What’s a Jew Like You Doing Writing a Book Like This?

by Corey Robin on July 28, 2013

Imagine a noted scholar of religion, who happened to be Jewish, writing a book on the historical Jesus. Then imagine him appearing on a television show, where he is repeatedly badgered with some version of the following question: “What’s a Jew like you doing writing a book like this? Raises questions, doesn’t it?” And now watch this interview with noted scholar Reza Aslan, who happens to be Muslim. Hard to escape the conclusion that Islam is the 21st century’s Jewish Question.

{ 172 comments }

1

Andreas Moser 07.28.13 at 5:03 pm

I am reading Reza Aslan’s “No god but God” and it is a very readable introduction into Islam.

2

Matt Stevens 07.28.13 at 5:08 pm

But Islam is different because [________________________], [__________], [_________________]. [Optional: 9/11, you liberals!]

There, just wrote the next 500 comments for you.

3

Random Lurker 07.28.13 at 5:35 pm

But Islam is different because, they actually acknowledge Jesus as one of their profets, so even theologically they might have something to say about him, I think.

However some years ago I witnessed on italian TV the weird spectacle of an italian Christian rightwinger politician lecturing some muslims on the interpretation of the Koran.
The muslims were quite offended by this.

4

diptherio 07.28.13 at 5:45 pm

Aaarrgghh, I couldn’t even finish that. Poor Reza! I guess this is why I don’t turn to Fox for my ‘news’.

The unstated assumption from the interviewer is that all books about religion (or religious history) must necessarily be proselytizing, either for or against. She assumes that because a Muslim has written a book about Jesus, it must be some sort of ‘debunking’ of Christianity. What she fails to understand is that many Christian scholars also deny the literal factuality of many of the biblical stories (e.g. the virgin birth). That is hardly a radical position in many mainstream Christian denominations (United Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Congregationalists) and is no longer seen as a attack on the legitimacy of the religion. In short, the interviewer made an ass out of herself, although I suppose the fundamentalist bible-thumpers who were watching were duly gratified.

Reza did a admirable job, all things considered, but like the old man said, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it think.”

5

Mao Cheng Ji 07.28.13 at 5:56 pm

I saw him on the daily show, and I got the impression that he is, in fact, a Christian.

6

Corey Robin 07.28.13 at 5:58 pm

He says on this clip that he’s Muslim.

7

P O'Neill 07.28.13 at 6:01 pm

eird spectacle of an italian Christian rightwinger politician lecturing some muslims on the interpretation of the Koran.

That’s just an average day on Faux News and The Corner. Andy McCarthy is an expert on Islam thanks to MEMRI translations of the Koran and his own determination through introspection of the meaning of the Muslim Brotherhood slogan “Islam is the solution.” Maybe Liz Cheney thinks the people of Wyoming aren’t up enough on the threat.

8

Marginal Annotation 07.28.13 at 7:29 pm

In an interview on Fresh Air, Reza Aslan told Terry Gross that he converted to Christianity as a teenager and then converted to Islam later as an adult.

My question would be addressed to Aslan’s logical sequence: (1) “crucifixion was reserved exclusively for political crimes” and (2) “Jesus was crucified”; Q.E.D. “Jesus was in political rebellion against Rome and therefore a Zealot.” But the history of modern empires is replete with examples (the Mau-Mau rebellion in Kenya, for one) where “political crimes” have been trumped up as an excuse to get rid of someone for some other offense. Aslan uses Pontius Pilate’s reputation for ruthless suppression of insurrection to buttress his argument, but it seems reasonable to think that a ruthless provincial administrator would have no compunctions about sacrificing someone who was before him for judgment on trumped up charges. I have not read the book, but the syllogism seems a bit too tidy, given the paucity of sources we have from that period and in light of the way political power habitually blurs the boundaries of judicial categories

9

Mao Cheng Ji 07.28.13 at 7:33 pm

Ah, so he’d converted back to Islam. It would’ve been more like the “Jewish Question” if he hadn’t: born a Muslim = not to be trusted.

10

Pierre Corneille 07.28.13 at 7:41 pm

Sadly, given the “news” network Mr. Aslan appeared on, I’m not surprised. Still, he handled himself well.

11

Christiaan 07.28.13 at 8:59 pm

If a Muslim can’t write about Jesus, why can FOX perform journalism? And I mean this seriously, because to me it seems that the purpose of journalism is completely inconsistent with the inherent nature of FOX.

12

Doctor Slack 07.28.13 at 9:00 pm

I was about to wonder why people even agree to go on Fox at this point. Or more precisely, why publicists book interviews with them. But then the question answered itself: why deliberately subject your author to the ridiculous, offensive shit you have to know is going to happen on Fox? Because then outlets outside of Fox will pick it up as this week’s sample of wingnut idiocy… and sell more copies of the book.

It’s depressing to realize that that’s probably the exact calculation going on. Couldn’t they just send review copies to blogs like CT instead, and cut out the middleman?

13

Chris Mealy 07.28.13 at 9:32 pm

At least Aslan wasn’t hit in the face.

14

GiT 07.28.13 at 9:39 pm

” Still, he handled himself well.”

I don’t know about that. He comes across as a self-satisfied prick – doubtless especially so to those who watch Fox. But that would fit Dr. Slack’s theory @12.

15

DrS 07.28.13 at 10:32 pm

But does he have a PhD?

16

Dr. Hilarius 07.28.13 at 10:39 pm

I don’t watch FOX (don’t have cable so no temptation) but did catch a clip a couple years ago of someone being interviewed on Fox News. Guest stopped the interview and said something to the effect of “This isn’t a real news program is it? What is this? Is this a comedy program?” The look on the anchors’ faces was priceless. Open ridicule is the only appropriate response to these idiots.

17

Main Street Muse 07.28.13 at 10:40 pm

At least she didn’t ask him about the Chronicles of Narnia (http://bit.ly/13fi2RM)

But she accuses him of hiding his faith from all the shows he’s been on. Apparently only Christians can write about Christ.

And let’s face it, Fox News is not an outlet that cares about scholarship.

18

David 07.28.13 at 11:01 pm

@14: And you come across as a useless git. What’s your point?

19

GiT 07.28.13 at 11:59 pm

What’s the point of saying he handled himself well?

There are much better ways to embarrass Fox broadcasters, or make the point that one’s religion need not have a determinative effect on one’s scholarship, than repeating over and over that you have a PhD and 3 degrees to the benighted masses.

20

anon 07.29.13 at 12:17 am

Corey wrote: “Imagine a noted scholar of religion, who happened to be Jewish, writing a book on the historical Jesus.”

Wasn’t one of the main characters of Wouk’s ‘The Winds of War’ just that person?

—-

Christiaan wrote: “because to me it seems that the purpose of journalism is completely inconsistent with the inherent nature of FOX.”

Yes. 100% true. Journalism these days is defined as ‘Speaking Truth to Power’.
FOX can be defined as ‘Are you kidding me? You actually watch FOX for
anything other than the Simpsons or sports?’

21

JimV 07.29.13 at 12:33 am

I also vote he handled himself about as well as one could versus that kind of attack. If somebody attacked some big project I had worked on in a non-sequitur, evidence-free way, my first thought would be to cite my qualifications and thereby invite comparison with those of the attackers. No doubt some people hearing that would feel I was egotistical, but what else can you do? The repetition could probably have been varied in some way to improve it – it is always better to think of different ways to say the same thing than to repeat the same thing, but in life, unlike dramatic screen-plays, one doesn’t always think of better ways to say things until much later that night. So, grading on the curve of how well I might have done in that situation I give him an A.

22

Main Street Muse 07.29.13 at 12:47 am

He handled himself well. I love that he noted it appeared the interviewer had not read the book, and she did not push back on that idea…

23

Salazar 07.29.13 at 12:56 am

A very peripheral point, but: Western commentators, religious or not, constantly lecture Muslims on the need for “moderation” and for acceptable leadership. On the other hand, it’s completely unthinkable for anyone in the United States to suggest Catholics should, say, switch their allegiance from the Pope to more socially and culturally progressive leaders – or to point out sexist or discriminatory passages in the Bible.

Small consolation: The controversy may well do wonders for Aslan’s book sales.

24

Ronan(rf) 07.29.13 at 12:56 am

I thought he was great, especially the PhD thing. I mean Mark Steyn is a Fox’s resident expert on Islam

25

CRossi 07.29.13 at 12:57 am

Joseph Klausner–Jewish scholar, candidate of the right-wing Herut (Freedom) Party (which merged with Likud) against Haim Weisman for President of Israel, professor of the Hebrew Literature Department at Hebrew University, and great uncle of Amos Oz the great Israeli novelist and co-founder of Shalom Achshav–wrote “Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching.” You can get a paperback copy for $1000.00+ from Amazon. This was, alas, before Fox News or conservative Christian victimology, but the religion survived.

26

Lou56 07.29.13 at 1:53 am

I agree Jesus was a zealot and I think that Rome should grant Snowden asylum until the world has a better grip on the destructiveness of fascism and how its rearing its ugly head again in courts with no judges and spying with no warrants. I used to think we should worry about FINRA now I worry about FISA.

27

mud man 07.29.13 at 2:10 am

“completely unthinkable for anyone in the United States to …. point out sexist or discriminatory passages in the Bible.”

….ROFL …

28

Fu Ko 07.29.13 at 3:04 am

I don’t think he came across as a self-satisfied prick at all. He mentioned that he had a PhD quite a few times, which did not sound good — however, it was more defensive than self-satisfied.

In any case, he was definitely not expecting that.

29

Tony Lynch 07.29.13 at 3:28 am

Is it not THE classic move to personalise things here – as too with Manning and Snowden etc. (and, also with Obama on Martin) – so as to derail the real issue?

30

Fu Ko 07.29.13 at 3:30 am

Btw, anon:

Fox != Fox News Channel. The former is not a right-wing outfit at all. It’s a conglomerate of TV stations and other media assets which Rupert Murdoch bought (did not build).

FNC, on the other hand, was custom-built by Murdoch. It makes a big difference.

31

Pierre Corneille 07.29.13 at 3:34 am

“What’s the point of saying he handled himself well?

“There are much better ways to embarrass Fox broadcasters, or make the point that one’s religion need not have a determinative effect on one’s scholarship, than repeating over and over that you have a PhD and 3 degrees to the benighted masses.”

Normally, I’d agree with you. I’ve known enough people with “PHD’s in history [or whatever subject]” to have grown weary.

But in this case, he was merely doing battle on the terms the FOX anchor had set up for him. She introduced a personal attack (he’s a Muslim!); he listed his personal authority and reminded her that people write about religions different from their own all the time. She (ahem) was mistaken about certain facts (e.g., people not knowing he was a Muslim, as if that’s relevant); he corrected those facts. She declined/refused to engage his actual argument(s); he called her out on not knowing the actual arguments.

Could he have done better? Maybe, if he had declined the invitation to an interview. But for the most part, the anchor’s question were of the “when did you stop beating your wife” type, that it’s impossible to answer forthrightly without conceding an untrue or invalid point.

So short of his agreeing to appear in the first place (and perhaps he was under certain obligations to his publisher to promote his book….I don’t know), I don’t see anything he did wrong.

32

Fu Ko 07.29.13 at 3:41 am

Tony, I don’t mean to derail anything. The fact that this kind of thing is apparently considered acceptable on national TV does demonstrate Corey’s point about Islam. However, it’s merely human (and I think not entirely a bad thing) to get into the drama of the situation and not focus entirely on what it says about society. Certainly, I’m hoping for a not guilty verdict for Manning for more reasons than the precedent it would set.

33

Meredith 07.29.13 at 5:04 am

Just to note that Aslan is correct that his religion is irrelevant to the arguments he makes as a scholar. The intersection of many disciplines in the study of early Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in the context of Mediterranean studies, often within the context provided by Classics, has been thriving in the last 20 or 30 years or so. (And has older antecedents.) Scholars, as scholars, don’t worry whether other scholars are of some particular religious tradition, or of none in particular.

But, to venture beyond the stupid strictures of this Fox interview, it does make a difference when a scholar, especially one with a “popular” profile, who “happens to be” Muslim (however complex his personal history on that score — aren’t personal histories always complex, especially on that score?) publishes a book about Jesus as a zealot — an old position, btw, though I don’t know what new angles Aslan may have contributed to this debate.

It makes a good difference, I should think. We attend with new interest, as we do when, say, a scholar who “happens to be” Catholic argues before Protestant feminists on behalf of birth control or abortion (I once heard a Jesuit scholar hold forth on the latter, over 30 years ago). Just as we, as scholars, learn from our colleagues who are of other religious traditions and backgrounds in more personal conversations that are simultaneously “scholarly.”

