I’m looking forward to the new movie version. I read the book when I was a teenager and again this year. It was and still is excellent, even knowing the real world cultural inspiration and background for the idea of the Fremen.
I was a little conflicted when I heard that they were going to remove the term “jihad” from the movie, but after reading the book again and thinking about it, I think it was the right move. The word has too many connotations and baggage now that didn’t exist when the story was written. Using it would give the movie meaning that wasn’t intended in the original story.
When I picked up The View From Flyover Country by Sarah Kendzior, I thought the book was going present a conservative or at least rural perspective on life and politics in the United States. I’m bombarded with the liberal and progressive viewpoint every day in almost every single news broadcast and social media post. The right-leaning viewpoints that do get airtime seem to be too far to the right of the political spectrum to be worth listening to. I was hoping for something center right, or traditional right, I guess.
Unfortunately, this book is written by a liberal from a Midwest city. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. It’s just not what I wanted. The book is a collection of essays and, after having finished reading the book, they come across as kind of mixed bag. The most impressive point of the book so far is how prescient some of the author’s insights were, considering that she wrote most of the essays prior to the 2016 election cycle for Al Jazeera.
Kendzior’s diatribe against gentrification is well-intended but comes across as shallow and offensive. She had an opportunity to look at how class differences and the concentration of wealth were playing out in urban environments. Instead, she uses the issue to present whites as evil oppressors of minorities, forgetting that not all gentrifiers are white because not all wealthy people are white. “Hipsters” are a visible and catchy way to present gentrification but it ignores economic realities. Gentrification isn’t a race issue; it’s an economic issue and a class issue. Kendzior could have used gentrification as a segue into a discussion of income inequality but she chose to go the easy and provocative but less informative route of blaming white people.
The section on underemployment and low pay are masterful. Kendzior isn’t saying anything that I haven’t heard before, but she said it before it was common discourse and her arguments are clear and well made. The situation she describes is maddening. Kendzior’s essay sounds more like she’s describing the plot of a dystopian fiction than reality.
How does an adjunct lecturer work for a college for decades and die making penniless while still only making $10k a year? It sounds like the money in universities, like in the rest of US society, is being funneled into bureaucratic bloat instead of into paying educators. It should be illegal for companies to pay wages so low that costs are shifted onto taxpayers in the form of social welfare programs.
But how can we implement a system of enforcement that won’t result in companies further reducing their workforces and overworking those who remain? It is something that will have to be forced. And it can be done. Companies paid living wages before. We had living wages and dignity. We can get there again. Will it take massive riots and strikes before our aristocratic Congress finally acts on behalf of the American people? Before they remember that they work for us and not for corporations?
Regarding how Islam is portrayed, she writes under the assumption that US news organizations want to tell the news in an accurate and unbiased way, but they don’t. Of course, she probably had her suspicions about that when she was writing, but the true extent of the news industry’s dishonesty didn’t become apparent until after the 2016 election, when people simply couldn’t reconcile Hillary’s guaranteed win with the actual outcome. It’s almost as if the media industry was trying to create reality and expected the American people to act according to the narrative that they had presented.
The disillusionment and shock people felt after the 2016 election cycle was heightened all the more by the clash between what they thought the US was, what they thought it stood for, and the reality of the country’s situation. Honesty and complex reporting don’t get clicks. It doesn’t generate ad revenue. It doesn’t sell because most people don’t want to read the truth. They don’t have time. With the wealth disparity in this country, most people spend so much time working or thinking about working, that they can’t find the energy or will to engage with social or political discourse in any meaningful way. So, they look for cheap entertainment that doesn’t require thought. They want to hear about Snooki’s butt implants, so news producers have turned reporting news into another form of reality entertainment. The more spin there is, the better for ratings, ad impressions, and revenue.
For me, there were two big takeaways from The View From Flyover Country. One, the impact of income inquality, the wealth gap, on US society has far reaching consequences. Combined with a failure by our news organizations to maintain journalistic principles and keep the public informed can undermine our republic and cause more damage to US society than any foreign attacker.
(Featured image of American Moslem Society Dearborn Mosque by Dwight Burdette)
The following is a historiography that reviews literature covering Muslim immigration and communities in the United States after the events of September 11th, 2001 in New York City, NY, USA. Because of how cut & paste into WordPress from a Word file works, you’ll find all the footnotes at the end of the page.
