seven years ago, these people were in the corner and no one took them seriously.”

Another myth that is being spread by these commenters is that Sharia law is coming to the United States, a notion that Aslan said is absurd.

“We have people calling for a constitutional amendment banning Sharia law, and it turns out we already have that – it’s called the Constitution,” he said. “It makes it impossible for any foreign law to trump the law of the land. Sharia is just a code word for ‘other.’”

To get over this “otherness,” it will take more than education.

“Bigotry is impervious to data,” Aslan said. “We have this idea that bigotry and prejudice are the result of ignorance. If people just knew more and understood Islam, they wouldn’t be so biased. But bigotry is not a result of a lack of knowledge; it turns out there are a lot of smart bigots out there. It’s a result of fear.”

As Aslan pointed out, religious bigotry is nothing new in the U.S. Anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish hysteria were prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries, and it’s just the “other” that changes.

“But, certainly we can say with extreme confidence that a generation from now Muslims will be as much part of the cultural fabric as Jews and Catholics,” Aslan said. “It’s inevitable, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. That’s how our country works.”

According to Aslan, there is one way to move past bigotry: get to know people who aren’t like you.

“If you know a Muslim as a human being and not as a symbol of ‘other,’ it cuts in half negative feelings,” he said. “You have to build relationships.”

Posted: Oct. 23, 2013
Written by: Catherine Garcia

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