Image and quote (below) from Salon
I think Reza Aslan is possibly the most intelligent person I've heard speak in my entire life. While in Crete, my host and I watched a lot of CNN International, and it's quite amazing how completely different it is from American CNN. I mean even the coverage on sports seemed more intelligent, but there was also a long interview with Aslan, and I was amazed at how he actually answered the questions put to him.
In the US, it seems most interviewees answer questions on news networks by not actually answering the questions - they say something and if you aren't paying attention it may seem as though the question was answered but really the answer was completely in some other country while the question remained, shuffling its feet in its awkward powder blue suit.
Having said that, maybe Aslan does the same on American CNN, I don't know...
Also, let me say that I've completely avoided the Affleck/Maher hoohaw, for three reasons. 1) It looked like it would just stress me out. 2) I think Bill Maher is a slimy cars saleman. 3) I think we in the US seem to think that celebrities have more of a right to be heard than say someone who's actually thought about whatever it is they happen to be talking about. (This is also why I pay no attention whatsoever to Tom Cruise and why I've also avoided the Raven-Symone interview. She may have a point, but it's HER point and has no business being broadcast hither and yon.)
But Aslan is a person who thinks and writes and thinks some more. He's also articulate and realizes that there are other modes of thought beyond his own. These are all things that I look for in someone who is beamed into my home via one media or another.
Q: Do you feel like that shift — from being critical of all religions, including Islam, to being especially critical of Islam, specifically — is something we’re seeing elsewhere in the media?
A: Oh, yes. This is not just a problem with Bill Maher, it’s not just a problem with CNN or Fox News.
I think there is a general oversimplification [in American media] when it comes to the discourse about Islam and Muslims. And partly that has to do with the reality that in large parts of the Muslim world there are undeniable, unavoidable political/cultural/sectarian/religious conflicts that are saturating our television screens. So if you are just some average person watching the news on a regular basis, it’s not that difficult to draw a line between the violence that’s taking place in Syria and Iraq and the Muslim who lives across the street from you.
But Bill Maher isn’t the average person! [Laughs] He is a media personality, he’s intelligent, he’s humorous, he has a cultural significance — and so it’s surprising to see these kinds of unconsidered remarks from him; and more importantly, an inability to recognize how his rhetoric is coming across.
I want to be 100 percent clear about this: Bill Maher is not a bigot. I know him, I’ve hung out with him; he’s not a bigot. But the way that he talks about Islam is undeniably bigoted, and for him to just simply excuse that by saying, “I’m a liberal! We can’t be bigots!” is, I think, disingenuous. To put it in its simplest way, if you are constantly having to say, “I am not a bigot,” you might want to rethink [what you're saying].
Reza Aslan is the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.