Abdo, Geneive Abdo. 2006. Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bilici, Mucahit. 2012. How Islam Is Becoming an American Religion: Finding Mecca in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Curtis IV, Edward E. 2009. Muslims in America: A Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.
Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck. 2011. Becoming American? The Forging of Arab and Muslim Identity in Pluralist America. Waco: Baylor University Press.
Hussain, Amir. 2016. Muslims and the Making of America. Waco: Baylor University Press.
McCloud, Aminah Beverly. 2006. Transnational Muslims in American Society. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
When the World Trade Center (the “Twin Towers”) in New York City was attacked on September 11th, 2001, many Americans were understandably shocked and angry, but they also found themselves asking, what is a Muslim? Why would they want to attack us? Setting aside the problem of conflating all Muslims with terrorists, these questions revealed a vacuum of knowledge about Muslims and Islam in the United States. Further, there was a lack of understanding that Muslims were and had been a part of American society since before the United States was founded. The rhetoric that flooded popular media painted a picture of Islam vs the West and reinforced the idea that there was a hard dichotomy between the two. One could not be American and be Muslim, one could only be Muslim in America. Scholars from multiple disciplines saw this as an opportunity to produce literature on Muslim immigration and Muslim communities living within the United States to correct the narrative being constructed around Muslims and Islam. Because of this, much of the recent scholarship on Islam has been defensive and apologetic in nature, presenting Muslims in a way that normalizes them and introduces them as typical Americans to the rest of society. Recent scholarship has focused primarily on establishing a Muslim American identity, rather than on placing Muslim immigrants and immigration in a historical context.
According to Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, a scholar on the history of Islam in America, this type of scholarship is not new. Writing in 2010, he indicates that both before and after September 11th, 2001, scholarship on Muslims in the United States has been primarily anthropological and sociological, dealing with questions of assimilation and identity formation. He goes on to say that the historical studies that do exist focus primarily on African American Muslims and on how non-Muslim Americans perceive Islam. Further, because of the positioning of Islam as being opposed to the West, most scholarship on Muslims in the United States has focused on how they are faring in a “foreign” society rather than on how they are actively participating in American history. Much scholarship on Muslims in the US also aims to teach non-Muslim Americans about Islam to counter xenophobia and to reposition Muslims as being a part of “us”. However, this focus on Muslim voices excludes the voices of other groups that have interacted with them. What I mean by this is that ethnic identity formation is both an external and internal process. Muslim American identity formation occurred and continues to occur within a wider American social context. Without adding the voices of non-Muslims to the narrative, as GhaneaBassiri writes, scholars “[dim] the signifiance of the larger American Islamic socio-historical context [in] which American Muslims have [acted] for nearly four centuries.” Many of the books reviewed in this paper, including Hussain’s Muslims and the Making of America, which was published in 2016, fit GhaneaBassiri’s analysis of recent scholarship as being primarily focused on identity formation and assimilation. The two exceptions are McCloud and Curtis’s books.
A common refrain on message boards and in comment sections on the Internet is that Jews, Christians and most especially Muslims do not worship the same God. Is there any merit to this statement? All three religions are part of the Abrahamic tradition and find their roots in the ancient Hebrew faith. Modern Judaism developed after the fall of the Second Temple in 72 CE. Christianity as we know it today probably began with Paul’s teachings and solidified with the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, though it began as a Jewish movement around 30 CE. Islam, the newest (or oldest, depending on your religious perspective) of the three religions dates its beginning to approximately 610 CE and both draws and builds on Jewish and Christian religious traditions. All three religions share stories and in some cases texts. All three claim to be worshipping the God of the Patriarchs. All three also clearly conceive of God in different ways. Do we judge whether they worship the same God based on their own claims, or on their understandings of the nature of God?
A related video on the topic from YouTube:
In “The Perspective of at-Tawhid” (1983), Muhammad ‘Abdul Haq argues that there is a distinct difference between the monotheisms practiced by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Writing from an Islamic perspective, the foundation of ‘Abdul Haq’s argument is the differing conceptions that Jews, Christians, and Muslims have about the unity (at-Tawhid) of God. He is critical of both Jews and Christians and believes that, because of their diverging religious traditions, they have an imperfect understanding of monotheism.
