January 12, 2015

I'm all for calling out religious fundamentalists and those who are intolerant of others and think that violence is the only way to resolve those differences. I just wish the media would start holding the Christian leaders responsible for the Christian extremists who have committed acts of terrorism, and the Evangelical Christians who think it's alright to terrorize abortion clinics to the same standards as they have the leaders in the Muslim community, who are continually called upon to denounce the extremists among their ranks, or who are completely ignored when they do just that.

I'm also sick and tired of the talking heads in the media doing their best to use these recent attacks to further promote more spying and erosion of our civil liberties all in the name of keeping us "safe" from something that it is a complete farce to pretend you can stop, which is extremists or those who have been radicalized killing people and getting their names in the headlines after doing it. I'd prefer the approach where maybe we try as a society doing less things that radicalize people in the first place and try to make less of them ready to strap on suicide vests or pick up a weapon because their lives are so miserable that dying in a blaze of glory looks better than living.

Meet the Press host Chuck Todd was confronted with those very inconsistencies by two of his Muslim guests this Sunday when he asked them about the recent terrorist attack in Paris and whether we're "at war with a strain of Islam."

CHUCK TODD: I'm joined now from Los Angeles by Reza Aslan, professor at UC Riverside, and author of many books on religion, including Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized Age, and Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor of the Islamic Monthly. I'm going to bring the panel in as well.

Reza, let me start with you. Should we be looking at this, as we heard the French prime minister today say they're at war with radical Islam. Are we at war with a strain of Islam? Or is this a perversion that we pretend doesn't exist?

REZA ASLAN: Well, there's no question that there has been a kind of virus that has spread throughout the Muslim world, a virus of ultra orthodox Puritanism. But there's also no question about what the source of this virus is, whether we're talking about Boko Haram or ISIS or Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

All of these have, as their source, a single sect, Wahhabism, the state religion of Saudi Arabia. And as most people know, Saudi Arabia has spent approximately $100 billion over the last 20, 30 years, spreading this ideology throughout the world. And so we do have a problem within the Muslim community. But that problem tends to be very much localized within a particular ideology that must be confronted first and foremost by Muslims themselves.

CHUCK TODD: Well, I was just going to say, and Arsalan, we've had this conversation previously on this show, not very long ago. Let me get you to react to something that you were going to but appearing with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. And she just decided to not appear. But I want to read a part of her op-ed for The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. And of course, she was a former Muslim.

And she writes this, "If we take the position that we are dealing with a handful of murderous thugs with no connection to what they so vocally claim, then we are not answering them. We have to acknowledge that today's Islamists are driven by a political ideology, an ideology embedded in the foundational texts of Islam. We can no longer pretend that it is possible to divorce actions from the ideals that inspire them." What would you say to her?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Well, I would say that she's being too reductive in her reasoning and I think that it's important to keep in mind that when you're dealing with the second-largest religion in the entire world, and 1.7 billion people, there's no minority demographic group today in Western societies that has placed more collective guilt than Muslims.

And I think it's important that we do not have this double standard in terms of calling out terrorism. I think terrorism that has been co-opted to only apply when brown, Muslim men commit acts of mass murder and when white Christian people, like Anders Breivik in Norway killed 77 teenagers and tried to bomb the prime minister of Norway's office, we didn't ask Norway's Christian leaders to come out on national television and condemn him. So I think that it's a little reductive her conflation.

CHUCK TODD: Well, there has been, and Reza, you just brought this up in saying that the Muslim community needs to stand up. Well, who are these? Who are these folks? Who's going to do it?

REZA ASLAN: Well, first of all, let's be clear that every single organization, Muslim organization, and some other organizations throughout the world, and in the United States and the prominent individual, be it political or religious leaders, everyone has condemned, not just-- this is why I said every attack that occurs in the name of Islam, and anyone who keeps saying that we need to hear the moderate voices of Islam, why aren't Muslim denouncing these violent attacks, doesn't own Google.

But that said, I do think that we do need to do a better job of providing a counternarrative. And the really puts a real obstacle in the way is opinions like Ayaan's and so many others in the political and the media mainstream who continue to say that 1.7 billion people are responsible for the actions of these extremists.

That doesn't help the fight against radicalism. The answer to Islamic violence is Islamic peace. The answer to Islamic bigotry is Islamic pluralism. And so that's why I put the onus on the Muslim community, but I also recognize that that work is being done, that the voice of condemnation is deafening, and if you don't hear it, then you're not listening.



Well, we laugh about it, but Reza, what is the right thing? Does the Muslim community in general need to learn more tolerance of being satirized? Or as you say, is this also isolated?

REZA ASLAN: Well, I think it's a generalization to say that Muslims don't tolerate being satirized. Look, there is such a thing as privileged communities. Yes, it's okay, nobody really bothers you if you make fun of Christianity because 70% of Americans are Christian. It's the same issue that we have with regard to black/white relations and what is and what is not proper speech when referring to various stereotypes of either group.

And look, the fact of the matter is, is that even in the most free democracies, there are limitations about what you can and cannot say. In France, there are limitations about what you can and cannot say about the Holocaust. In India, there are limitations about what you can say about religious communities, and particularly, religious minorities.

But again we have to stand up as individuals and make sure that we are being counted. So with regard to your question, if we're talking about what Muslims can do, what they can look to, I think the best person to look to is Ahmed Merabet, the police officer, the Muslim man who was killed by these terrorists for defending the right of people to caricaturize his religion. That's the model that we need to go forward with.


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