Which is to say, what’s objectionable in this Fox interview is the absence of the interviewer’s good will and curiosity. From my point of view, Aslan’s personal history does matter (though not in the way the Fox interviewer imagines), as does the discipline he has internalized as a scholar of religion.

34

Naadir Jeewa 07.29.13 at 7:20 am

I think it’s time to start labelling Fox News as the sectarian news outlet it really is. Something it ironically shares with Al Jazeera Arabic.

35

Andrew Smith 07.29.13 at 7:24 am

This doesn’t make me want to read his book, so whatever.

36

Plume 07.29.13 at 7:50 am

It was clever of Fox to have a “woman of color” doing the interviewing. Otherwise, it would be just one more case of Fox and the right assuming the “universal we” when it comes to the rights of whites to discuss whatever they want to. Currently, right wingers are falling all over themselves to be the most aggressive lecturers when it comes to what black people should do to avoid the next Zimmerman/Martin case. The universal we, which is close to a royal we, assumes that white males — especially Christian males, can say whatever they want to, write what ever studies they want to, describe, categorize, generalize and otherwise tell others what to do . . . but those “Others” have no business returning the favor.

So, Reza Aslan, a noted historian, is simply not allowed to write about Jesus, even though his ancestors were much closer to the historical Jesus than the vast majority of white male Christians in America. As in, the historical Jesus most probably looked a lot more like Aslan that Hannity or O’Reilly.

The assumption of the universal we is a blind one, of course. Any trip to any library will show the thousands of books by white Christian males on a host of other cultures, religions, philosophies, histories, etc. etc. . . . and it is assumed before hand that this is perfectly okay. But when the tables are turned, all too many white male Christians don’t like that, and they push back on that . . . and in this case, they used a black woman to do the pushing. They push back without stopping to think that they’ve been writing about people they had nothing in common with for centuries — ironically enough, including the historical Jesus.

Fox disgusts me.

37

Hidari 07.29.13 at 7:52 am

I note that everyone is trying to ignore the point of the OP by doing one of two things.

a: Pretending this is something to do with Fox News, as if the anti-Islamic screeds by ‘liberals’ such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne etc. are any better.

b: Ignoring the basic point of the OP, which is that Islamophobia is the anti-semitism de nos jours (many intellectual acrobatics are necessary to carry this out, for example, ignoring the fact that anti-semitism was originally dislike of Judaism as a religion, a hatred onto which 19th century pseudo-science was, so to speak, grafted. Also, ignoring the fact that ‘Jew’ is not a racial category, however much anti-semites might like it to be……there is no ‘race’ of ‘Jews’ (there is no ‘race’ of anyone). It is, predominantly, a religious category and this has always been true.)

38

Mark English 07.29.13 at 8:28 am

Why bring the Jews (and anti-Semitism) into this? The comparison is not helpful.

Anti-Semitism in Western countries (and elsewhere so far as I know) was focussed on the perceived ‘race’ of those targeted rather than the religion per se.

Controversies surrounding Islam, on the other hand, focus on the religion and associated cultural factors. Some sort of vague racism may come into it too, but not in the same way.

39

bad Jim 07.29.13 at 8:53 am

Wait, what? It isn’t race, but religion, no, it’s religion, not race.

Look, if race is an arbitrary cultural distinction it can certainly be applied to a religion, and there’s ample biblical justification for doing so. It wasn’t that long ago that Christendom was the common name for Europe; now we call people from that part of the world “white”.

Next thing you know they’ll deny that an average collective insanity of triathletes is a race.

40

Martin 07.29.13 at 9:06 am

Corey,

“Hard to escape the conclusion that Islam is the 21st century’s Jewish Question.”

What do you mean by this? Is the position of Muslims the same as the position of the Jews before? Are Muslims being put in camps, wearing symbols, and is their systematic destruction advocated? Alternatively, is there a history of pogroms being organized against Muslims? Are we talking about the massive re-location of the Muslims to somewhere outside of the “western world”?

The first question by the way is not rhetorical, honestly, what do you mean by bringing “Jews” into this? Why not the position of Catholics in times when Protestants were dominant in some countries? Why not the position of immigrants in many countries in the 1900s?

The sole thing in common between Islam and Judaism is that both are (also) a religion. You could also compare it to, “Why is a [Catholic/Protestant/Italian/Irish] like you, writing a book like this?”.

Why the Jews?

41

Hidari 07.29.13 at 9:06 am

“Why bring the Jews (and anti-Semitism) into this? The comparison is not helpful.”

Er….because that was the point of the original post?

“Hard to escape the conclusion that Islam is the 21st century’s Jewish Question”

“Look, if race is an arbitrary cultural distinction it can certainly be applied to a religion”.

Well yes and no. If you go to the Church/Mosque/Synagogue on a fairly regular basis, and self-identify as religious, then you are religious.

Whereas all racial categorisations, all of them, are 19th century pseudo-science.

42

Martin 07.29.13 at 9:17 am

“Er….because that was the point of the original post?”

Which is the point up for dispute. Why make that comparison in the OP?

43

Metatone 07.29.13 at 9:19 am

Think Hidari sums up the issues.

Question: has anyone here read the book?
Is it worth buying?

44

Mark English 07.29.13 at 9:35 am

Hidari

You quote me: “Why bring the Jews (and anti-Semitism) into this? The comparison is not helpful.” And then say: “Er….because that was the point of the original post?”

Actually my comment was addressed to the author of the original post, not to you. I had not seen your comment when I wrote mine.

The point is not whether Jews constitute a racial category (clearly they don’t) but whether anti-Semites typically saw them in these terms. I think they did, and well before the 19th century. (Medieval stereotypes, for example.)

45

ajay 07.29.13 at 9:45 am

Question: has anyone here read the book?
Is it worth buying?

Haven’t read it but the reviews haven’t been great. His previous stuff was apparently better…

46

Hidari 07.29.13 at 10:18 am

“The point is not whether Jews constitute a racial category (clearly they don’t) but whether anti-Semites typically saw them in these terms. I think they did, and well before the 19th century. (Medieval stereotypes, for example.)”

They didn’t, for the good reason that the entire concept of ‘race’ didn’t really exist until the 19th century (i.e. race as a biological phenomenon whose ‘existence’ could be ‘proved’ via ‘scientific methods’). All the medieval anti-semitism, the Russian pogroms, etc. etc. etc. was based explicitly and openly and wholly on Judaism as a religion. This didn’t even begin to change until the 18th century.

47

James Wimberley 07.29.13 at 10:40 am

Hidari in 46: an elaborate racial antisemitism was invented in Spain in the fifteenth century and formed a good part of the social and intellectual basis of the Spanish Inquisition. It was racial because the animus was directed not at Jews but conversos, the descendants of the many Jews who converted under threat in earlier pogroms – and continued in the unpopular but essential roles of their ancestors, like tax farming. Into the 18th century access to high-status positions in Spain depended on proof of limpieza de sangre, the absence of converso (and hence Jewish) ancestry.
Behjamin Netanyahu´s Origins of the Spanish Inquisition tells the incredible story. It´s heavy going but worth your money.

48

leederick 07.29.13 at 10:53 am

“Just to note that Aslan is correct that his religion is irrelevant to the arguments he makes as a scholar.”

No it isn’t. Fox, however accidentally, has got it absolutely right on this. The various ‘religious studies’ disciplines – bible studies, divinity, islamic studies, theology, etc – are the most corrupt and unscholarly area in academia (with the possible exception of law). It’s kinda amazing that if he had been into evolutionary psychology, or finance, or machine learning everyone would be taking a shot. No-one who doesn’t belief in mumbo jumbo would be interested in studying the life of Jesus, because the historical evidence is thin to non-existent. This is just an excuse to try a put a thin coat of credibility on their religious beliefs.

49

Metatone 07.29.13 at 11:05 am

@ajay – shame – “no god but god” was pretty interesting in 2005. (Didn’t read the new edition.)

50

Pierre Corneille 07.29.13 at 11:30 am

Meredith,

I pretty much agree with everything you said at comment 33, especially the part about the anchor not approaching the interview with good will. It would have been one thing to have asked, “how do you think your experience as a Muslim may have influenced your approach or may have presented challenges to you as you wrote this book?” Instead she asked the equivalent of “why is a Muslim like you writing a book about Christianity?”

51

Corey Robin 07.29.13 at 12:14 pm

Just dipping in here quickly. People seem to be under the mistaken impression that the Jewish Question is peculiar either to Nazism (hence the reference to death camps above) or proto-Nazi racialized anti-Semitism or to the long history of anti-Judaism as such, from the Romans to the Inquisition to the Nazis. It’s none of these things. It’s both more specific and more general: a problem that emerges in Europe sometime around late 18th century/early 19th century in reference to European societies that are coming under the sway of Enlightenment ideals but that find the particularity and otherness of the Jews to be a problem (for different reasons). Remember, Bruno and Bauer and Marx: the question was whether and how the Jews could be emancipated after the French Revolution, whether they should be granted basic civil and political rights, etc. Nothing there about camps or expulsion (though quite a bit about the idea of eliminating the Jew as a category, along with religion). Later the Jewish Question takes a more racist (as Hidari points out above) and then genocidal turn. In general, the point is that the Jew had become the irretrievable other of Europe, a problem by virtue of his being (whether that being was thought to be a religion, an ethnicity, or a race), someone who by virtue of being who he was, could not partake of the normal activities of citizens, cultural agents (see Wagner on Judaism in music), and the like. When this interview in this segment asks Aslan repeatedly why (and how) he, as a Muslim, is writing on Jesus, it was hard for me not to hear Wagner saying that Jews could not write music. It’s the notion that his being Muslim consumes his very being, which is why his protestations that he has a PhD and is a historian fall on deaf ears. She almost literally can’t hear him b/c all she’s thinking is “Jew, Jew, Jew,” er, “Muslim, Muslim, Muslim.”

52

Corey Robin 07.29.13 at 12:20 pm

Sorry, that “Bruno and Bauer and Marx” (sounds like a law firm!) should have read “Bruno Bauer and Marx”.

53

Kalkaino 07.29.13 at 1:13 pm

Does anybody know the name of Fox’s interviewer? A gem-quality psychopath like that is worth keeping an eye on.

54

Pub Editor 07.29.13 at 1:30 pm

“Have you been injured in a workplace accident? Bruno Bauer & Marx, PLLC is here to help. Call today for a free consultation. Bruno Bauer & Marx. You have nothing to lose but your claims.”

55

Fu Ko 07.29.13 at 2:00 pm

The anti-Islamic “screeds” by the anti-religion crowd are an interesting phenomenon, but not at all the same as Christian Islamophobia. Dawkins literally calls all religious parents — including Christians — abusive for raising their children in a religion. However, the atheist authors get their best publicity and greatest public support when they attack Islam. For them, the temptation is always to tone down the attacks on everyone else, to make everything specific to Islam; e.g., to blame religious indoctrination for terrorism with great fanfare, but decline to blame religion for gung-ho war hawk stances in the USA, or at most do it in a footnote.

56

Salazar 07.29.13 at 2:01 pm

@Kalkaino: Lauren Green. FNC lists her online as its religion correspondent.

57

marcel 07.29.13 at 2:02 pm

“bruno and bauer and marx”

not so much a law firm as something to scare the children with:

Bruno and Bauer and Marx, oh my!
Bruno and Bauer and Marx, oh my!

If I were king of Hegelians,…

58

Eszter Hargittai 07.29.13 at 2:08 pm

Yup, saw this posted in my FB newsfeed by 5-6 people, very unfortunate indeed.

But I’m with Martin on the confusing angle here. Even after reading the comment in #51 I’m left with “WTF, Corey?”.

59

bjk 07.29.13 at 2:23 pm

The initial question is perfectly reasonable. If the question was, “Why do you, as a vegetarian, want to write about meat eating?” that would also be reasonable. Godwin’s law doesn’t apply here because the OP beats us to it. Aslan doesn’t answer the question. He says that it’s his professional responsibility, but Wikipedia says he is a creative writing professor. He could have said, “As a Muslim, I want to explore our shared heritage,” or “As a seeker, I wanted to find the truth in Jesus message.” But he didn’t. He went straight to listing his degrees, which is never a good move.

60

Anderson 07.29.13 at 2:24 pm

You can imagine what the interview did to the Amazon reviews; the bar graph for the star ratings looks like the letter C.

(Flipped through the book in the library before I heard about the interview, and it seemed like a typical effort in an unprofitable genre. For instance, he trots out that it was almost unthinkable for an adult Jew like Jesus not to be married. But we can’t infer much from that, because if we know anything about Jesus, it’s that Jesus was weird. Most pop books on Jesus, IMHO, suffer from that kind of doomed effort to fill in the blanks. The E.P. Sanders “historical Jesus” book may be as good as one can do.)