‘Abdul Haq argues that, while Islam places ultimate importance on the concept of the divine unity of God, both Judaism and Christianity are based on divine manifestation in history. He links the idea of monotheism in Judaism with the concept of ‘chosenness’ and the pact made at Mount Sinai. Because of this, he feels that it is impossible to disassociate the God of Judaism from the Jewish people as an ethnic group, making the conception of the Jewish God contingent on a historical event. Regarding Christianity, ‘Abdul Haq points out that everything revolves around the person of Jesus Christ and the events of his life, which also roots Christianity firmly into history.
The author believes Judaism and Christianity’s entrance into history is important because it differentiates them from Islam, which he claims has an absolute truth versus the formers’ relative truth. In other words, Islam sees God as being utterly transcendent and beyond our conception while both Judaism and Christianity place God in history, thereby restricting his essence. One could also argue that God sending Gabriel to reveal the Quran to Muhammad was an intervention in history. However, the difference is that in Judaism and Christianity, God Himself appears in history, while in Islam He works through an intermediary, Gabriel. The result is the same: an intervention in history, but the method is what sets Islam apart. Muslims see God as being beyond history, because entering history would necessarily restrict or limit his essence.
He also states that Judaism monopolizes and nationalizes monotheism and prophecy. This is not actually, true, however. While it was perhaps not always the case, modern Judaism does have a conception of God as being universal. This is not a new development, either. The Noahide Laws in Genesis, which are seven rules that apply to non-Jews, provide redemption for those who follow them. Essentially, it is a path to participation in monotheism without being Jewish. There is, of course, still a difference between inclusion in the covenant community and being a part of the Noahide community, but this still contradicts ‘Abdul Haq’s point.
Christanity, like Islam, has a universal message, but the author is still critical of the concept of the Trinity, which he bluntly states is not monotheism, regardless of how the explanation is framed. Returning to the idea of God’s essence, he writes that “Judaism and Christianity have failed to evaluate the true worth of Divine Unity, the incommensurable nature of which signifies that there is no common measure between the finite and the Infinite.” Breaking God down into parts is counter to Islam’s idea of God’s unity, which cannot be subdivided or contained.
Another way to look at the similarities and differences between the Abrahamic religions’ conceptions of God is by comparing their revelatory and mission structures. Martin Jaffee does this well in his article, “One God, One Revelation, One People: On the Symbolic Structure of Elective Monotheism” (2001). Jaffee engages with the symbolic structures of the Abrahamic religions to show that they are constructed in a way that brings them into almost inevitable conflict. He believes that their structural similarities, along with the decline in polytheism as a viable competing model of piety, explains what Jaffee calls their obsessive self-definition “over against” each other.
Essentially, Jaffee looks at how the Abrahamic communities see themselves in relation to God and how they see their mission in history. For Israel, the “divine self-disclosure” comes in the form of human language via the Torah, a scriptural set of commandments passed down to man. In Christianity, the divine self-disclosure comes in the form of Jesus’ historical life. This is distinct from Judaism, because it is not revelation transmitted in the form of human language. In Islam, the form of divine self-disclosure is textual, like it was in Judaism. The position that Islam takes on the previous two divine self-disclosures is that people altered the original texts and changed their meanings, which is what necessitated the third divine self-disclosure. Islam sees the Quran as a corrective that is meant to reestablish monotheism as universal and inviolable. This does not imply that Islam sees the Jewish and Christian views of God as the same or valid, however.
Writing in response to Jaffee, Yehezkel Landau attempts to bridge that gap in “God as Multiple Covenanter: Toward a Jewish Theology of Abrahamic Partnerships” (2015), an article that presents Christianity and Islam as legitimate, additional covenants between man and God. Landau asks, “[C]an monotheism be pluralistic, …that is, if God is One, how can different understandings of that Oneness be valid?” Landau is attempting to present the God of the Torah as the same God worshipped in Christianity and Islam. He does this by finding a precedent in the Torah and then explains how Christianity and Islam fit into that existing pattern.
