On Friday, author and religious scholar Reza Aslan appeared on Fox News. The interview has been getting some attention over the weekend, and it isn’t hard to understand why once you start watching it. The whole thing is worth a look:
Aslan is promoting his recently released nonfiction book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which examines Jesus Christ’s legacy as a political insurgent. The book has generated some controversy and accusations of faith-based bias.
There are a lot of things wrong with the 10-minute FoxNews.com Live interview (conducted by Fox religion correspondent Lauren Green), none of which are perpetrated by Aslan. But the most damning part is toward the end, when Green says the following after several minutes of implying that Aslan’s own religious beliefs compromise the objectivity of his work:
I believe that you’ve been on several programs and have never disclosed that you were a Muslim.
(And in the interest of “full disclosure”—a term Green uses to justify her supposed outing of Aslan as a covert Muslim—I have interviewed Aslan on the subject of Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, a man Aslan said belonged “in an insane asylum.” I failed to disclose in that blog post that Aslan is a Muslim; I did, however, note that he is of Iranian descent. Mother Jones has also chatted with Aslan here.)
Green was echoing this piece published on FoxNews.com that claims the “liberal media” has failed to mention that Aslan is of the Islamic faith. Now, forget for a moment that Aslan’s personal religious beliefs and practices aren’t actually relevant to this conversation. (It’s about as relevant as asking why Green doesn’t use the beginning of every Fox segment she hosts to disclose that she was once the third runner-up in the 1985 Miss America competition.) The internet is chock-full of interviews with, articles written about, and works penned by Reza Aslan that “disclose” that he is a Muslim scholar. This is not a fact that he is shy about.
Furthermore, it is a spraining stretch to label Aslan as a hackish Muslim scholar devoid of objective reasoning. Whether you agree or disagree with him on major points of historical or religious debate, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that he is a thoughtful and humane thinker. For instance, here’s footage of him debating atheist author and neuroscientist Sam Harris in 2007 (in which Aslan does, incidentally, at one point take a dig at Fox News’ coverage of Muslims):
In the grand (or not-so-grand, even) scheme of things, this Aslan episode on Fox isn’t a landmark moment in anything. It was a poorly conducted interview, of which there are many. It was a moment in which a Fox News employee acted ridiculously while talking to or about Muslims, and that isn’t exactly new. But it does do more to highlight the widespread Google problem of right-wing hysteria: So much humiliation could be avoided if certain pundits and media personalities just devoted 10 seconds of their day to fiddling with this website—particularly if they want to learn about the folks they interview on highly-rated channels and websites.
I’ve reached out to Lauren Green for comment. I’ll update if she gets back to me.