The Bill Maher/Ben Affleck Islam controversy just keeps rolling, with mainstream media outlets pumping out article after article to excoriate Maher for going off the reservation and to try, ever more desperately, to shore up their sagging Islam-Is-A-Religion-of-Peace dogma. It is no surprise that leftist media darling Reza Aslan is at the center of these efforts, appearing on CNN and penning an op-ed in the New York Times to attack Maher and warn leftists who may be tempted to believe Maher that telling the truth about Islam is still “racism” and “bigotry.”
The only problem is, as is so often the case, Aslan is wrong. Here are the five chief misstatements he has made during the Maher kerfuffle:
1. “The abiding nature of scripture rests not so much in its truth claims as it does in its malleability, its ability to be molded and shaped into whatever form a worshiper requires.”
Bill Maher, according to the headline of Aslan’s Times piece, “misunderstands religion.” But then Reza tells us in the article that religions are infinitely malleable, capable of being “molded and shaped into whatever form a worshiper requires.”
If that were true, however, then it would be impossible to misunderstand them, because anything at all that one said about them would be as equally valid as any other view. Thus it would be impossible for Bill Maher, or anyone else, to misunderstand religion or Islam in particular.
What Aslan is claiming here is absolutely nihilistic. He’s saying essentially that words have no meaning, that the various scriptures of various religions have no essential content or character, that the religions themselves are meaningless and interchangeable, and that people are never inspired to change their behavior by the teachings of a religion, which don’t exist anyway, since religions are wholly and solely what people decide they will be. Can a religion’s teachings transform a believer into a “violent misogynist” or a “peaceful, democratic feminist”?
For Aslan, the answer is no: religions are just putty, to be formed by those who believe in them into any shape they like. So tomorrow Muslims could begin to declare that there are five gods, despite the Qur’an’s fierce monotheism, and Christians could begin murdering people while screaming, “Jesus is Lord!”
This is, of course, completely absurd. Religions don’t just depend on what the believer brings to them; believers are also shaped by what they teach. While there is diversity within religious traditions, that diversity is circumscribed by the broad parameters of the religion’s core teachings. Religious teachings actually have real content and neither can be nor are shaped by believers into whatever they like.
2. “The same Bible that commands Jews to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18) also exhorts them to ‘kill every man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey,’ who worship any other God (1 Sam. 15:3). The same Jesus Christ who told his disciples to ‘turn the other cheek’ (Matthew 5:39) also told them that he had ‘not come to bring peace but the sword’ (Matthew 10:34), and that “he who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). The same Quran that warns believers ‘if you kill one person it is as though you have killed all of humanity’ (5:32) also commands them to ‘slay the idolaters wherever you find them’ (9:5).”
Aslan doesn’t mention that I Samuel 15:3 is not an open-ended command to all believers, as is Qur’an 9:5; rather, it is a specific directive given to Saul regarding the Amalekites. If you are neither Saul nor an Amalekite, it doesn’t concern you. As for Luke 22:36, Aslan doesn’t mention that shortly thereafter, when one of the disciples uses his sword and cuts off the ear of a slave of the high priest, Jesus rebukes the sword-bearer and heals the man’s ear (Luke 22:51).
And while examples are ready to hand of Muslims quoting Qur’an 9:5 to justify violence (including Osama bin Laden), Aslan can adduce not a single example of a Jew committing an act of violence and justifying it by referring to I Samuel 15:3, or a Christian committing an act of violence and justifying it by referring to Luke 22:36.
Also, while admonishing his readers that “no religion exists in a vacuum,” Aslan completely ignores the interpretative traditions of all three religions, and treats their scriptures as if they do indeed exist in a vacuum. They don’t. And neither Judaism nor Christianity, in any of their forms, has now or has ever had any doctrines equivalent to the Islamic doctrine that the Muslim community “makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians …until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax” (‘Umdat al-Salik O9.8). The quotation comes from a manual of Islamic law certified by the most prestigious and influential institution in Sunni Islam, al-Azhar, as conforming “to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community.”
I challenge Reza Aslan to provide a quotation from any Jewish or Christian authority comparable to al-Azhar, calling upon believers to make war against and subjugate non-believers. He will, of course, ignore this challenge, or, if he does take note of it, he will respond as he has in the past, by calling me fat or gay or stupid, or all of the above, and still ignoring the challenge. Aslan’s frenzied rudeness and obnoxiousness to those who dare to disagree with him is well-documented. It also manifests, as it does in the case of other insufferably arrogant academics, a deep insecurity that is likely born of the strain of having to spend one’s days putting forward and propping up fantasies and falsehoods. But the mainstream media and academia today are one-party states; if one deviates from the acceptable line, one need not be engaged intellectually or even treated with basic human courtesy.
3. Female genital mutilation is not a Muslim problem, “it’s a Central African problem. Eritrea has almost 90 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue.”
Despite his renown as a “scholar,” Aslan, as I have shown with numerous examples, is not very bright, and constantly makes basic errors of fact. Eritrea and Ethiopia aren’t in Central Africa; they’re in East Africa. And Aslan’s claim that “nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue” is completely false. Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization declared female genital mutilation a “human right.” A Muslim cleric in Australia has defended it. It is a huge problem in Britain, and a huge percentage of the Muslims in Britain are not from East Africa or Africa at all. It is common in Iraq. It is well-established in the Maldives. And 41 percent of Kurdish women have been victims of it.
Nor does Aslan mention that while some non-Muslims practice it, only in Islam is it approved. Female genital mutilation is sanctioned in Islamic law: “Circumcision is obligatory (for every male and female) (by cutting off the piece of skin on the glans of the penis of the male, but circumcision of the female is by cutting out the bazr ‘clitoris’ [this is called khufaadh ‘female circumcision’]).” — ‘Umdat al-Salik e4.3, translated by Mark Durie, The Third Choice, p. 64
4. It is a free and open society for women in “in Indonesia and Malaysia. It certainly is in Bangladesh. It certainly is in Turkey.”
Human Rights Watch reported that “Indonesia’s official Commission on Violence against Women reported in August that national and local governments in Indonesia had passed 60 new discriminatory regulations in 2013 in addition to the 282 such rules already on the books. These include 79 local bylaws requiring women to wear the hijab, or head scarf.” In Malaysia, the Malaysian Bar asked the government in 2013 to enact legislation ending gender discrimination. In Bangladesh, women “still face deprivation and oppression and the legal and socio-economic system does not do enough to prevent discrimination and violence against women.” A 2012 report on Turkey said that “discrimination, violence, unequal power relations, lack of education and child marriage are still problems that Turkish women face.”
5. Benjamin Netanyahu “is absolutely incorrect in talking about ISIS equaling Hamas. That’s just ridiculous. No one takes him seriously when he says things like that. And, frankly, it’s precisely why, under his leadership, Israel has become so incredibly isolated from the rest of the global community.”
Why? How is Hamas not like ISIS? They’re both Islamic, they both want Sharia, they both want a caliphate, they both believe in violent jihad and the subjugation of Infidels. Hamas doesn’t fight anyone but Israelis and the Islamic State fights everyone in its path, but they have the same overall goal. Note that Aslan didn’t offer any evidence to support his dismissal of Netanyahu’s equation as “ridiculous.”
But he didn’t have to, of course. Aslan can be secure in the knowledge that he will never be challenged in the mainstream media on his egregious ignorance of a field in which he claims expertise. He has the requisite politically acceptable opinions, and that is all that matters.