When people think of God’s covenant with Israel, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the covenant with Abram / Abraham that includes circumcision and a promise to make Abraham’s descendants plentiful. Landau argues instead that there are many covenants in the Torah that apply not only to Jews, but to all nations, starting with the covenant of the Sabbath. He notes that in Isaiah 56:1-7, Sabbath observance also applies to any stranger or foreigner that chooses to “join himself to the Eternal.” The next covenant Landau reviews is the Noahide Covenant, which binds God, all human beings, and other living things on Earth. Lastly, Landau discusses the significance of the Abrahamic Covenant and Abraham’s role as the progenitor of both Israel and the Arabs, linking God’s covenant to Islam. The idea is, perhaps, to imply that part of God’s promise to Abraham is being carried out through the descendants of his son, Ishmael, as well as through Jacob / Israel.
Landau casually dismisses non-Orthodox positions on religious pluralism, which is disappointing in a paper written to supposedly present a Jewish viewpoint. He simply states that they are more likely to be open to religious pluralism since they don’t follow halakha as strictly. It would have been more interesting and informative to see what the major Jewish denominational positions are, rather than having them dismissed out of hand, especially since most Jews are not Orthodox. In Landau’s defense, it is possible he believes his primary audience will be those who are not yet convinced and by his reasoning those people would tend to be Orthodox.
Another problem in Landau’s article is that he draws on the work of an Orthodox Rabbi named Irving Greenburg to tie Christianity into his argument of multiple covenants. Greenburg argues that covenant develops in stages. He specifically points out the change in Jewish practice after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple as an example of an unfolding covenant. Greenburg sees Christianity as a natural outgrowth of the Hebrew faith and as a part of God’s design. This argument does not make sense. If Christianity is part of God’s plan, and Christianity’s goal is to convert everyone to Christianity, then Greenburg is essentially arguing that Judaism should disappear. Landau quotes Greenburg at length. In one of the quotes, Greenburg attempts to position Christians as part of the house of Israel with the common goal of defending a unified religious tradition and the state of Israel against Islam. While Landau criticizes Greenburg for taking this stance, he fails to realize that this undermines Greenburg’s entire argument, which comes across as a veiled appeal to Christian Zionists to begin or maintain support for the state of Israel.
‘Abdul Haq, Jaffee and Landau each take up the issue of whether the three Abrahamic religions are worshipping the same God from different perspectives and each comes up with different answers. While ‘Abdul Haq never states outright whether he thinks the God of Judaism and Christianity are the same deity being worshipped in Islam, it seems likely that he would say they are not. He pointedly criticizes the Christian concept of the Trinity, which he feels is certainly not monotheism. He also contends that Jews are worshipping a restricted sense of God in the form of a tribal rather than universal deity, though this is not actually the case. Jaffee points out that while each group believes they have received a divine self-disclosure, that disclosure came in different forms. Judaism and Islam received textual revelations, while Christianity believes God revealed himself in the form of a human being. This points to a difference in each religion’s understanding of God based on their belief in how He disclosed Himself. Landau makes a strong attempt to reconcile these differences by arguing for an ongoing covenantal system in which God forms many, rather than one covenant, but his solution only approaches the problem from a Jewish theological perspective, ignoring the fact that reconciliation will require a combined approach. His argument regarding the inclusion of Christians in an extended covenant is also flawed because it is based on a questionable source.
Do these three faiths have the same God? That is debatable. All three traditions clearly stem from the same source, but is that the only qualifier for having the same deity? I would argue that there is more to be said for how a person conceives of God. Jews, Christians, and Muslims do not think of the same God when they imagine Him/It. On the other hand, how can Man conceive of the inconceivable? For Christians, this gap is bridged through God’s revelation as Jesus, but in Christian theology that is a manifestation or aspect of the Infinite rather than the Infinite itself. It would be just as reasonable to say that each religion understands and worships God in slightly different ways because Man can never totally comprehend God.
 Martin S. Jaffee, “One God, One Revelation, One People: On the Symbolic Structure of Elective Monotheism,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 69.4 (2001): 756, accessed November 21, 2016, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1466340.
‘Abdul Haq, Muhammad. 1983. “The Perspective of at-Tawhid.” Islamic Studies (Islamic Research Institute, International Islamic University, Islamabad) 22 (3): 1-19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20847235.
Jaffee, Martin S. 2001. “One God, One Revelation, One People: On the Symbolic Structure of Elective Monotheism.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion (Oxford University Press) 69 (4): 753-775. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1466340.