61

Doctor Slack 07.29.13 at 2:29 pm

Heh, comment 38: Why bring the Jews (and anti-Semitism) into this? The comparison is not helpful.

CT should consider giving out a Nostradamus Award for entirely correct predictions of tiresome conversational gambits in a thread. Matt Stevens at #2 could be the first recipient!

Anti-Semitism in Western countries (and elsewhere so far as I know) was focussed on the perceived ‘race’ of those targeted rather than the religion per se.

The two things weren’t separable. Jews were attacked both out of the vague notion of their constituting a separate tribe and out of vague and caricatural notions of the religion this tribe was supposed to practice. Pace Hidari, I think it’s right to say that it was a form of proto-racism going (at least) well back into the middle ages.

Controversies surrounding Islam, on the other hand, focus on the religion and associated cultural factors. Some sort of vague racism may come into it too

May come into it?! Richly amusing stuff.

The normal run of “controversies surrounding Islam” is based on “some sort of vague racism.” The same kind of vague racism — which tends to imagine the Middle East as an indistinct brown smear of Cursed Moors and Saracens — that used to openly use the terms sand-nigger and raghead but has since worked out that at least in mainstream media contexts it needs to be a bit more subtle. The gestures toward “the religion and associated cultural factors” are mostly an excuse for indulging this racism; that’s why the dealers in this kind of controversy such as you’ll see on Fox News (and in other outlets besides) are manifestly incurious and profoundly ignorant about Islamic religion or any of the actual cultures and politics associated with it. Except of course (for the “scholars” among them) as they might appear in cartoon / funhouse form through MEMRI.

If you actually consult the history of anti-Semitism and controversy around the “religious and cultural factors” associated with it, you’ll find we’ve seen this movie before. There was even an associated go-to political excuse: “Jewish Communism” in (increasingly) yesteryear, “Islamic Terrorism” today. (And of course there were actual Jewish Communists, who were used as an excuse to portray Judaism itself as a vast existential threat to Western civilization. I leave the parallels to present-day “Clash of Civilizations” bullshitting for you to work out.)

62

LFC 07.29.13 at 3:00 pm

I’m not sure the last line of the OP, backed up just by the link to Anne Norton’s book, is altogether convincing. When I listen to the interviewer, I don’t hear Wagner saying “Jews can’t write music” b.c what Wagner presumably meant was that Jews lacked the creativity to write music. The interviewer here isn’t saying that so much as “Why would you, as a Muslim, want to write about Jesus, or: aren’t you biased b/c you are a Muslim?” She sees Islam and Christianity as inherent opponents, hence her dumb analogy later on to a Democrat writing about Reagan. It’s a very silly (and indeed rather offensive) line of questioning, but it’s not quite like Wagner on Jews.

Btw I watched most of the interview (till about 8:40 or so). The only really interesting moment — to me, at any rate — is around 6:00, where Aslan says that crucifixion was a punishment for political crimes in the Roman world and mentions that the “thieves” crucified w Jesus were not thieves but ‘bandits,’ i.e. insurrectionists. That is probably pretty common knowledge, but if I had known it I’d forgotten.

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LFC 07.29.13 at 3:09 pm

bjk @59
Aslan doesn’t answer the question.

Actually he does answer it, albeit briefly, a minute or so in, when he says he’s been “obsessed” with Jesus for decades.

64

bjk 07.29.13 at 3:15 pm

That’s just restating the question.

65

politicalfootball 07.29.13 at 3:23 pm

The initial question is perfectly reasonable. If the question was, “Why do you, as a vegetarian, want to write about meat eating?” that would also be reasonable.

Others have pointed out, correctly, that Aslan’s religious beliefs are relevant to a good-faith inquiry about his scholarship – something that Aslan himself acknowledged. But (as others have also said here) Fox wasn’t engaged in a good faith inquiry. Aslan’s religious beliefs were being used to suggest that he couldn’t legitimately inquire on the subject of historical Jesus. How is that anything other than bigoted horseshit?

The questioner literally compared him to a Democrat writing about Reagan, as though there would be something wrong with that. This shows a remarkable misunderstanding about the purpose and practice of scholarship, and Aslan was entirely correct in reminding her that scholars are engaged in a different practice than Fox News. I’m not sure I see how Aslan could have conducted himself any better. Scholars should be ashamed of their academic credentials? Maybe that’s how to win over a Fox audience, but how is a Muslim ever going to win over a Fox audience without spouting anti-Muslim bigotry?

Non-rhetorical question: Are the right-wing web sites trumpeting this clip as a victory over dhimmitude, or whatever?

66

Jim Harrison 07.29.13 at 3:41 pm

Scholarship is a life way; and if you haven’t experienced it, you’re bound to have a hard time understanding what scholarly people are saying even if you know what each of their words mean. You get the lyrics, but can’t follow the tune. Anybody who’s familiar with debates about the historical Jesus knows that whatever conclusions you come to yourself, the matter is always going to be obscure and that, more generally, it’s damned hard to find things out. Ideology is so much easier than learning.

Obviously bias is a problem that never goes away, but it’s a different problem for people who have personal experience with what trying to be objective is like. Many of those listening to Riza don’t really believe in the possibility of disinterested inquiry. It’s like talking about colors to somebody who’s color blind, except that most people aren’t color blind and the color blind don’t control their own cable network.

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chris 07.29.13 at 3:42 pm

crucifixion was a punishment for political crimes in the Roman world

I don’t doubt this, but wasn’t it commonplace in the ancient world (in Rome and elsewhere) to consider religious issues political and vice versa? IIRC, one of the early steps in Julius Caesar’s career was pontifex maximus. I’m not sure the Romans would have drawn a line between political and religious insurrections, so the idea of Jesus being a political prisoner is not at all inconsistent with him being prosecuted as a heretic.

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chris 07.29.13 at 3:44 pm

It’s like talking about colors to somebody who’s color blind, except that most people aren’t color blind and the color blind don’t control their own cable network.

Also, the colorblind generally don’t believe that color is a hoax, so if they did have a cable network, they probably wouldn’t use it to rail against the great chromatic conspiracy.

69

carbon dated 07.29.13 at 3:45 pm

@Fuko #55

“Dawkins literally calls all religious parents — including Christians — abusive for raising their children in a religion.”

Not exactly. What he said was that forcing religion on children on children uncritically was abusive. Specifically, he decried the clannish identification of children (not unlike the ones being discussed in this thread): ‘What a child should never be taught is that you are a Catholic or Muslim child, therefore that is what you believe. That’s child abuse.’

And he’s right.

70

Mao Cheng Ji 07.29.13 at 3:52 pm

“If the question was, “Why do you, as a vegetarian, want to write about meat eating?” that would also be reasonable. “

He’s not writing about meat-eating. He is not even writing about meat. He is writing about the cow.

71

Northern Observer 07.29.13 at 3:56 pm

The analogy falls down because Muslims and Jews are very different politically, socially and theologically, both as themselves and as illusions perceived in the West be it currently or historically. What is more interesting is that Jews can and do produce solid studies on Christian Theology and Christology that are compatible with orthodox Christian perspectives. I have yet to see a Muslim scholar do the same, in that the political or theological requirements of Arabs/Islam are ever present in their work in a way that is not true of modern Jewish academics. Reza’s work is no different. He may be polite and photogenic while his Fox host is rude but that doesn’t change the nature of his thesis which is a simple philo-islamic interpretation of the life of Christ couched in the language of secularism. He is more than allowed to do this, but the political nature of his argument should be noted.

72

Spinoza 07.29.13 at 4:23 pm

Pamela Geller succeeds in making Fox look reasonable: http://www.wnd.com/2013/07/jesus-vs-muhammad-scholarship-vs-propaganda/

Don’t bother actually to read the link. It will do you no good.

73

Mooser 07.29.13 at 4:36 pm

When we are talking about “Jews” here, are we talking about that diverse group of people who are reputed to share the religion Judaism, or are we talking about the group of people who have invaded and taken over Palestine, called Zionists, who also claim to be Jewish? Cause there are vast diufferences between the two in terms of the argument being made here.

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otpup 07.29.13 at 4:42 pm

@carbon (69) Although this is off topic and probably contributing to thread proliferation, speaking as an atheist child of religious parents, I think the abusiveness can stem from the inflicting of the parents own existential angst (as well as their preferred method of self-medication) on children, usually at an inappropriate age for such things. The self-medicating theme is common to the New Atheists (though I think in general they are polemicists, not especially thoughtful or sophisticated, and often Islamophobic) and on this they have it right.

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Andrew Burday 07.29.13 at 4:45 pm

I found Corey’s framing appropriate and helpful. It emphasizes how Muslims in the West are often treated as an alien presence to be dealt with, rather than citizens and subjects with ideas and voices. The comparison is inexact, as all comparisons must be — most notably, nineteenth century Judaism did not have over a billion followers elsewhere in the world — and perhaps we could have an interesting discussion of that. We also probably could have an interesting discussion about comparisons between contemporary attitudes to Islam in the West and past Protestant attitudes to Catholics (and vice versa). None of that makes Corey’s framing wrong or unhelpful.

I want to raise one small objection to 51. Granted that the rights and opportunities that Corey is discussing were almost entirely reserved to men and the discussion then took “the Jew” to be male, still Jewish women were very much included in the Jewish Question. Our discussion should reflect that.

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politicalfootball 07.29.13 at 4:59 pm

It’s like talking about colors to somebody who’s color blind,

I don’t even see color.

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LFC 07.29.13 at 5:10 pm

chris @67
I don’t doubt this, but wasn’t it commonplace in the ancient world (in Rome and elsewhere) to consider religious issues political and vice versa?
No doubt at least to some extent, but I’m the wrong person to answer this (paging N. Morley); I was just repeating what Aslan said re crucifixion.

I see that diptherio @4 already made the same basic pt I made at @62 about the interviewer’s attitude and assumptions. Diptherio: “The unstated assumption from the interviewer is that all books about religion (or religious history) must necessarily be proselytizing, either for or against.” Yes. That’s probably 80-90 percent of the problem w/ the interview.

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adam.smith 07.29.13 at 5:18 pm

I’m with the people who think the Jewish angle on this is bizarre/distracting, and I think Corey’s “well I was thinking of 19th century Jewish question, how was I supposed to predict that people were going to think of the Nazis” rationale is even more bizarre. If you make an analogy for public consumption, you can’t just remove the most pertinent connotation.

Also, I have to say that I have about as much compassion for someone who voluntarily gives an interview on Fox News and gets terrible, offensive questions than for someone who goes into a sauna and finds it terribly hot. Some people enjoy sitting on wood & sweating, some people apparently enjoy sparring with the anchors as Fox who are as predictably offensive and dumb as a sauna is hot. Maybe he did it for sales (and if that was his angle it was most certainly successful, with every outlet from Slate, to FB, to CT covering this).

79

Hidari 07.29.13 at 5:26 pm

@47 “Behjamin Netanyahu´s Origins of the Spanish Inquisition tells the incredible story. It´s heavy going but worth your money.”

Netanyahu (father of that other Netanyahu) is coming at things from a very specific ideological angle. For example, he has stated that “The tendency to conflict is the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won’t allow him to compromise. It doesn’t matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetual war” suggesting that biological Old Skool racism is a subject he has a more than academic interest in.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benzion_Netanyahu

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Kaveh 07.29.13 at 5:54 pm

@47 James Wimberly: It’s like you’re telling a revisionist history of the Inquisition where it was directed solely at Jews, and didn’t care at all about Muslims. Like, the Kingdom of Granada was a Jewish state or something? The category of “conversos” include converted Muslims as well as Jews, so to say that racialization of Jewishness goes back to the Inquisition when Christians were ranked based on having/not having Jewish heritage is a rather strange retelling of the event. But I think it speaks to exactly the kind of mindset that Corey is arguing for in the post. All these “wtf” reactions sound a lot like “what could my people/ancestors have to do with those people?”, or at least I can’t think of any better explanation for why the Inquisition should be misremembered this way.

81

PGD 07.29.13 at 6:12 pm

76: sure, but that doesn’t change the racialist elements of the Spanish Inquisition. Racism goes back a long, long way, it’s certainly not a purely modern phenomenon. Check out the Old Testament if you want racism thousands of years earlier — what else is the curse of Ham (and the genocide of the canaanites) but racism? The curse is carried in blood from the patriarch of the tribe; sounds pretty racial to me.

I think Corey is right about an ‘Islamic problem’ emerging for modern secular states that has some similarities to the ‘Jewish problem’ of the 18th-19th century. But the ‘secular state’ problem of fundamentalist Islam is related to this. Much of Islam does not accept the basic premises of a secular, non-religious state. I think this is basically legitimate actually, as the secular state is a recent historical development and many currently secular states, like Britain, evolved out of explicitly religious states; Islam is not being left free to find its own way to a similar evolution. Furthermore, anti-Islamists do not recognize or credit the forms of inter-religious tolerance that existed within the framework of traditional Islamic states.

