On 27 July, Buzzfeed posted a video of “the worst interview” of all time where Fox News host Lauren Green asked author Reza Aslan some of the stupidest questions ever heard in the history of man. He responded by explaining that he was an academic and academics do scholarly work thus making her look like an idiot and himself look like a just man defending himself from ridiculous attacks. Clear cut, right? Well, according to the 5 million views and 5,000+ comments the posting got, yes. It was clear cut in one of two ways. The first way being that Green was a Fox shill and Aslan was a victim of Islamaphobia, that fear that Fox has distilled down to its purest form. The second way it was clearcut was that Aslan misrepresented his education and authority on the topic of his book. These two clear cut viewpoints have gone round and round since then, clogging the arteries of Facebook and Reddit with self righteous rage and determination to beat the other side down. There’s only one problem with that. People on both sides of this issue got played and everyone got stupider.
I think we can objectively say that wherever you come down on the above two “clear cut” options you’re most likely a willing victim of your own confirmation bias (it won’t surprise me if you just stop reading right here). Don’t like Fox? Well then Aslan is a saint who was just being mistreated. Like Fox a lot? Well, Aslan is a two faced Muslim who’s seeking to undermine the Christian faith. To be clear, this isn’t thinking. Neither of these viewpoints are thinking.
Green’s questions were absolutely idiotic, no doubt. Asking a Muslim who used to be an evangelical Christian why he would ever want to write a book about Jesus is patently dense. It’s purposefully so. It’s for show. Green knew exactly what she was doing. Fox doesn’t go into interviews blind. They’re not idiots. If you think they are then it’s you who’s being unrealistic. And for Aslan’s part, he did misrepresent his educational background. He isn’t a serious historian at all. He doesn’t do original historical scholarship and all the ideas in his book are old ideas, they’re the ideas of others who are doing original historical scholarship. So, why the dust up? Why the culture war? What can’t Green and Aslan both be annoying self promoters that we tell to go stick it? Three things that go for both sides.
- You like to get tricked. You wouldn’t play the con game if you didn’t like getting tricked because you already know no one ever wins.
- You need to associate with a group to validate the fact that you’d never read this book and have no interest in scholarly historical study at all. You’ve likely never even read any.
- You hate someone.
Take a look at this Washington Post article. Aslan is objectively not a historian. He has a Sociology PhD focusing on the development of Jihadism. That’s not a history doctorate. Some will say that it requires reading history but so what? So does an English or Philosophy degree and “reading history” is not the sole requirement for a History PhD . You have to do original scholarship. You have to use primary sources. You have to contribute to the world’s understanding of a topic. Aslan didn’t do any of that and that’s why him directly implying that he was is insulting and ridiculous. Think it doesn’t matter? Here’s what his peers say.
Aslan, who has an undergraduate degree in religious studies and a master’s in theological studies, is not currently a professor of religion or history. He is an associate professor in the creative writing department of the University of California at Riverside. He has asserted a present-day toehold in the field of religion by saying he is “a cooperative faculty member” in Riverside’s Department of Religious Studies.
Yet this is not so, according to Vivian-Lee Nyitray, the just-retired chair of the department. Nyitray says she discussed the possibility last year with Aslan but that he has not been invited to become a cooperative faculty member, a status that would allow him to chair dissertations in her former department.
So, his own boss says he’s lying.
Dale Martin, a Yale University religious studies professor who reviewed Aslan’s “Zealot” for the New York Times, sees Aslan’s characterization of his credentials in a different light. “I think he overplayed his hand,” Martin says of Aslan in an interview. “He’s just overselling.” Martin, who has praise for Aslan’s writing skills, was critical of his seeming reliance on the work of previous scholars to formulate one of the central theories of his book: that Jesus was a revolutionary executed because he posed a political threat to the Roman Empire.
“The record needs to be corrected,” Martin says. “Both about his credentials and his thesis.”
Overplayed? Polite way of saying it’s not true. But the internet ate it up because people love having their assumptions reinforced. In this case the assumptions were, Fox News bad (yes, obviously), academics good, multi-cultural Muslim scholar objective, Christians bad. Those were the assumptions. So, when the following occurred…
“I am an expert with a PhD in the history of religions,” Aslan said. Then he said it again. Moments later, he said he was “a scholar of religions with a PhD in the subject.”
…nobody even questioned it. He’s a scholar, right? Why would he lie? Well, for the same reason that he’s on Fox News trying to sell you his book. Do you think he wanted to go on TV and just talk? No, no one does unless they’re an actor, and even then. He’s selling you something, a concept, and you either bought it or you bought Fox’s concept. Either way, either camp, you lost. You knew less after you picked a side than you did before and people in media or in academia think you’re all a bunch of suckers. But no one has to be. There’s no reason you have to choose who is right in cases like this. They can both be morons and you can turn off the TV or close the tab. You can ignore the ignorant Islamophobic Green or you can ignore the half scholarly, lying about his credentials, writing a book based on the research of others, Aslan. You can say they both suck and then you’d actually be right, you’d actually have a grasp of what was going on.
Don’t keep getting played. Quit playing the game and think for yourself. If you don’t then you’ll always be getting mad whenever you’re told to, you’ll hate who you’re told to, and you’ll never really be yourself.