Landau, Yehezkel. 2015. “God as Multiple Covenanter: Toward a Jewish Theology of Abrahamic Partnerships.” Crosscurrents 57-79.
Last Saturday, I went over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue to conduct a scavenger hunt for certain types of items in this exhibit and then drafted up an essay response, but I thought it might be useful to people thinking about going to see the exhibit itself, so I’m posting it here as well.
The exhibit, “Jerusalem: 1000-1400 Every People Under Heaven,” is being shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from September 26, 2016 to January 8, 2017. Like the title of the exhibit implies, the selection of art being displayed includes pieces that are representative of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the “People Under Heaven” in the Abrahamic tradition.
One of the displays contains a set of astrolabes, which, according to the description, were devices that were “used to answer questions related to time, geography, and the position of the stars.” The three astrolabes on display were all created in Andalusia and include the city of Jerusalem. The text on the astrolabes were written in Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, Hebrew and Latin. Another interesting item with text in multiple languages is “Slaughter of the Amalekites and Saul’s Last Stand,” which contains marginal notes in Latin, Persian and Judeo-Persian, written by subsequent owners of the book.
Most of the items were in pretty common languages used in the area, like those mentioned above, though there were exceptions. There is a text called “The Book of Kings” which I assume is written in an Ethiopian language, but I cannot be sure because the language used is not included in the description. More clearly labeled is a Copto-Arabic Book of Prayers, written in the Bohairic dialect of Coptic Egyptian. There is also a Book of Saints’ Lives written in what I can only assume is Georgian, again because the description is not clear.
There is a very large variety of items on display. There were at least three different versions of the Bible: a Samaritan Bible from 1232 CE in Yavneh, a Bible from northern Europe, ca. 1300, and a Bible from 13th century Rome or Bologna. There are also Jewish liturgical books like “Opening Prayer for Shabbat Parah” from 1257-58 CE, “The Catalan Mahzor” from 1280 CE, and “Next Year in Jerusalem,” a Haggadah from 1360-1370 CE. There were also choir books, swords, vases, amazing Jewish wedding rings, pillar capitals and reliquaries.
Two items that really caught my attention were the “A Knight of the d’Aluye Family” and the “’Umra Certificate.” The “Knight” sculpture was the covering of a burial place for a Crusader, dated to between 1248-1267 CE. What piqued my interest was the sword depicted in the sculpture, which is Chinese in appearance. It was fascinating to see actual proof of the exchange of items between Europe and Asia during that period. The ‘umra certificate from 1433 CE, which belonged to Sayyid Yusuf bin Sayyid Shihab al-Din Mawara al-Nahri, fascinated me because it emphasized just how important pilgrimage was and perhaps continues to be in the Islamic tradition. Going on the Hajj to Mecca had a direct impact on a Muslim’s social standing and warranted adding the honorific al-Hajj or al-Hajjah to one’s name. The ‘umra scroll shows that pilgrimage to areas in and around Jerusalem were nearly as important and warranted their being added to a certificate that could be displayed when the pilgrim returned home.
The exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is definitely worth attending. It shows the central importance that Jerusalem played to a huge range of areas between 1000 and 1400, with items on display from Africa, Europe, Persia, and various places in the Middle East. It would be nice if there were translations of the texts on display, or if the languages being shown were at least clearly labeled. The grouping of the items could have been somewhat clearer as well, either chronologically or thematically. On the other hand, the items were displayed in a way that made them easy to view and appreciate. It is definitely a worthwhile way to spend an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon.
We went to an interfaith recitation and music event at the Town & Village Synagogue on 14th Street in Manhattan last Thursday. Every year, the event is held at a different venue, and this time it was T&V Synagogue’s turn to host the event. I don’t mean to say the hosting is thought of in a negative way, but rather as an opportunity to contribute to the interfaith dialogue that they’re trying to promote with the event.