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Mao Cheng Ji 07.29.13 at 6:41 pm

“Much of Islam does not accept the basic premises of a secular, non-religious state.”

This gets repeated a lot, but what does it mean, exactly? True Believers of most religions (and some secular creeds) do not accept the basic premises of a liberal state. I don’t think this is something Islam-specific.

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politicalfootball 07.29.13 at 6:52 pm

Also, I have to say that I have about as much compassion for someone who voluntarily gives an interview on Fox News and gets terrible, offensive questions than for someone who goes into a sauna and finds it terribly hot.

Also women who walk alone at night who are attacked. They were asking for it.

84

Ronan(rf) 07.29.13 at 6:54 pm

“Much of Islam does not accept the basic premises of a secular, non-religious state. “

This book (reviewed here)

http://sonmedialab.sdsu.edu/~akuru/docs/Are_Muslims_Distinctive.pdf

Is the most convincing analysis I’ve seen as to how distinctive Muslim majority societies actually are
In the context of western Muslims, I don’t think it makes much sense to talk about what ‘Islam’ accepts. Religious beliefs mean different things to different people, they manifest themselves in different ways in different enviornments. There can’t be any singular ‘Islam’ any more than there can be a ‘European Muslim’. Evidence shows that ‘Muslims’, by and large and particularly across generations, do assimilate into western countries and accept its secular nature. The ‘issues’ that get blown out of proportion are general problems that affect most first generation immigrant communities, except they’ve become politicised and smothered in nonsense
Contra the OP, immigration into Europe has worked very well, thank you very much, despite the usual bellyaching from the far right and Manichean progressives

85

Shatterface 07.29.13 at 6:56 pm

Imagine a noted scholar of religion, who happened to be Jewish, writing a book on the historical Jesus.

I believe Matthew, Mark, Luke and John might have been Jewish. Rumour is Christ himself might have dabbled.

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PGD 07.29.13 at 6:56 pm

82: I agree, what happened over the Reformation, the wars of religion, and the Enlightenment was that the role of Christianity in the state was pushed back. That process involved lots of violence. I tried to refer to that in the last couple of sentences in 81. I don’t know the history of Islam well enough to talk about the presence or absence of such processes in Islam, at various times states in Islamic nations have demonstrated plenty of tolerance of other religions, and Arab nationalism established secular states across the ME. But the current fundamentalist movement seems to call for an explicitly religious state

87

GiT 07.29.13 at 6:58 pm

“ow was I supposed to predict that people were going to think of the Nazis” rationale is even more bizarre. If you make an analogy for public consumption, you can’t just remove the most pertinent connotation.”

How is ‘the Nazis!’, “the most pertinent connotation” of a subject of numerous treatises and popular debate from the late 19th century into the early 20th, like all the other “questions” (the labor question, the social question) proper to the idiom of the time? When I hear “Jewish question” I don’t think Nazis, I think Marx’s essay, and the general popular debate of which it was a piece.

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Akshay 07.29.13 at 7:27 pm

The comparison between anti-semitism and far-right islamophobia is apt because of the similarities between their belief systems. A quick google got me this comparison by Colm O Broin between a standard US wingnut and der Stuermer. The islamophobic comments are instantly recognisable for the contemporary EU far right as well. (And Philip Weiss points out that Islamophobia is as widespread and acceptable as anti-semitism once was.)

Contemporary, ideological islamophobia sees “Islam” as a homogenous, implacable, existential threat to Our Civilisation, which can not be reasoned with. Such beliefs are a road to Hell. We have seen that all too often. More specifically, it is the placing of muslims outside the possibility of dialogue and reason, which you see in the video. If you do that to people you have a perceived conflict with, what options are left?

You may respond that European and American Islamophobia is milder, it has not (yet) led to pogroms or mass exterminations. It has merely lent some support to wars, occupations and the legalisation of torture for people named Mohamed. But are we then supposed to wait until the fascists start goose-stepping down the streets and rounding up their hapless victims before fighting them? For only then will we have proof that they were, indeed, on a slippery slope?

I agree it might well be the case that all forms of racism share structural similarities, so there is nothing surprising about the similarities between virulent anti-semitism and virulent islamophobia. Or perhaps there is a closer than usual historical link, via European right-extremism. Whatever the answer, it is still useful to replace “Muslim” with “Jew” when you hear your local fascist spout islamophobic venom, simply to remind yourself who you are dealing with.

89

LFC 07.29.13 at 7:27 pm

PGD @81
Much of Islam does not accept the basic premises of a secular, non-religious state. I think this is basically legitimate actually, as the secular state is a recent historical development and many currently secular states, like Britain, evolved out of explicitly religious states; Islam is not being left free to find its own way to a similar evolution.
I’m not sure *exactly* when I’d date the origins of ‘the secular state’, but roughly a couple of centuries old (at least). And part of the reason Islam cannot “find its own way to a similar evolution” in quite the way Christianity did is precisely that the world-historical context is now different. (I know that’s both pompous and telegraphic, but I don’t have time to elaborate, sorry.)

as to Mao Cheng Ji @82: in the contemp. world, it *is* a particular problem for (at least parts of) Islam. Not to recognize that is sort of ostrich-like, istm.

90

CSC 07.29.13 at 7:31 pm

Aslan is a very successful brand and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he set up the Fox interview himself in the expectation of this (easily predictable) kind of questioning. (The guy does run two media companies Aslan Media and Boomgen Studios, after all.) As adam.smith @78 has already noted, it’ll do wonders for his sales.

91

Win 07.29.13 at 7:42 pm

I found the interview unfortunate. The interviewer starts off interested in why he would write this book, given his faith. He might have answered that his faith does not exhaust his range of interests, and that is not inimical to a sympathetic and fair reading of history. (He certainly would have been right, and he might have added his prior experience with Christianity, though I suppose that would have been cited as a reason he would be disaffected and unfair.) Instead, he answers that he is expertly qualified to write and does so because it’s just what those in his job do. “I am a scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament . . . I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions . . . I am a professor of religions, including the New Testament–that’s what I do for a living, actually . . . To be clear, I want to emphasize one more time, I am a historian, I am a Ph.D. in the history of religions.” As others have observed, this is a little misleading in terms of the relevance of his degrees and his academic post (http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/07/29/scholarly-misrepresentation/); I think a viewer would probably have assumed that his doctorate was in the history of religions and his post was in the same field, as opposed to creative writing. Regardless, would’ve been better — and done more for others not amassing degrees and sinecures of uncertain relevance — if he had stood on the legitimacy of his perspective and the quality of the work itself.

92

Philip 07.29.13 at 7:44 pm

Okay when I first think of the Jewish question I think of ghettos, progroms and the holocaust. It doesn’t take much extra thought to see that Corey is getting at how Jews/Muslims are seen as others, scapegoated, and questioned as to how much they should participate in society and have their voices heard.

“Much of Islam does not accept the basic premises of a secular, non-religious state.” This quote seems to be making a gross generalisation and I’m not sure what it means. Islamic states do accept that states base themselves on secular premises, it would be stupid not too. I assume that PGD meant that Islamic states don’t accept the prinicpals for themselves as that would make sense with the rest of his post. In my experience Muslims in the UK accept that they live in a nominally Christian state and live peaceful and law abiding lives. The quote also seems similar to the kind of rhetorical move to frame Muslims as outsiders e.g. ‘they want to impose Sharia law in the UK.’

93

politicalfootball 07.29.13 at 7:50 pm

More specifically, it is the placing of muslims outside the possibility of dialogue and reason, which you see in the video.

In fairness to Fox, it also places Christians and, ultimately, everybody else outside the possibility of dialogue and reason. (You’re a Democrat writing about Reagan? What can you possibly contribute?)

94

Anderson 07.29.13 at 7:53 pm

where Aslan says that crucifixion was a punishment for political crimes in the Roman world and mentions that the “thieves” crucified w Jesus were not thieves but ‘bandits,’ i.e. insurrectionists.

The “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” posted on the cross also ties in. That seems quite possibly historical, given that the gospels feel the need to include it and explain it (away).

95

Pub Editor 07.29.13 at 8:03 pm

Shatterface @ 85: “I believe Matthew, Mark, Luke and John might have been Jewish.”

How sure are you about Luke on that score?

96

Pub Editor 07.29.13 at 8:04 pm

(Not that it’s really that important for the larger issue.)

97

Mao Cheng Ji 07.29.13 at 8:09 pm

” But the current fundamentalist movement seems to call for an explicitly religious state”

That’s what fundamentalist movements usually do. Regardless of the denomination.

” in the contemp. world, it *is* a particular problem for (at least parts of) Islam. Not to recognize that is sort of ostrich-like, istm.”

I don’t think so. Groups of people that feel oppressed, attacked, and humiliated tend to unite based on some common characteristic. Religion, ethnicity, skin color, socioeconomic class. This is how movements arise. Islam is as good a characteristic as any other. But that’s a symptom, not the cause.

98

Z 07.29.13 at 8:18 pm

I wonder if this is a question of biography (intellectual or actual) but I would expect the words “Jewish question” to evoke the intellectual and social debates (on assimilation of Jewish populations in the emerging nation states) of the 19th century rather than Nazi policies (and the latter to be an explicit play on the word on the former, just as the final solution of the Jewish question was a common phrase meaning Zionism). Indeed, it was treated as a fairly important point of western Europe history in the curriculum I followed. So I’m with Corey Robin on that side. Reading the comment thread, it seems to me that perhaps predominantly American readers do not make the same association.

99

Ronan(rf) 07.29.13 at 9:05 pm

But it’s not a question of how to assimilate an indigenous group into a new national identity, but one of how to assimilate immigrants into already formed, developed nations
The framing doesn’t really make sense when there are so many other more relevant ways to frame it, so it’s not surprising that some might initially think ‘Nazi Germany’. To my mind that is what the OP was, in part, trying to conjure up

100

adam.smith 07.29.13 at 9:05 pm

“Also women who walk alone at night who are attacked. They were asking for it.”

Talking about bad analogies… In case you really don’t get it: Not agreeing to an interview on FoxNews has exactly zero impact on your freedom. As opposed to sexual assault, it really only takes a simple “no,” which you can communicate from the safe distance of your phone or computer. Given the US’s free speech standards, the crazies have a right to their TV and radio shows and no needs to participate in them.

As for comparing anti-semitism and islamophobia, I just don’t see how that degree of lumping makes any sense. I completely agree that islamophobia is a problem, real, and cause for alarm. But there are just so many ways in which this doesn’t fit: The size of the group (~17m vs. ~500m), the existence of islamic nation states, the history of the groups in Western countries (centuries vs. mostly recent immigrants) their socio-economic status (taking 19/20th century jews: highly educated and many upper middle class vs. mostly lower-class in Europe and lower-middle class in the US), differences related to looks (one of the fears about Jews was that they were able to “pass” too easily – hence the yellow stars – whereas islamophobes think they can “spot” muslims (and if anything are against clear visual markers, cf. anti-headscarf/burka campaigns etc.), different views on converts (jewish converts to Christianity/no religion were viewed with suspicion, Islamic converts are celebrated, especially when they criticize islam) etc. etc. etc.

So I just don’t see what the comparison adds that wouldn’t have been true for dozens of other minorities subject to racist discrimination. Yellow Peril, Jim Crow, anti-Catholicism etc. And as for the Jewish Question – sure there are the Marx and Bauer books, but there is also – and someone who spends as much time involved in close readings of texts as Corey does cannot possibly have missed that – the Final Solution of the Jewish Question. So yeah, I think if you bring up the Jewish Question in the context of racism, you are making cheap emotional points with holocaust annotations and I think that’s stupid.

101

adam.smith 07.29.13 at 9:08 pm

And I’m German, not American and “Die Endlösung der Judenfrage” for me – and any other German I know, most certainly doesn’t mean Zionism.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Solution_to_the_Jewish_Question
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endl%C3%B6sung_der_Judenfrage

102

Plume 07.29.13 at 9:14 pm

One of the greatest scholars on the historical Jesus is the Jewish historian Geza Vermes — whom I’ve read. I wonder what the interviewer would have said about his work. If there is this supposed conflict between Muslim and Christian, when it comes to interpretations of the historical Jesus, why would Christians also not see this in a Jew writing a history of Jesus? As that Jew would presumably start with the premise that Jesus, a Jewish apocalyptic preacher who did not see himself as divine, was not “the Christ”. Jesus preached about the coming kingdom of God in his own time, not in some vague future moment to be determined later — which all but destroys the premise for Christianity anyway. A Jewish scholar would presumably have no less a conflict with the Christian vision of Jesus than a Muslim.

