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Reza Aslan, Edward Said, and Radical Chic

(Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

Failed CNN host and cannibal Reza Aslan raised some eyebrows last Friday when he tweeted: “If they even TRY to replace RBG we burn the entire f**king thing down.”

Criticized for this open call to violence, Aslan doubled down on Monday, tweeting: “Been a few days since I tweeted that if GOP try to jam a SCOTUS thru B4 election we burn the f**king thing down & since the death threats & Breitbart headlines about my tweet have now stopped let me just say that if GOP try to jam SCOTUS through we burn the f**king thing down.”

Yet nothing is much less likely than the prospect of the cosseted Aslan donning a balaclava and going out to set fire to Burger Kings in the name of justice. He is, like many Leftists before him, engaging in revolutionary posturing, or what Tom Wolfe indelibly dubbed “radical chic.”

Radical chic involves the spectacle of wealthy, comfortable elitists donning the garb and aping the rhetoric of radical Leftists (remember John Lennon chanting “Power to the people”), or even engaging in revolutionary theatre. The foremost example is Edward Said, the literature professor whose seminal book Orientalism destroyed Middle East Studies in the United States by portraying even the slightest critical word about Islam or Middle Eastern culture as an exercise in colonialism and racism.

On July 3, 2000, when the Palestinian Arab Said was 64 years old, he was photographed throwing a rock toward Israeli Defense Forces at the Israeli-Lebanese border, in solidarity with the allegedly oppressed Palestinian Arabs. Stung by charges that he was sympathetic to jihad terrorism, he minimized the significance of his act, saying: “It was a pebble. There was nobody there. The guardhouse was at least half a mile away.”

That was likely true. Even if the guardhouse had been manned, it was unlikely that the IDF was overly concerned about an attack from a 64-year-old university professor. Said’s rock-throwing was a symbolic act, performed for the cameras in order to demonstrate how daring, how edgy, how radical the old academic really was.

Said, moreover, in throwing his rock demonstrated that he didn’t really think that the Palestinian Arabs were all that oppressed in the first place. He threw his “pebble” secure in the knowledge that the IDF would do nothing in response, that they weren’t really the ruthless and rapacious war machine of jihadist rhetoric, and that therefore he need fear no consequences more severe than some mild tut-tutting from those among his academic peers who might his play-acting unseemly.

So it is with Reza Aslan. He has now twice declared that “we” are going to “burn the f**king thing down” if President Trump dares to fulfill his constitutional responsibility and appoint a Supreme Court Justice. But each time he typed out his threat, Aslan knew that there was no possibility whatsoever that he was going to participate in burning anything down. The threats themselves were the goal, not any real action.

This is because Aslan, like Edward Said, is demonstrating how radically chic he is, not actually taking up arms to overthrow the existing order. Aslan, just as Said was in his day, is acutely aware that the Western intelligentsia today is deeply anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Christian, and infatuated with Marxism and anarchy. If, therefore, he wants to keep on presenting himself as a “scholar” on the cutting edge of contemporary thought, he has to posture as a revolutionary, no matter how preposterous he makes himself look in the process.

In Aslan’s world, fey and soft-handed pseudo-intellectuals vowing to man the barricades and sexagenarian professors throwing rocks aren’t ridiculous, they’re heroic. They’re the vanguard of the hordes of spoiled children who claim to be oppressed when they aren’t, and who then pretend that they are the ones who are valiantly standing on the front line against the oppressors.

They’re silly and stupid, but they’re also dangerous: Others could heed Aslan’s repeated calls to “burn the f**king thing down” and end up destroying the society that has made it so easy for the likes of Reza Aslan and the late Edward Said to gain wealth and honor and live charmed lives. Aslan is now in the odd position of hoping that no one takes his calls seriously. If they do, he could end up in the smoking ruin of the American society for which he has such contempt, his comfortable life a thing of the past, dead by his own hand.

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Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 21 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.

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