According to the announcers (Rabbi Larry Sebert and Anthony Donovan, the co-founder of Local Faith Communities), it was the fourth time they’ve held the event and the groups all seemed to be familiar with each other. In addition to Town & Village’s choir, there were representatives from:
The Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church
Bhakti Center (a Hindu path)
Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection
The Catholic Worker
Medina Masjid Mosque (Muslim)
Iglesia Alianza Cristiana y Misionera (Spanish Evangelical)
Nechung Foundation (Tibetan Buddhist)
St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery (Episcopal)
The Light of Guidance Sufi Center
Middle Collegiate Church (Protestant)
The atmosphere was pretty relaxed and it was interesting seeing people of different faiths all in one house of worship. Another thing that I found interesting was the way Mr. Donovan kept saying that the Torah scrolls, housed in the ark behind the bimah (an alcove behind the raised portion at the front of the synagogue) must be really blessed since so many people from different religions were there praising God, or at least their interpretation of God. Perhaps he was thinking of how Jews call someone up to bless the Torah prior to oral recitation of the text.
There were a few groups that I found particularly interesting. The Russian Orthodox group sang at what felt like a professional level. The harmony and precision of the singers’ voices was amazing! The Tibetan priest was fantastic as well. The 10 foot long horn he played prior to reciting a mantra was very exciting. I took a video of it. The guy seems very humble and pleasant. He works construction during the day, despite his age. Perhaps that’s why he’s in such good health.
The Quran recitation was also interesting. A 16 year old boy who is already a hafiz, a person who has memorized all 600+ pages of the Quran, and the imam both did recitations on the bimah. I bet that’s something you wouldn’t find anywhere in the world but this country. Maybe not even outside New York?
That’s not to say the other groups weren’t good as well. The whole evening was fantastic. Those are just the three that stood out to me the most. The event was a little different from what I expected in that most groups sanitized their music choices. This event was supposed to be about celebrating difference as much as unity in that each group was supposed to present songs or recitations they would normally use in their services. The Russian Orthodox group leader specifically said they chose selections from Psalms because it was more inline with an interfaith type of dialog. The Middle Collegiate group sang a song in which I’m about 98% sure they replaced the word “Jesus” with “freedom” to make it more universal in nature.
There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s probably a testament to the success of what the Local Faith Communities group has been trying to do that even when given the chance to do what they normally do, people went out of their way to make sure they didn’t offend each other. That’s what interfaith dialog is all about, right? Learning to live peacefully with one’s neighbors?
The whole event lasted from 7:00 PM to about 9:30 PM. We had dinner beforehand at Murray’s around the corner on 1st Avenue, which is outstanding by the way, and then had some fruit after the event in the reception hall below the synagogue’s sanctuary. We had a really good time and we are looking forward to seeing next year’s Spiritual Sounds event.
Here are some photos of the different groups on stage which I have, hopefully, labeled appropriately. I wish the quality was better, but even after charging my camera battery and leaving myself reminders, I forgot to bring my camera with me and had to use my iPhone.
Rabbi Larry Sebert blowing a shofar at the commencement of the event.
A portion of the Town & Village Synagogue
The Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church group 1.
The Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church group 2.
Bhakti Center (a Hindu path)
Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection
Iglesia Alianza Cristiana y Misionera (Spanish Evangelical)
The Catholic Worker
Medina Masjid Mosque
Medina Masjid Mosque
Nechung Foundation (Tibetan Buddhist) – instrument
Nechung Foundation (Tibetan Buddhist) – recitation
The first time I heard of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” by Reza Aslan, was when I heard people complaining about it on Twitter. Well, not really complaining about the book per se, but the author’s religion. I’ve previously read another book by this author and I remember it being pretty good, especially considering it was a book on religious history, and I didn’t recall it being unusual or laden with religious messages that could indicate a lack of academic impartiality in the writer. Apparently, though, for some people, just being a Muslim makes one incapable of being an academic or of being objective.
Fox News (a.k.a. Fox Entertainment) published an Op Ed about the book by John Dickerson, claiming the author is just some random, poorly educated schmuck who must have an agenda because he is a Muslim. As a result of the unfounded allegations and fear-mongering spin Dickerson put on the article, the Fundamentalist Christian-Taliban masses were enraged and set out to destroy the infidel (Reza Aslan, PhD) for daring to be a non-Christian while writing about Jesus.
It’s almost amazing, in a negative sort of way, how difficult it is for some people to comprehend that people of other religions are capable of obtaining higher degrees and writing from an academic, objective standpoint. Here’s an example of a Fox News desk jockey embarrassing herself while reading from a pre-prepared script during an interview with Reza Aslan:
She just can’t seem to get past the fact that he’s a Muslim and wrote a book about Jesus, as if it’s impossible to write about another religion with academic impartiality. She also seems to think that Reza Aslan’s claims to being educated are some sort of fantasy hocus-pocus that she just brushes off to get at the heart of the matter (in her opinion): “You are a Muslim! You are not capable of rational thought, because Fox says so! I say so! Every day!”
