Today I watched a clip of Reza Aslan on CNN, speaking to anchors about whether or not “Islam promotes violence”. I thought what he said was so important, so necessary, that I’d write down notes from what he said in answer to the anchors’ (frankly inane) questions.
Here’s the clip if you want to watch it for yourself.
RA: Frankly, when it comes to the topic of religion, (Bill Maher’s) not very sophisticated in the way that he thinks. The argument about the female genital mutiliation being an Islamic problem is a perfect example of that. It’s not an Islamic problem, it’s an African problem—
CNN: Yeah but he says it’s a Muslim problem. In Somalia…
RA: Yeah, but that’s factually incorrect. Eritriea has 90% female genital mutilation and it’s a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75% female genital mutilation, and it’s a Christian country. Nowhere else in the Muslim majority states is female genital mutilation an issue. But this is the problem: you make these facile arguments that somehow women are mistrated in the Muslim world – well that’s certainly true in many Muslim countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Do you know that Muslim countries have elected seven women as their heads of state?
CNN: But be honest, Reza, for the most part it is not a free and open society for women in those states.
RA: Well, it’s not in Iran, it’s not in Saudi Arabia. But it certainly is in Indonesia and Malaysia and Bangladesh and Turkey. Again, this is the problem: you’re talking about a religion of 1.5 billion people and certainly it becomes very easy to pain thtem all with a single brush by saying, “Well, in Saudi Arabia they can’t drive, so that’s representative of Islam.” No, that’s representative of Saudi Arabia…
You know, we’re not having this discussion in any legitimate forum, we’re just using two or three examples to justify a generalization – that’s actually the definition of bigotry.
Then they cut to a clip of Netanyahu speaking at the UN, saying ISIS = Hamas.
CNN: So, does Islam promote violence?
RA: Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion. It depends on what you bring to it. If you are a violent person, your Islam, your Christianity, your Judaism, your Hindusim is going to be violent. There are maurading Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? Of course not. People are violent or peaceful, and that depends on their politics, their social world, the way that they see their communities, the way they see themselves.
CNN: So the justice system in Muslim countries, you don’t think, is more primitive or subjugates women more than in other countries?
RA: Did you hear what you just said? You said in Muslim countries. I just told you that in Indonesia women are 100% equal to men. In Turkey they’ve had more female representatives and heads of state than we’ve had in the United States.
CNN: But in Pakistan, women are still being stoned.
RA: And that’s a problem for Pakistan.
CNN: Your argument is that Muslim countries are NOT to blame. There is nothing particular, there is no common thread, in Muslim counties, you can’t paint with a broad brush, that their justice system, their Shariah law, what they’re doing in terms of female genital mutliation and stoning is different in other countries, like Western countries.
RA: Stoning and mutliation and those barbaric practices should be condemned by everyone. The actions of individual countries like Saudi Arabia, like Iran, like Pakistan must be condemned because they don’t belong in the 21st century. But to say “Muslim countries” as though Pakistan and Turkey are the same , as though Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are the same, as though what is happening in the most extreme form in these repressive countries, these autocratic countries, is representative of what’s happening in every other Muslim country, is frankly, and I use this word seriously, stupid. So let’s stop doing it.
(Not a chance, Reza, I’m afraid. Not a chance.)