I doubt Fox would ever raise these issues with a Jewish scholar. Its biases and those of its audience would not allow it.

103

Substance McGravitas 07.29.13 at 9:24 pm

Jesus is certainly a big enough deal in Islam to keep writing books about him, but I guess Aslan didn’t want to go that route on Fox. It’s too bad, because it seems obvious that the interviewer didn’t know that.

104

L 07.29.13 at 9:35 pm

It’s an insane set of questions. And it’s prompted by this very bizarre far right Islamophobia that I’m sure is both infuriating and unnerving to be targeted by.

I think the point he was making in asserting his credentials is a point about the type of book he was writing and his purpose in writing it. A more educative way to do this would be to explain there are faith-based books about Jesus (or other religious ideas and figures) and there are scholarly books and his book is a scholarly book. It might even be worth mentioning that if your orientation is faith, the scholarly book may seem to challenge your faith because it is looking at the issue from a non-faith based perspective. But that is not the purpose of scholarly literature–it’s not intended as an attack on faith. It simply leaves faith aside and looks through the lens of history, archaeology, etc. (Of course, such books can completely undermine faith. But that is not their purpose.)

The Reagan question–which was nuts–might have provided a nice teaching moment about the issue of objectivity and bias and historical perspective. It’s possible someone who doesn’t love Reagan would actually write a better book about Reagan.

About 10% of Fox Viewership would be willing to understand some of the distinctions he was trying to make when referring to his educational background (which could be better made in another way) but it might be worth reaching that 10%. It would be very difficult to take up the opportunity to instruct them under the barrage of crazy questions that he was facing however.

Fox is full of garbage but I (maybe naively) believe there are some people who mistakenly watch Fox for information and the only good reason I could think of for going on Fox would be to address those people. We can say that ‘they’ are absolutely incapable of understanding anything, they are idiots or a lost cause. There’s no diversity among their viewership, there’s not latent intelligence you can reach, etc. If you believe that, then it makes no sense to go on Fox. But it’s a very disheartening thing to believe.

105

Meredith 07.29.13 at 9:54 pm

SG @103: “Jesus is certainly a big enough deal in Islam to keep writing books about him, but I guess Aslan didn’t want to go that route on Fox. It’s too bad, because it seems obvious that the interviewer didn’t know that.”

And too bad that Aslan didn’t take it there (I’m not ready to criticize him — just too bad). An opportunity to flummox the interviewer and educate the audience.

106

Corey Robin 07.29.13 at 10:31 pm

Regardless of what connotations “the Jewish Question” may or may not have to individual commenters — and the testimony among the commenters here suggests there is no unanimity on this issue — it is simply not the case that it refers exclusively to the Nazis.

I just in fact looked up “The Jewish Question” on Wikipedia, and it doesn’t even bring up the Nazis until the third paragraph. And while it does say that the Nazis were the most infamous instance of this issue, the entry quite helpfully explains that “the term ‘Jewish Question’ was first used in Great Britain in around 1750. According to Holocaust scholar Lucy Dawidowicz, the term ‘Jewish Question, as introduced in western Europe, was a neutral expression for the negative attitude toward the apparent and persistent singularity of the Jews as a people against the background of the rising political nationalisms and new nation-states.”

The Wikipedia entry also states: “The Jewish question was the name given to a wide-ranging debate in European society pertaining to the appropriate status and treatment of Jews in society. The debate involved the civil, legal and national status of Jews as a minority within society, particularly in Europe. The debate started within societies, politicians and writers in western and central Europe influenced by the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution. The issues included the legal and economic Jewish disabilities, equality, Jewish emancipation and Jewish Enlightenment.”

I myself thought first of Bauer and Marx, as I said, and I assumed many readers here would as well (as indeed many have), given our shared background and interest in political theory. If I were the only person here to have thought of the issue in the context that I did think of it, I might be willing to rethink my usage (even though I’d be perfectly justified in doing so; again, I recommend the Wikipedia entry). But since enough people had the same interpretation as I did, I feel okay with it.

107

Win 07.29.13 at 10:43 pm

I just watched the interview again. Although I disliked the appeal to credentials (or, for that matter, the defense of the book’s merits by referring to the length of the endnotes), and might have preferred less of his “smarter than the average Muslim” approach and more “What’s being Muslim got to do with it?,” I suppose the latter would just have accelerated the interviewer’s questions about the problem with him being a stealth Muslim. Goodness, she was demoralizing. Agree completely with #104.

108

adam.smith 07.30.13 at 12:26 am

Corey – I don’t think you understand what we – or at least I, can’t speak for the others – are saying. The point is not that “The Jewish Question” clearly refers to the Nazis. The point is that you can’t refer to “The Jewish Question” in the the 21st century and pretend the 20th century didn’t happen. The line from Bauer to Goebbels may be neither clear nor straight, but since you mention Wagner, the line from “Das Judentum in der Musik” to the Nazi’s cultural policy is rather direct.

And I’m not buying that you just didn’t think of the 20th century connotations. The reason that “What’s a Jew like you doing writing a book like this?” would likely be more strongly condemned than the above video* isn’t that some guy(s) wrote a nasty essay about Jews in the mid 19th century….

*though, as opposed to the broad acceptance of 19th century anti-semitism, the main reason this video, which if I understand correctly is a web-only feature, probably viewed by a couple of thousand people originally, has caught anyone’s attention is that people are condemning & ridiculing FoxNews for it.

109

LFC 07.30.13 at 12:47 am

Anderson @94
interesting — yes, I think it does tie in

110

Mao Cheng Ji 07.30.13 at 12:55 am

“The reason that “What’s a Jew like you doing writing a book like this?” would likely be more strongly condemned than the above video* isn’t that some guy(s) wrote a nasty essay about Jews in the mid 19th century…. “

But that’s, in a sense, the point, isn’t it. Unless you believe that the lesson of the 20th century is “don’t say nasty things about the Jews, but only about the Jews”.

111

Mike G 07.30.13 at 1:22 am

Rzza Aslan’s mistake was thinking that Fux “News” was an actual news media outlet, rather than a highbrow Maury Povich ambush show minus the baying audience.

112

Corey Robin 07.30.13 at 2:24 am

Adam Smith: If you care to read some of my other posts here — check out my Thomas Jefferson one, for example — you’ll see that I’m hardly shy about making comparisons to fascism, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust when I wish to. Had I wanted to invoke those specters, I would have done so explicitly. And not be coy about it. But that is simply not the case here. And given the fact people write about things like Bauer’s or Marx’s Jewish Question or other versions of the Jewish Question in the 19th century all the time without reference to Nazism, there should really be no issue with my invoking *that* specter without wishing to take on the additional baggage of the Holocaust. (Incidentally, as a Jew, I can assure you that the phrase “Jewish Question” has as many connotations with Zionism as it does with the history of European anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.) And, again, since other people here read my post exactly as it was intended, I can hardly be accused of lending the term an eccentric or peculiar reading.

113

P O'Neill 07.30.13 at 2:31 am

114

Doctor Slack 07.30.13 at 2:35 am

The point is that you can’t refer to “The Jewish Question” in the the 21st century and pretend the 20th century didn’t happen.

Frankly: So the f*ck what. If it brings up the 20th century for you too, you know… maybe it should? Maybe that’s actually a really good reason to not parallel anti-Semitism with equally bogus, venomous and irresponsible Islamophobia? I’m really not seeing how this is functional as a criticism.

115

Donald Johnson 07.30.13 at 2:45 am

“The comparison between anti-semitism and far-right islamophobia is apt because of the similarities between their belief systems. “

Exactly. I’m surprised at all the controversy in this thread about something that is so self-evident.

“So I just don’t see what the comparison adds that wouldn’t have been true for dozens of other minorities subject to racist discrimination. Yellow Peril, Jim Crow, anti-Catholicism etc. “

So it would be okay to compare Islamophobia to many other examples of racist discrimination, but not anti-semitism? Why? Isn’t the point, as Akshay said–

” it might well be the case that all forms of racism share structural similarities, so there is nothing surprising about the similarities between virulent anti-semitism and virulent islamophobia”

116

js. 07.30.13 at 2:47 am

Much of Islam does not accept the basic premises of a secular, non-religious state.

What does this even mean? Most Muslims don’t accept the basic premises of etc.? Most of the doctrines set out in the Quran (or the Quran plus X set of documents) are irredeemably opposed to the basic etc.? I mean, Islam just by itself doesn’t seem like the kind of entity that gets to accept or reject any set of premises.

Also, in general, could we stop talking about Teh “Islam” and start talking about Muslims instead? Because then at least it would be slightly more evident what people were trying to say. (And, after all, I don’t tend to hear a whole lot about “Christianity”, even when people are talking about Westboro-style freakshows/the Spanish Inquisition.)

117

Eszter Hargittai 07.30.13 at 2:52 am

Yup, this is precisely it: “So yeah, I think if you bring up the Jewish Question in the context of racism, you are making cheap emotional points with holocaust annotations and I think that’s stupid.” And what’s in #108.

118

LFC 07.30.13 at 2:53 am

@js.

I took that reference by PGD (I think it was) to “much of Islam” to mean something like “many Muslims” or “some interpretations of Islam,” but I agree it’s not a good expression for the reasons you suggest.

119

Eszter Hargittai 07.30.13 at 3:04 am

And by the way, Corey, using the same rhetorical strategy you’re using, those of us who are baffled by your angle here can just say: since there are several of us who were confused by it (in my case that’s a euphemism), you can’t claim that we’re unreasonable in having such a reaction.

120

js. 07.30.13 at 3:15 am

The size of the group (~17m vs. ~500m), the existence of islamic nation states, the history of the groups in Western countries (centuries vs. mostly recent immigrants) their socio-economic status (taking 19/20th century jews: highly educated and many upper middle class vs. mostly lower-class in Europe and lower-middle class in the US), differences related to looks (one of the fears about Jews was that they were able to “pass” too easily – hence the yellow stars – whereas islamophobes think they can “spot” muslims (and if anything are against clear visual markers, cf. anti-headscarf/burka campaigns etc.), different views on converts (jewish converts to Christianity/no religion were viewed with suspicion, Islamic converts are celebrated, especially when they criticize islam) etc. etc. etc.

Sorry, but this is mostly a bunch of bullshit. (1) The total number of muslims in the world is pretty immaterial, at least in part because (2) “islamic nation states” is just a meaningless bullshit phrase — if you disagree, come back to me when you come across the Palestinians living happily ever after in Pakistan. (3) “islamophobes” may have all sorts of crazy ideas about what they can “spot”, but they wouldn’t be able to tell Edward Said from Tariq Ali, or Jinnah from Nehru, so what they can spot is a bunch of shit.

121

Corey Robin 07.30.13 at 3:45 am

Estzer, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be confused by the post, though I must admit I am surprised by some people’s confusion. In my experience and in my neck of the woods, it’s simply not controversial to say that the Jewish Question is a phenomenon that transcends Nazism and the Holocaust and that it can be discussed without reference to Nazism and the Holocaust; indeed, I’ve been in a great many conversations about Marx’s Jewish Question where the issue of the Holocaust never even came up. What I do think is unreasonable is the claim that the post is objectively misleading, tendentious, sensationalistic — or “stupid,” as you cited approvingly above — because it is relies upon the alleged misuse of a phrase. Not only did I use the phrase well within the limits of its accepted meaning — I cited Wikipedia’s discussion of it as an example b/c it had previously been invoked as an example in support of the opposite claim — but, as I said, the fact that other people on this thread understood me suggests that my usage was hardly idiosyncratic.

122

PatrickfromIowa 07.30.13 at 3:47 am

I thought of Marx and the 19th century. I did history of philosophy as an undergrad. 20th century antisemitism feels very different to me, but I’m neither a political philosopher or a historian. If I’m the audience, the OP worked as it was supposed to. Probably I’m not.

123

LFC 07.30.13 at 3:55 am

Corey @51:

[The Jewish Question] is a problem that emerges in Europe sometime around late 18th century/early 19th century in reference to European societies that are coming under the sway of Enlightenment ideals but that find the particularity and otherness of the Jews to be a problem (for different reasons). Remember, Bruno Bauer and Marx: the question was whether and how the Jews could be emancipated after the French Revolution, whether they should be granted basic civil and political rights, etc.

Corey’s framing in the OP was meant to highlight the issue/perceptions of “particularity,” “otherness” or “alienness” (cf. Andrew Burday @75), but the OP was rather cryptic, which might have accounted for some of the subsequent protests in the comments. When I read the last line of the OP (“Hard to escape the conclusion that Islam is the 21st century’s Jewish Question”), I didn’t immediately think of Bauer/Marx but I also didn’t particularly think that the 20th cent. and Holocaust was the intended reference. So, for me at any rate, Corey’s comments in this thread have been needed clarifications and amplifications of what he meant in the OP.