After watching the YouTube interview and reading the piece on ThinkProgress about how Dickerson’s claims are all sorts of retarded, I proceeded to check the Kindle book out on Amazon. The product page was flooded with one-line, one-star reviews that do not analyze or review the book, but simply discredited the entire possibility of the book being worthwhile because the author is a Muslim. It was pretty obvious that most of the “reviewers” had simply regurgitated what they’d read on Fox. Some didn’t even bother to process the information and just cut & paste the article into the review section, as if that would magically prove their uneducated and uninformed hate-mongering to be undeniably true. Some “reviewers” went so far as to claim that a conspiracy exists to trick people into buying the book because the author never revealed his religious orientation during previous interviews (also parroted from Fox), as if that has some bearing on a book written from a secular, historical perspective.
Does every Christian author need to reveal his religious preference prior to writing a book about the history of a religion other than Christianity? No, of course not, so why does Reza Aslan have to defend himself to a mob of Fox Zombies that are claiming his religious preference somehow invalidates his four degrees, including a BA in Religion from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, a Doctor of Philosophy in the Sociology of Religion from UC Santa Barbara, and an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop? The history of religion and its development is this man’s bread-and-butter. If he’s not qualified to write a book on it, then doctors with medical licenses aren’t competent to diagnose the common cold.
I reported quite a few of those one-star reviews as abuse, because that’s what they are: hate-speech and abuse that have nothing to do with the product and certainly aren’t legitimate reviews that should be allowed to affect the product rating. The obvious intent behind this mob-style digital attack on the book’s product page is to prevent sales just because the author is a Muslim. And not only is he a Muslim (and according to some the instrument of Satan), he’s not writing about Jesus from the modern Christian fundamentalist perspective, much like dozens of other authors before him have done in an attempt to understand who Jesus-the-man was. Amazon seems to not really care about hate-speech or abuse or fake reviews that damage sales, though, because none of the so-called reviews have been taken down. In fact, the number has jumped by 10 since I looked at it last night.
I took the time to try to have a discussion with one reviewer about why he feels that Reza Aslan is incapable of writing a book about Jesus, but instead of actually addressing that question, he attempted to convince me that Peter never denied Christ, Christ never rebuked Peter for trying to convince him to not be crucified, that “Allah” does not translate directly to “God” and does not represent Abraham’s God, even though the Quran specifically mentions numerous times that it is a prophetic work in the tradition of Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael and Jacob. I kept asking him what his point was to try to figure out what his comments had to do with the ability of Reza Aslan to write a book, but he kept going on and on, changing topics as soon as he was proved wrong on some point. I finally realized that he wasn’t trying to justify his opinion or create a logical, though complicated argument about the book. He was just trying to waste my time by turning the conversation into one about the validity of Islam as a religion instead of being about the validity of the book as an academic work.
The bottom line is, the attempt of fundamentalist Christians who somehow believe it’s ok to break one of the ten commandments and bear false witness by pretending to review a book they haven’t read has propelled Reza Aslan’s book to the #1 best-seller position on Amazon, something it may have never achieved otherwise. It only goes to show that when you approach someone with hate in your heart, your efforts will usually fail and often backfire. If there’s something wrong with the book, because of its style, a failure to prove the thesis, or because the author played fast-and-loose with sources and added too much interpretation, then those are valid criticisms. But, just because a person is of a religion that is not the religion of the person they’re writing about (let’s forget the fact that Jesus was a Jew and Christianity didn’t develop until hundreds of years later for a moment), that doesn’t automatically invalidate the work as a whole. Obviously. Well, to me anyway, and to plenty of others who are calling out Fox for this rampant stupidity. For example, the Lauren Green interview embedded above is being hailed as a new contender for the most embarrassing interview ever by MSN.
I purchased the book. It will help me prepare myself for a course I’m taking on the historical Jesus this Fall semester at college. I’m also going to make sure I leave a real review for the book on Amazon to help counter all of the ridiculous bashing, assuming the book is good of course.