Maybe you’ve seen this Fox News interview with Reza Aslan that’s getting hype in the media. I’m pretty sure you can’t honestly call this “journalism” or a “debate”, but it was fairly enlightening. The issue is supposed to be Aslan’s new book Zealot, a biography of Jesus Christ. But Fox’s Lauren Green carefully avoids the content of the book to focus on the fact that Aslan is a Muslim.
If I were the host of a news program and I was getting prepared for a live discussion about a book, I would consider reading the book. That sort of prep isn’t for Green. Strangely, though she obviously hasn’t read the book, she seems to have read pages and pages of negative criticism about Zealot, all of which focus on the fact that Aslan is a Muslim.
Aslan seems shocked and rightfully incredulous, and keeps coming back to the fact that he is a professional, a professor of religions with a PhD who has spent his last twenty years fascinated by Jesus, studying historical and scholarly accounts to form an opinion. If Aslan comes off as wide-eyed and self-righteous in this video, I understand why. Being faced with divisive interviewers should be shocking, even if it is Fox.
Lauren Green seems to feel his faith should bear more weight in this “debate” than the content of his work (which I have not read). It’s as though she unconsciously assumes (or was told to assume) that since Aslan is a Muslim, he must be promoting a ‘Muslim’ agenda and sporting a ‘Muslim’ opinion on Jesus.
The beautiful irony is that Green’s obsession with his faith betrays her own religious agenda. She is attacking him not as a “fair and balanced” news person, but as an “anti-Muslim”. Frankly, she comes off like a religious bully, stomping her feet and saying “stay in your own yard”.
It might seem fair and balanced to call her actions “Islamophobic”, since she fails to articulate any rational arguments against Islam while denouncing Aslan’s authority because of his faith. But as is often the case with Fox News, I sense that Green is just doing her job, doing what she was told to do with this particular guest.
Islamophobia is a real phenomenon, no doubt. In North America after the turn of the millennium, we were flash flooded with talk of jihad while news organizations juxtaposed the image of Osama bin Laden with the fall of the World Trade Center. The images ran for weeks and still pop up today. Naturally this implanted a sense of dread through all of TV-watching, white, Christian America about anyone with a beard and turban. Unfortunately there are actual Islamic fanatics out there who aren’t helping the problem.
Since most Muslims do not kill innocent people, it’s easy to see why social persecution can lead to claims of Islamophobia. Usually the group called “Islamophobes” are outraged at the label. The word has nasty connotations, implying intolerance and racism. Hopefully when a heavy claim like that is laid, it’s done consciously.
When Richard Dawkins criticizes Islam and poses legitimate rational questions about the fundaments of the religion, it’s clear that he doesn’t like the religion, but that doesn’t make him Islamophobic. He uses reason to look at the religion and posit why some of these beliefs seem harmful and negative, so we should not be using Islamophobia to describe him. It is one thing to have arachnophobia and run screaming from a harmless daddy long legs. It is another thing altogether to know the risks of poisonous spider bites and take steps to protect yourself when you’re camping in the Amazon.
A phobia is by definition an irrational fear of something. A good test for a phobia is to ask “What real-world effects am I afraid will result from this thing I fear?” and “Can I justify this fear with reason?”
Some Islamic fundamentalists do kill “infidels”. That’s a real problem that should be analyzed on a rational level without throwing the term “Islamophobia” around. But the term has been widely used to shut down conversations and to smear those who question Islam. In this respect, “antisemite” has been used in a similar way.
Because lives are lost to fanatical adherence to certain Islamic doctrines, it’s easy to see where fear of Islam comes from. The lines get somewhat fuzzier when we deal with “homophobia”. What exactly is at risk by giving gay people the same rights as straight people?
The “defense of marriage” argument is a sham built on a huge pile of ancient Christian doctrines. Fervent defense of ideals without much real-world consequence are a waste of energy. If there were truly a separation of church and state, gay marriage would not be a legal question. The sacrosanctity of marriage needn’t have anything to do with faith. And besides, Christian marriages can be terrible end in divorce just like marriages of all other belief-systems.
Health risks and sexually transmitted diseases are a weak argument against homosexuality. If health risks are a good enough reason to argue against homosexuality, certainly tobacco use should illicit a much bigger reaction. The same goes for the use of cars or prescription drugs, yet I rarely see moral arguments against those behaviors.
Mormon science fiction author Orson Scott Card, an open advocate of anti-GLBT views, recently made a statement asking moviegoers to be tolerant of his homophobic views and refuse to boycott his movie Ender’s Game. While his views don’t appear as a factor in Ender’s Game (the book, at least), he, or more likely his studio, are afraid people will be prejudice against the movie based simply on Card’s prejudices. This is another great irony, and you can read this funny but sober piece on it here in The Onion.
What about homosexuality is really worthy of fear?
Perhaps one could argue that children with both male and female parents have more balanced childhoods and so gay people should not have kids. But such a statement should be supportable by sociological, psychological or psychiatric facts. Obviously I haven’t done this research because I don’t care to defend that opinion. It is ludicrous, of course, as many straight people make bad parents but we cannot make that illegal. The balancing act of a child’s development has to do with many more factors than the genders and preferences of the parents.
One might argue that gay people inhabit a different moral landscape. Living in a neighborhood of gay people for years, I can admit to observing a general level of hedonism on the weekends, a shade above what I see in straight society. And while there may be marginally riskier behaviors in gay society, that doesn’t justify hatred or fear. But more importantly, the true party animals up at all hours in The Village are generally not the ones trying to raise kids.
Because there are no obvious grave threats to life and well being on account of homosexuality, to what do I attribute people’s disdain for it? It makes sense to me that disdain and intolerance of homosexuality is produced by a deep, irrational fear of people different from “normal”.
While I find all phobias distasteful, I do like accurate, clear language. For this reason, I have the very awkward duty to declare homosexuality the winner in this Battle Of Unrelated Things. Homophobia accurately describes those behaviors it speaks about, while too often I see Islamophobia misused in an attempt to stop conversations about real problems.
Here, watch this to celebrate!