P.s. I never really read Marx’s ‘On the Jewish Question’ but my second-hand impression/recollection is that Marx argued that the Jews could not easily or readily be incorporated as full members of European states/societies, that they would remain “other” even if granted basic civil and political rights. (If that’s wrong, someone will correct me. And, if I recall correctly and on a side point, ‘On the Jewish Question’ contains language that is hard to read as anything other than anti-Semitic. But I don’t want to start a thread derail on “Marx and the Jews”.)

124

engels 07.30.13 at 4:08 am

JSTOR search for ‘Jewish Question’:

http://www.jstor.org/action/doBasicSearch?Query=%22jewish+question%22&Search=Search&gw=jtx&prq=jewish+question&hp=25&acc=off&aori=off&wc=on&fc=off

Afaics only a couple out of 25 seem to be at all concerned with Nazism. The others are about Marx, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, the USSR, Canada, etc…

The first article which comes up from a google is this, from Jewish Journal of Sociology, which explains the meaning of phrase:

CFP: Special Issue: The Relevance of the Jewish Question in the 21st Century

In post-enlightenment Europe, both Jewish and non-Jewish political thought was preoccupied by what came to be called the Jewish Question. The Jewish Question asked what the appropriate status of Jews should be within the nation state and in particular whether or not Jewish ‘separateness’ could be maintained. There were a variety of answers given to this question, including: the creation of a nation state for the Jews, forms of autonomy within multi-ethnic states, radical assimilation, the relegation of Jewish difference to the private sphere, and the anti-Semitic removal of all Jewish difference from the body politic of the nation state.

By the middle of the 20th Century, the Question appeared to have been resolved. Two particular moments were key: the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14 1948 and its recognition by the United Nations; and the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10th of the same year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. […]

I think Corey’s use of the phrase is perfectly standard.

125

js. 07.30.13 at 4:10 am

Count me in among the people who think of Marx, etc., upon hearing “Jewish Question” and most certainly not the Nazis.

At the same time, while I find CR’s framing quite helpful, one thing that I think no one’s mentioned and that I think is quite relevant is just straight up orientalism. While it might not be consciously articulated, the analyzer/analysand nexus is supposed to go one way and only one way—no one quite knows what to do when some accepted value of “analysand” shows up as the analyzer. If this seems bizarre, just try and imagine a comparable line of questioning directed at Bernard Lewis. Exactly!

126

Meredith 07.30.13 at 5:21 am

js. on Orientalism (e.g., esp., Said). Yes. I took Corey in that framework. Hence my launch into other issues that seem more interesting to me than the obvious game (though the obvious always needs pointing out) exemplified by the Fox interview of creating an “other,” which these days in FoxWorld = Islam and Muslims, against which to define self, all that…. Hard to fathom the objections here to Corey’s approach, esp. Eszter Hargittai’s.

127

joshtk76 07.30.13 at 6:44 am

For what it is worth, my superficial familiarity with Marx helped me understand Corey Robin was drawing a parallel to the 19th century debates regarding Jews in European polities. I don’t understand why people are so quick to accuse him of cheap Holocaust allegories, especially after he’s explained the reference.

128

Z 07.30.13 at 9:57 am

But that’s, in a sense, the point, isn’t it. Unless you believe that the lesson of the 20th century is “don’t say nasty things about the Jews, but only about the Jews”.

Exactly! For those who strongly link the terms “Jewish question” with Nazi genocidal policies (which is certainly their right after all, even though this is certainly a diminishing of the importance of the historical phenomenon, as amply illustrated above), the lesson of the 20th century should certainly be “Framing the debate in terms of the inherent legitimacy or lack thereof of a specific cultural/religious group to exist and participate fully in all the aspects of society has led to genocide, so we should be wary of this framing whenever it resurfaces.” And this framing certainly is present towards Islam (both as religion and general cultural identity) nowadays in some segments (typically easily garnering 20% of the electoral support, so not quite the fringes only) of the western world: see the vitriolic attacks on Keith Ellison, the Muslim!Obama scare or… the attacks on Reza Aslan.

So Corey Robin’s framing seems to me justified even from that point of view. Even more so of course from the point of view intended (which is also more precise historically, again as noted above).

129

djw 07.30.13 at 9:59 am

At least for those with a background in political theory, I have to think Corey’s use of the phrase was standard, straightforward, and not at all misleading; indeed, the “Jewish question” comparison leaped out of that horrible interviewers questions into my mind well before I saw this post.

Since “win” at #91 posted a link to a First Things article that attempts to salvage this grotesque bit of bigotry with some hair-splitting about the precise title of some of Aslan’s graduate degrees, it’s worth noting what Aslan’s graduate thesis advisor has to say:

Since i was Reza’s thesis adviser at the Univ of California-Santa Barbara, I can testify that he is a religious studies scholar. (I am a sociologist of religion with a position in sociology and an affiliation with religious studies). Though Reza’s PhD is in sociology most of his graduate course work at UCSB was in the history of religion in the dept of religious studies. Though none of his 4 degrees are in history as such, he is a “historian of religion” in the way that that term is used at the Univ of Chicago to cover the field of comparative religion; and his theology degree at Harvard covered Bible and Church history, and required him to master New Testament Greek.

130

Ronan(rf) 07.30.13 at 10:25 am

Reza Aslan getting harangued on Fox News doth not make a Muslim question. It used to be that these things were the Pakistani question. Or the Algerian question. Or the Turkish question. But now that we suddenly recognise a tiny cohort of second generation Muslims who seem to identify with a seeming rootless transnational Islamic identity we suddenly have a ‘Muslim question’? Who’s our great chronicler of this phenomenon, Melanie Phillips?
By all means buy the reactionary narrative on this but I really dont see the relevance, beyond the vague references to ‘otherness’

131

Ronan(rf) 07.30.13 at 10:48 am

” (2) “islamic nation states” is just a meaningless bullshit phrase — if you disagree, come back to me when you come across the Palestinians living happily ever after in Pakistan. “

My reading of adam.smith was not that he was implying there is some sort of singluar Islamic nation state, but that the fact these are relatively new immigrants from established nations changes the context completely. It offers protection and options that European Jews didnt have. It provides a completly different relationship between their communities and the state than Jews had
We’re talking about integrating people into 21 century inclusive, multicultural societies not building exclusionary national identities in the 19th century

132

Trader Joe 07.30.13 at 11:42 am

One wonders what sort of reception a well credentialed Christain author would receive on Al-Jazeera news if he was commenting on a book suggesting Mohammad was a devisive rable-rouser?

Judging by various precedent, one would expect the ‘far right’ Islamic wing would not be amused. If there is an “Islam question” in the 21st century, as the OP suggests, it has not been taken passively by all Muslim sects and indeed at times some of the more aggressive groups have fanned the flames.

My perception is that Jews were far more passive as their “question” was being addressed. (Although I’ll be first to admit this is only a generalist’s perception, I have no special scholarly knowledge of Jewish European history and perhaps there was more overt resistance than gets commonly reported in the history books).

133

Mao Cheng Ji 07.30.13 at 11:54 am

adam.smith sounds okay, actually, except for him being bewildered by the analogy. It seems simple enough: terrible events of the 20th century transformed the society in such a way that antisemitism is now unacceptable in the mainstream; pretty much a sacrilege. That’s good. There was a flaw in that transformation, however: some very similar attitudes, like islamophobia, are still acceptable. The circumstances of the groups in question are different, but the anti-group attitude is the same. And this attitude is what the OP is about.

134

ajay 07.30.13 at 12:15 pm

Well, it’s certainly got him and his book a lot of very welcome attention, which was presumably the idea. Normally “academic publishes mediocre book on the historical Jesus” isn’t the sort of thing that makes it into the newspapers.

135

P O'Neill 07.30.13 at 12:37 pm

From the NYT article:

Mr. Aslan said that after reading Mr. Dickerson’s essay on FoxNews.com, he was prepared for a similar line of attack from Ms. Green. He was so eager to promote the book on Fox News that his publisher tried — in vain — to secure an interview spot on “Fox & Friends,” a morning show. “I’ll be perfectly honest — I’m thrilled at the response that people have had to the interview,” Mr. Aslan said. “You can’t buy this kind of publicity.”

I wish we’d gotten Doocy v Aslan.

136

Kaveh 07.30.13 at 4:11 pm

Around a million people were killed resulting from the invasion of Iraq, and that islamophobia was a major cause of that war, which makes it death on a scale similar to the Holocaust, so there’s not such a huge difference in the magnitude of these events that makes comparison absurd and a ‘cheap emotional trick’.

I’d be interested to know what people have said about the role of race, and in particular the relation/resemblance of Jews to non-white races, in the Jewish question in the 1800s/early 1900s. I mean, I know that Jews were compared to/grouped with ‘non-white races’. But it seems like a lot of what shocks people about this today (whether or not they realize, admit, or articulate it) is the idea of whites losing the status of being white. Horrendous mistreatment & slaughter of non-whites simply does not shock people in the same way. I would guess this is part of why so many people talk about the Spanish Inquisition and the discrimination against conversos as a specifically anti-Jewish phenomenon, which when you think about it is extremely bizarre. If I had to guess I’d say I’ve heard more people talk about the Inquisition as anti-Jewish, completely forgetting that hundreds of thousands of Muslims were forced out of Spain between 1492 and 1608–not just the conquest of Granada, but expulsion of subject peoples, and this after hundreds of years of Spanish history when both Christian and Muslim rulers had no problem reigning over mixed Muslim and Christian populations.

137

adam.smith 07.30.13 at 4:23 pm

1. For perspective: As per P O’Neill #135 Aslan knowingly and with full purpose walked into the interview expecting these types of questions and possibly speculating on the type of scandal he got, which dramatically lifted the sales of his book after mediocre reviews. I’m not blaming him – I think reverse-trolling FoxNews to increase book sales is quite clever – but let’s not pretend he’s some type of victim here (he certainly doesn’t see himself that way).

2. @Corey – I’ve read everything you’ve written on CT, I usually greatly enjoy what you write and learn a lot. But in particular because much of your writing on conservatism is based on careful and close readings, I’m not inclined to give you a pass on what I still think is a shoddy and cheap analogy. As I said in #100, the “Muslim Question” isn’t analogous to the “Jewish Question” at all in a large number of rather important ways. Ronan(rf) #131 has a more pithy&eloquent summary.
And in claiming you’re only talking about the 19th century Jewish question, you’re pretending the title and first half of your post doesn’t exist. The what-if someone said “What’s a Jew Like You Doing”… part of your post simply does not make sense without the 20th century anti-semitism.

138

adam.smith 07.30.13 at 4:37 pm

“Around a million people were killed resulting from the invasion of Iraq, and that islamophobia was a major cause of that war, which makes it death on a scale similar to the Holocaust, so there’s not such a huge difference in the magnitude of these events that makes comparison absurd and a ‘cheap emotional trick’.”

A great example of what I mean by a shoddy analogy. The Holocaust was a focused effort to exterminate an entire ethnic/racial group based on a racist ideology, at times to the detriment of the ongoing war effort. The Iraq war (for which, btw., the 1million figure is almost certainly too high – the infamous Lancet study has been thoroughly rebutted by now, its lead author censored by the AAPOR as well as his own university) was a war with a complex set of causes, many of them economic and geo-strategic, that was greatly facilitated by widespread islamophobia. Pretending that these are the same thing is, well, shoddy.

139

Ragweed 07.30.13 at 5:16 pm

@Mao Cheng Ji @ 91 – Interestingly, most Christian fundies in the US tend to couch their arguments in secular ways – other than a few on the real fringe, they don’t advocate imposition of biblical law, but argue that their religous teachings are the only ones that are truly moral (eg. “homosexuality is immoral and unnatural”, why? because children naturally need a mother and father, and the bible says X). There is a shifting between secular and religious arguments which you would not find in, say, Mather’s day. I wonder if there is a similar tension in islamic fundamentalism.

140

chris 07.30.13 at 5:27 pm

the lesson of the 20th century should certainly be “Framing the debate in terms of the inherent legitimacy or lack thereof of a specific cultural/religious group to exist and participate fully in all the aspects of society has led to genocide, so we should be wary of this framing whenever it resurfaces.”

That’s certainly how I interpreted it: as a “those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it” sort of thing. This is just like the Jewish Question, and you know how *that* ended up, so don’t let it happen again. Which is a valid point, but it does tend to suggest that anyone debating the Muslim Question from an armchair, even without malicious intent, ought to be really wary of where their words might lead.

