CNN Anchors Vs. Reza Aslan: The Missed Point

A very good friend of mine sent me a video clip yesterday because she knew I would enjoy it. I just got a chance to watch it. The video below is the entire segment:

I did enjoy it. A lot!!

I was especially entertained, yet not wholly surprised by the CNN anchors, Victor Blackwell and Alisyn Camerota’s questions. By the end, I almost pitied them. Almost. At the end of the day, they are just anchors trying to make news.

Bill Maher got, and continues to get, an almost obscene amount of exposure for his anti-Islamic comments. Good publicity stunt! And, way to show your ignorance! But, that is the end of that.

Then there is Dr. Reza Aslan, Religious Scholar, and, Professor at University of California – Riverside. First of all, I think we should take a moment to acknowledge something: his last name. How fittingly ironic is it that Aslan is the one to shed some light on our ignorance of the complexities in other peoples’ cultures? Hey! Are we in Narnia?

But, that’s irrelevant too.

Did Blackwell, and (mostly) Camerota deserve to be called “stupid” during a course of a regular segment? Maybe. Although technically, Aslan did not call them stupid; he called that particular line of thought “stupid”. Then, I got to this particular pearl of “wisdom” from her:

 “You don’t think the justice system is somehow more primitive… or subjugates women more than in other countries?”

Camerota said this with a TREMENDOUS roll of her eyes, as she uttered the words “Justice System”. Don’t believe me? Watch it again. It happens between 5:24 and 5:30. That eye-roll tells us more about her personal feelings on the topic, than anything else uttered by her in the entire segment. An eye roll is the universal sign of contempt. In this case her contempt could either have been towards Aslan, towards the fact that she had to work that day, towards her employers, and/or it could have been about what she thinks of “their” idea of a justice system. I am not judging her about the eye-roll. I am saying it was there.

Then she says that she feels the need for clarification because she feels that Bill Maher and Aslan are saying the same thing. Let us recap : Aslan is a religious scholar, brought in by CNN, to comment on Bill Maher’s anti-Islamic statements. Said scholar refutes Bill Maher by stating that Islam promotes neither violence nor peace, like any other religion (the “truth” of this loaded statement, while utterly tempting, is not the focus of this musing). LESS THAN 30 seconds later, a reporter (from the same company as the one who invited the scholar) says she needs clarification because she is apparently… confused and hearing things (at least, that is my guess). Then, she continues:

“…There is nothing particular… there’s no common thread… in Moslem [sic] countries, you can’t paint with a broad brush that somehow, their justice system…their Sharia Law, or what they’re doing in terms of stoning and genital mutilation is different than in other countries…like Western countries?”

Well, let’s talk about “the Western countries”, specifically America, since we are all American. Let’s talk about how women in America have historically been subjugated (in America) by primitive social systems that don’t protect our very basic and fundamental rights. About Indiana, where minority women are being imprisoned for their entire lives because of planned or spontaneous miscarriages. They don’t have the fundamental right to make decisions about their own bodies either. Or about the millions of Americans who cannot get married because some people get “squirmy” thinking about things like this. Oh, what about the millions of veterans who are not getting adequate medical help to successfully recuperate from traumas they experienced IN THE LINE OF DUTY? We could also talk about how our justice system is serving all of our rape and domestic violence victims.  Let’s remember to touch on how the gaping holes in our legal system and our prison system, in some senses, give us glimpses into a real-life version of Dante’s Inferno. Let’s talk about how our society doesn’t need Sharia Law to shame someone, because we have social media. And, finally, with ado, let’s talk about the Super-Sized problem we created, of ignorant, irresponsible uses of Freedoms that make Americans sometimes look like … idiots to the rest of the world.

In international circles, America is stereotypically considered to be the “bully” of the group. This is well-known.  So, does anyone think the European Union or other non-Union countries actually “like” to be lumped with us? What about our friendly neighborhood Canadians?  Do they like being painted with the same broad strokes that puts them in our camp? As of right now: I don’t think so.

But, ultimately, thats not the point that they missed.

The main point that no one seemed to make explicitly, at least in this clip, is that the causes of human injustices around the world are being attributed to “religion”, when they should be pinned on the leaders of groups, communities and nations. That is where these many human travesties originate — in the minds of individual megalomaniacs who have incredible charisma, above-average intelligence, and, an insatiable hunger for power and control. I was holding my breath for Aslan to “hit the ball out of the park” with this truth, and he got so close! But he didn’t give it the perfect ending I expected. He didn’t  follow through. He didn’t do justice to the issue. Is that too broad a stroke with my narrow brush? At the end of the day, Bill Maher, Victor Blackwell, Alisyn Camerota and Professor Aslan (who by this point has a lion’s mane in my very vivid imagination) all got close to 8, 910,000 minutes of exposure because of this one clip.

In the wrong hands, religion can merely be the weapon used to either tame the general populace, or, to work it up into a frenzy and unleash when the time is right. Religious followers perpetrate evil based on their leaders’ interpretation of ancient moral codes, and based on these interpretations, violence is tolerated or even encouraged. For example,  Jihad was used as a form of protection against the Christian Crusades; Hindus at one time encouraged child marriage to protect their young daughters from becoming concubines or rape victims; and, the marauding Buddhist Monks that Aslan talks about are very real, and very violent.

The point that was missed is this: Religion, as a social structure, should be completely removed from conversations on equality, equal human rights, and social injustices. Bringing God into these conversations is like involving adults in a teenage fight over a stash of porn – simply ridiculous, and utterly embarrassing for all parties involved. When we take religion out of the equation, conversations have the chance to be different without God “facades” for people to hide behind. We need to do this because the way I see it, human violence is not God’s problem. It is ours, and so far at least, we are caught in a self-made cycle of insanity.


P.S. Prof. Reza Aslan did lose points in my book, when he claimed that men and women in Indonesia are 100% equal. This is false. Muslim Indonesians are still governed by aspects of Sharia law which restrict the rights and privileges of females.

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