In light of recent conversations on atheism, Islam, and progressive religion in general, I thought I’d share a video I came upon today. In it, Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American writer and scholar of religions, responds to comedian Bill Maher’s recent claims about Islam. I really appreciated this video, as it expresses a lot of the concerns I’ve had regarding the way Americans view and portray Islam.
I’ll give a short summary for those who don’t want to watch the video. Reza Aslan points out that Muslim countries vary greatly, and that it’s silly to make broad brushing statements about “Muslim countries” as though Saudi Arabia and Turkey should be in the same category. Aslan also points to the huge diversity in the treatment of women, pointing out that while Muslim women are certainly oppressed in some Muslim countries, in other Muslim countries they have equal rights with men. He points out that female genital mutilation is a central African problem, not an Islam problem. Finally, Aslan contends that Islam is neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful—“like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it.”
Reza Aslan is the author of No God but God: The Origins and Evolution of Islam and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. (You can read Ashley Miller’s review of Zealot here.) A Muslim, Aslan has taken flack for presuming to think he can write a book about Jesus. And yes, before you point it out, I know Reza Aslan also wrote a 2010 Washington Post article lambasting New Atheists. I wouldn’t write the article the same way, and I disagree with him on a number of points, but I’ve raised some of these same criticisms myself.
The above video reminded me of an old video I came upon recently of Richard Dawkins on Bill Maher. Start the video at 4:50.http://youtu.be/_BQKjGlqJm0?t=3m47s
For those without the time to watch, Maher insists that suicide bombers are motivated by guilt over sex while Dawkins insists that suicide bombers are motivated by religion. Meanwhile, panelist Janeane Garofalo plays the voice of reason, bringing the discussion of motivations to socio-political grievances again, and again, and again while Maher and Dawkins have nothing of it, preferring instead their overly simplistic (and, frankly, incorrect) interpretations.
We can do better than this.