I do think it’s a little unreasonable to refer to discussions of the Jewish Question and at the same time try to declare the Final Solution off-limits, because it arose out of those very discussions. Of course in hindsight those scholarly discussions are going to be reevaluated with one eye on their outcome, even if it was an outcome not intended or even contemplated by Marx or other contemporaries. The purpose of this is not blame, but understanding of the chain of events that led to an outcome few people want to see repeated (targeting anyone, let alone nearly a billion people).

#110: Unless you believe that the lesson of the 20th century is “don’t say nasty things about the Jews, but only about the Jews”.

Well, ISTM that some people apparently DO believe that — look at discourse around the Palestinian Question. The Jews, and only the Jews, are immune to criticism (in some quarters) for their actions even when those actions include firebombing civilian neighborhoods, and any attempt to say something like “both sides are committing human rights abuses in pursuit of a goal that cannot realistically be obtained without genocide, and therefore ought to moderate their ambitions and learn to coexist peacefully in a state that proclaims equal rights for both groups and actually means it” will likely be branded anti-Semitic.

But you are certainly right (IMO) to point out that the lesson ought to be more general. (At least, I think that’s what you meant.)

141

LFC 07.30.13 at 5:29 pm

Ronan(rf) @130

Reza Aslan getting harangued on Fox News doth not make a Muslim question. It used to be that these things were the Pakistani question. Or the Algerian question. Or the Turkish question. But now that we suddenly recognise a tiny cohort of second generation Muslims who seem to identify with a seeming rootless transnational Islamic identity we suddenly have a ‘Muslim question’?

Putting aside the “X question” terminology, I think this comment understates the number of Muslims who see themselves in some way or other as part of a ‘transnational Muslim identity’. For example, the Danish cartoons provoked protest in many Muslim countries, iirc, b/c they were seen by many as an insult to all Muslims — not just to Muslims in one or another particular country. To some extent there is also probably a ‘transnational Christian identity,’ ‘transnational Jewish identity’ etc., but for various reasons having to do, inter alia, w the course of history over the last quarter-century, and more broadly over a much longer time frame than that, it’s the transnational Muslim identity that has been more noticeable than the transnational Christian one, say.

Also, the word “suddenly” I think is probably out of place (“now that we suddenly recognise a tiny cohort…”). The notion of a transnational Muslim identity prob. goes back a long way. In political terms, it continues to matter. Also v. important, of course, are the various divisions w/in Islam (‘moderate’ v ‘fundamentalist’ [or whatever preferred terms], Sunni v Shia etc.). You are prob aware, eg, that the Pakistani Taliban are establishing a steady flow of fighters to the anti-Assad side in Syria. The English-language press seems to focus on the aid being provided to the anti-Assad side by eg Saudi Arabia and certain other Gulf states. But support has also come from Sunnis in Pakistan, Iraq, and no doubt elsewhere. They oppose Assad presumably not so much b.c he’s a dictator but b.c he has oppressed and marginalized Syria’s Sunni population. If, as seems fairly evident, there is a ‘transnational Sunni identity’ and a ‘transnational Shia identity’ why can’t there also be a ‘transnational Muslim identity’ in some contexts?

142

Hidari 07.30.13 at 5:37 pm

“the infamous Lancet study has been thoroughly rebutted by now, its lead author censored by the AAPOR as well as his own university”.

Firstly, I think you mean censured, although I would tend to agree with what you actually wrote. Secondly, the AAPOR censured him for not releasing data to them (not to other people, note).* Which may be good or bad or whatever, but says nothing about the reliability of the study. Likewise, Burnham was censured by his University of alleged ethical lapses, but as the report stated very clearly ‘The (University) review did not evaluate aspects of the sampling methodology or statistical approach of the study. ‘ So again, even if the University’s position was 100% accurate, it said nothing about the reliability of the results (given that Burnham, apparently, allegedly, actually wrote down the names of the people he interviewed, it seems that his study was actually more accurate and ‘checkable’ than was previously thought, although less ‘ethical’. But I am not under any illusions about the reliability of the results of university ‘investigations’).

About the AAPOR’s oh-so-ethical response to a peer-reviewed piece of scientific evidence that they found politically inconvenient see here http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/02/05/reaction-to-the-aapor-press-re/).

Anyway let’s not let the thread be derailed by lies about the Lancet studies.

‘ at times to the detriment of the ongoing war effort. ‘

That is also bollocks, although I can’t be bothered explaining why, given your nom de guerre (sic).

143

bianca steele 07.30.13 at 6:13 pm

chris makes a good point, but istm that if Pakistan were somehow to treat Taliban strongholds in the same way they’d get the same treatment. As long as they’re perceived as being on the right they get a pass regardless of either moral or strategic considerations.

I’m sure I was assigned all or part of Marx’s “Jewish Question” twenty-five years ago and made a game attempt and found it inexplicable. For some reason I have a vague memory that unlike Bauer he argues “the Jews” are naturally on the right.

No post on the Marcuse/Adorno letters?

144

Ronan(rf) 07.30.13 at 6:18 pm

I don’t necessarily disagree with you LFC. What I was trying to say (probably too flippantly) is that, as far as I can see, for Corey’s analogy to work you have to accept the narrative that ‘Muslims’ can’t be integrated because their allegiance is primarily, overwhelmingly, to their faith, and that it isn’t compatible with certain aspects of Western political culture. I don’t think this bears out in general terms, or that specifically people from Muslim majority countries show any substantial difference in how well they integrate into new societies, accept new countries political institutions etc

What I meant by transnational Islamic identity wasn’t so much the idea that there aren’t connections (for want of a better word) between global faith communities (once again for want of a better word, sorry! That doesn’t sound right) or diasporic communities, or whatever, which I agree there undoubtedly are.. but I was pushing against the more specific idea propagated by the most retrograde Islamophobic elements that there is a group of westernised, second generation Muslims with an allegiance to fundamentalist Islam rather than the country they grew up in and a desire to Islamise Western countries. There’s evidence that this phenomenon exists, but (afaik) is miniscule

I think when we’re talking specifically about the Middle East it becomes too complicated to say anything useful about Muslims (or Arabs more specifically) in the West, particularly at times of crisis and considering the way regional identities, networks, politics etc plays itself out, particularly in times of crisis (I mean look at the Spanish Civil War for the way European politics could be complicated by ideology and geopolitics, and so on, at specific times. So I don’t know if Islam is the best/only way of viewing it)

A lot of that is convoluted (though I hope comprehensible) and written by someone with no expertise whatsoever on the topic so I’m happy to be corrected

But, generally, what I’m trying to say is it’s complicated. A lot of the rhetoric used against Muslims is rhetoric used against immigrants, just cleaned up for the 21st century (‘we aren’t racist, Muslims aren’t a race!’) and complicated by the last decade, and specific to certain places. (Which happen to be the major metropolitan areas in western countries) So I think accepting this idea of ‘otherness’ (1) plays into nativist/racist sentiment and (2) isn’t really backed up by the evidence (afaics), and trying to draw analogies to how similar issues played themselves out 150 years ago doesn’t work (sometimes it does, this time (imo) it doesnt)

145

adam.smith 07.30.13 at 6:25 pm

“Firstly, I think you mean censured”
indeed

“given your nom de guerre (sic).”
I’m a political economist (of the political science/sociology disposition) by trade. I use Adam Smith as a nom de whatever because he basically founded my discipline. I could just as well have picked Karl Marx or Max Weber, but I like Smith for being so thoroughly misunderstood. You seem to be among those doing the misunderstanding. I’d recommend actually reading Smith, or at least consulting Gavin Kennedy’s wonderful blog: http://adamsmithslostlegacy.blogspot.com/

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Ronan(rf) 07.30.13 at 6:26 pm

“What I was trying to say (probably too flippantly) is that, as far as I can see, for Corey’s analogy to work….”

Btw, I obviously dont think Corey believes this, and I accept that some people do (at least rhetorically) but I just dont think it’s an *issue* to the same extent as it was in relation to the Jewish question in Europe, but is more boilerplate anti immigrant xenophobia politicised by the last decade

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LFC 07.30.13 at 8:00 pm

Ronan @144
ok, this comment — esp the second paragraph — clarifies what you meant.

…was pushing against the more specific idea propagated by the most retrograde Islamophobic elements that there is a group of westernised, second generation Muslims with an allegiance to fundamentalist Islam rather than the [Western] country they grew up in and a desire to Islamise Western countries. There’s evidence that this phenomenon exists, but (afaik) is miniscule

There is unquestionably evidence that this phenomenon exists. I also have no doubt that some or many people greatly exaggerate its significance/prevalence/size, to serve their own political ends or for other reasons. So on this point I think we pretty much agree.

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LFC 07.30.13 at 8:34 pm

A further comment:
One of the questions you raise in 144 and 146 is the extent to which all this is just a cover for anti-immigrant, xenophobic sentiment. And I agree there is a lot of that going on.

That still leaves open the possibility, though, that if one stripped away all the racist/nativist/anti-immigrant crap and examined the question relatively dispassionately, one might find that the pattern of assimilation/integration is indeed somewhat — not totally, but somewhat — different for second-generation Muslims in the West than it was for earlier groups of immigrants. (There also may be country-to-country differences.) I believe I have seen this proposition advanced by people who are not grinding political axes. I don’t know how correct it is, and I also don’t know whether there is some kind of feedback effect, whereby racist/nativist sentiment itself contributes to lack of assimilation/integration.

So I think accepting this idea of ‘otherness’ (1) plays into nativist/racist sentiment and (2) isn’t really backed up by the evidence (afaics), and trying to draw analogies to how similar issues played themselves out 150 years ago doesn’t work (sometimes it does, this time (imo) it doesnt)

Fair enough, but I would say that the statement “some Westerners perceive Muslims
in their societies (or elsewhere) as ‘other'” need not, standing alone, play into racist sentiments since it says nothing about the validity or accuracy of the perception in question. It’s a statement that can be either confirmed or disconfirmed, assuming (a fairly big assumption) the key terms (‘perception,’ ‘other’) were defined in such a way that they cd be ‘operationalized’ (which, sorry, is a lot of verbiage, but i think you know what i’m getting at). [I can’t really believe I just wrote those sentences, a sure sign I need to leave the thread]

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Ronan(rf) 07.30.13 at 10:46 pm

“one might find that the pattern of assimilation/integration is indeed somewhat — not totally, but somewhat — different for second-generation Muslims in the West than it was for earlier groups of immigrants.”

I think that’s a reasonable point, and there might well be some truth to it. I just think it’s perhaps too complex a question, too contingent and dependant on any number of factors, to be generalizable or of any use politically (If you know what I mean: rhetorically, setting *general* policy etc) Not that it doesn’t have use/merit as a piece of research, which it clearly does

On the second point, I do agree with this

“Fair enough, but I would say that the statement “some Westerners perceive Muslims
in their societies (or elsewhere) as ‘other’” need not, standing alone, play into racist sentiments since it says nothing about the validity or accuracy of the perception in question.”

I just typed too quickly and without enough thought.

My problem is more with the idea that the way Muslims are perceived by some in Europe today is comparable to the way the Jews were perceived in Europe during the 19th century (for the reasons adam.smith outlined above) The Jewish question, imo, is much too specific to be a frame for present day concerns about Muslim immigration in Europe (which I think are more accurately just concerns with immigration in general)

(Also, I really don’t see how one can disassociate the Jewish Question with what happened in Germany unless you’re very careful in how you phrase your argument, and I think the comparison feeds into the most extreme right wing rhetoric which does look at the question of Muslims in Europe in the same light as that of Jews, and predicts it will turn out in the same way)

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Kaveh 07.30.13 at 11:16 pm

adam.smith @138 “A great example of what I mean by a shoddy analogy.”

What analogy? What I meant was that the events are of a close enough magnitude that it’s not insulting on inappropriate to compare them. Just as it’s not inappropriate or insulting to compare the Holocaust to Stalin’s purges and agricultural policies or Atlantic slave trade, although obviously these are very different events.

The Holocaust was a focused effort to exterminate an entire ethnic/racial group based on a racist ideology, at times to the detriment of the ongoing war effort. The Iraq war …was a war with a complex set of causes, many of them economic and geo-strategic, that was greatly facilitated by widespread islamophobia.

That’s a fair characterization of the invasion of Iraq, and I don’t see how it rules out comparing the Iraq war to the Holocaust, although obviously they are very different events. Especially if we look at the Iraq War alongside the Vietnam War and other violence by the US over the last 50 years, and looking at how people react to events related to those wars, and the discourse promoting them, and other GWOT-related violence, there is clearly a systemic tolerance for massive violence against non-whites that, for whatever complex set of reasons, white people are not subject to in the post-WWII world. Nobody is suggesting that there was, is, or will be a Holocaust against groups of brown- and/or yellow-skinned people, but there has been and is more gradual, more widespread, massive violence inflicted on the Middle East and Asia.

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bianca steele 07.30.13 at 11:35 pm

Incidentally, my own first association with this post was, “To Jews as individuals, everything; to the Jews as a people, nothing,” which doesn’t seem to apply to refusing to allow a Muslim to write about Jesus.

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chris 07.31.13 at 1:50 am

Fair enough, but I would say that the statement “some Westerners perceive Muslims
in their societies (or elsewhere) as ‘other’” need not, standing alone, play into racist sentiments since it says nothing about the validity or accuracy of the perception in question.

I’m not sure how you would go about evaluating the accuracy of something like that. Indeed, wouldn’t “define” be a more appropriate verb than “perceive”? “Perceive” seems to connote that there is an objective fact of the matter about who is an other, you just have to look at them and see. That seems to me to insufficiently acknowledge the role of the people who decide who is and isn’t “other”.

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LFC 07.31.13 at 3:21 am

chris @152
wouldn’t “define” be a more appropriate verb than “perceive”? “Perceive” seems to connote that there is an objective fact of the matter

It does not connote that for me, but substitute “define” if you like. We’re both talking about attitudes. My point was an uncontroversial (I think) one: namely that investigating or trying to investigate, through surveys or some other method(s), whether people hold certain attitudes isn’t the same as endorsing those attitudes. (And yes, “accuracy” was not an esp. good word choice there.)

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Uncle Ebeneezer 07.31.13 at 4:39 am

I have a broader question about the book. This is supposed to be a book about the historical Jesus told through the prism of understanding the political landscape of the times. I saw an interview on Daily Show with Azlan where he emphasized that the Gospels are not meant to be taken literally, everyone is aware of the contradictions, etc., etc. So then upon what history is the historical Jesus based? My understanding is that while there is tons of historical evidence for Christianity, the main historical evidence for the actual existence of Jesus the man, come from the Bible, which would be pretty lousy evidence from the point of view of a scholarly historian because of not only the blatant contradictions but also it’s propagandistic nature.

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Meredith 07.31.13 at 5:14 am

Uncle Ebeneezer, are you serious? If you subjected most of (e.g.,) ancient Mediterranean history to the standards of evidence you set for Jesus of Nazareth, we’d have almost nothing to say about the past in that part of the world. Occam’s razor, and all that. Much harder to account for a non-existent Jesus than an existent one, whatever (Zealot, Essene, or figure who transcended such categories, confounding them) or whoever he was. If you study the societies of 0-30’s in that part of the world: most unlikely that there wasn’t a man named Jesus who got the stories going.

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Jim Buck 07.31.13 at 9:10 am

Much harder to account for a non-existent Jesus than an existent one

There are loads of Harry Potters around nowadays, but it was J.K. Rowling who got the stories going. During Rome’s war on terror, it may have been Josephus who got the Jesus stories going:
http://www.amazon.com/Caesars-Messiah-Roman-Conspiracy-Invent/dp/1569754578

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Rmj 07.31.13 at 5:33 pm

Late to the dance and the lights are out and everyone’s gone home, but: let me put this is as simply as I can.

Any discussion of the historical Jesus inevitably devolves into “was there really one didn’t they prove you couldn’t prove it, huh?”, and nobody really knows what they are talking about. And complex subjects, especially, eventually devolve into an appeal to authority, such as to crackpots who think Jesus was an invention of a Roman Caesar or satirist (who, frankly, couldn’t have cared less what was going on in Palestine in the 1st century, except for that problem in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and they took care of that by slaughtering everybody within the walls. The idea that a culture that would do that would be concerned enough to invent a figure like Jesus is laughable. The idea that a satire about life in Palestine would be popular, or even be passed around, is even more ludicrous.)

Without getting too specific, then, let’s put it this way: there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Biblical scholars at work in the world. Not all of them are even necessarily religious; some are frankly atheists. The topic fascinates them, not the proof of God or Jesus or what-have-you. And to imagine that some sub-set of such educated and dedicated persons (women and men) would pursue studies of the life of a Mediterranean peasant (as Dom Crossan described him) whom they knew never really lived, whom they were sure was merely a fiction of the canonical gospels (and they are sure the gospels are full of “fictions,” if by that you mean sayings attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, or actions, or events; see, esp., the work of the Jesus Seminar), is, well:

it’s to assume a conspiracy on the order of a false moon landing which was actually staged and filmed by Stanley Kubrick, which he then left clues to in “The Shining.”

It’s somewhere so far beyond reasonable, in other words, that you’d be looking at tin-foil hat territory in the rear view mirror.

Not that that is a satisfactory, or even dispositive, argument, but it’s the best I can do in a comment. And besides, it’s not like the people who think Jesus is an historical fiction have actually spent that much time on the issue (well, save the ones who write books no serious Biblical scholar gives any credence to). The arguments about the real existence of a Jesus of Nazareth who is reflected in the gospels is so well settled no serious scholar even entertains the question any more. That it still surfaces is a tribute to lack of knowledge, not to wisdom hidden from the wise.

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Neville Morley 07.31.13 at 6:07 pm

Thank you, Rmj, you’ve saved me the effort.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, actually. I teach quite regularly on the early history of Christianity in the context of the Roman empire, and twenty years ago my major problem was that every class would contain at least four or five committed Christians who objected to my reading Paul’s letters as historical documents. These days the believers seem to have disappeared altogether (or chosen to study other subjects), and the biggest problem is the regular couple of conspiracy theorists who can’t believe that I, as an atheist, can possibly believe that there’s any historical reality here.

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chris 07.31.13 at 6:25 pm

And to imagine that some sub-set of such educated and dedicated persons (women and men) would pursue studies of the life of a Mediterranean peasant (as Dom Crossan described him) whom they knew never really lived, whom they were sure was merely a fiction of the canonical gospels

The stories people told about Jesus are of undeniable historical importance and worthy of study whether there was an actual historical Jesus or not. Furthermore, there’s a big difference between knowing Jesus was fictional, and not knowing whether or not Jesus was fictional (although I’m not sure even the first would necessarily bar people from studying Jesus; at most, it might give them a different attitude toward their subject matter).

Personally, I don’t see why, if Jesus didn’t exist, the Romans of all people would have invented him, and ISTM that the most parsimonious explanation was that there was a historical Jesus but some tales of him have grown in the telling (and others may be outright fabrications). But I’m also receptive to the argument that we can’t really know.

On the other hand, if Christianity isn’t a vast number of people highly motivated to do extraordinary things to have their beliefs confirmed and accepted as truth, I don’t know what is; religions aren’t just the original conspiracy theorists (I mean, seriously, some of them think the weather is a plot from someone who is angry at them!), they’re also the original conspirators. Which, in fact, is one of the reasons we can’t really know; practically everyone in the region had an axe to grind either for or against, and even some of the primary sources may have been edited in the intervening centuries.

But I think that may be getting a bit far from the topic. Whether Jesus was a historical person or not, or whether Aslan believes he was or not, doesn’t seem to me to have much to do with whether there is something improper or strange with a non-Christian writing about Jesus. If Jesus was a historical person, then presumably that makes him fair game for any historian to study and describe; but if he wasn’t, the stories told about him are still of historical significance to a large region and eventually the world, so again, you don’t have to be a Christian to think they’re important enough to study.

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Hidari 07.31.13 at 7:01 pm

Thanks to @157 1n @158 for stating the obvious, that people who deny that Jesus Christ actually existed, at all, are in the same class as people who claim that Shakespeare didn’t really write Shakespeare’s plays, or that King Arthur really existed (i.e. as King of the Britons, more or less as related in Malory) or whatever. That is to say, it’s a belief that is, frankly, nuts. Needless to say Jerry Coyne and Christopher Hitchens et al have espoused* it (with various degrees of conviction) because, emotionally, they want it to be true, and these men normally start with what feels emotionally good to them, and then fit the facts around their beliefs. So much for ‘science and rationality’.

*albeit in a weaselly ‘who can say this isn’t true’ kinda way.

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AJ 07.31.13 at 7:16 pm

The main question – is Reza saying anything new? Odds are that he is not.

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js. 07.31.13 at 7:39 pm

Meredith @126:

Yes, quite. And I thought your comments way up above were very much to the point.

Ronan @131:

the fact these are relatively new immigrants from established nations changes the context completely

Well, some are and some aren’t. But even granting that most are, and that this changes the context in relevant ways, it doesn’t change the projection (or “perception”, or whatever) of otherness, whereby muslims are defined as muslims, and therefore as others. I think other commenters have made the point well enough that I needn’t belabor it. Given this, the comparison makes a good bit of sense I think.

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Jim Buck 07.31.13 at 8:53 pm

I cannot accept that a long history of scholars approaching the Gospel narratives as historical truth is evidence that the protagonist of those narratives was as depicted therein. To ask me to do so is a mere appeal to authority. Ockham’s razor needs to be wielded with delicacy and discretion. Using it to categorise dissenters as ‘crackpots’ and ‘nuts’ is crude throat-cutting. The Roman elite had sound fiscal reasons for seeking to adulterate zealotry with stoicism. The modern elite have similar motives when they promote ameliorative forms of Islam.

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Substance McGravitas 07.31.13 at 8:59 pm

I cannot accept that a long history of scholars approaching the Gospel narratives as historical truth is evidence that the protagonist of those narratives was as depicted therein.

That is not the argument. Scholars sure are dumb though. Didn’t they go to school or anything?

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Jonathan Mayhew 07.31.13 at 9:22 pm

Sarcasm aside, I think it more likely that Jesus existed than not, but that the whole field is skewed by a rather glaring confirmation bias. After all, the very existence of the field, one traditionally dominated by religious believers, depends on one answer to that question rather than the other. Even Christian apologists have to argue the case.

Christianity does place a large emphasis on historicity, so you have to consider that even if we decide there was such a person by that name, there is very little solid historicity there beyond that. Very little can be known with more than a small degree of certainty. The rest is mostly extrapolation, speculation, and wishful thinking. I thought the Jesus seminar was really stretching it. Jesus could not have said something that was in another source, because a Rabbi would note quote the scriptures. WTF?

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Hector_St_Clare 07.31.13 at 10:59 pm

Re: On the other hand, it’s completely unthinkable for anyone in the United States to suggest Catholics should, say, switch their allegiance from the Pope to more socially and culturally progressive leaders – or to point out sexist or discriminatory passages in the Bible.

You must not hang out with a lot of cultural liberals. I hear this kind of thing from them (i.e. members of my family, friends, and people I know from other blogs) *all the time*.

I don’t have time to scroll through this entire thread, so I’ll simply say that I take a pretty much literalist approach to the New Testament, I accept the historicity of the Gospels (complete with miracles, etc.) and therefore I think Reza Aslan (and, more or less, the 150-year old tradition of ‘critical’ biblical scholarship that he’s writing from) is wrong. That having been said, the fact that he’s a Muslim is irrelevant to his, uh, ‘scholarship’, or to my opinion of it. He’s not writing as a Muslim, he’s writing as a member of the higher critical (secular) school of biblical studies. He’s not saying anything different than plenty of atheist scholars, liberal Christian scholars, or for all I know Hindu or Buddhist scholars might say. I’d probably, honestly, be more interested in what he had to say if he *were* writing from a confessional Muslim point of view (I’m sure the Quran and hadiths have some interesting takes on Jesus), but I don’t think that’s what he’s doing here.

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Hector_St_Clare 07.31.13 at 11:06 pm

Re: So then upon what history is the historical Jesus based? My understanding is that while there is tons of historical evidence for Christianity, the main historical evidence for the actual existence of Jesus the man, come from the Bible, which would be pretty lousy evidence from the point of view of a scholarly historian because of not only the blatant contradictions but also it’s propagandistic nature.

There’s essentially no ‘neutral’, secular historical evidence for the existence of Jesus (a stray line here or there in Josephus isn’t worth very much). What evidence there is, is contained in the Four Gospels, in various other Christian or semi-Christian apocrypha of varying dates and degrees of credibility, and in the arguments of various anti-Christian (Jewish, pagan Roman, Mandaean, etc.) polemicists. Of those, pretty much the most detailed accounts are those in the Christian tradition (for obvious reasons). From my point of view, you can take them or leave them. I choose to take the Gospels pretty much at face value, but it’s certainly possible to write them off as works of fiction. The bigger problem I have is with this whole ‘quest for the historical Jesus’, because it requires picking and choosing some parts of the Gospels as historically reliable, and other parts as accretions. If you think St. John was just making up the claim that Jesus was God, what evidence do you have that he wasn’t making up the idea that Jesus existed in the first place?

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nick s 08.01.13 at 12:41 am

The main question – is Reza saying anything new? Odds are that he is not.

Well, no. A lot of the scholarly argument about Jesus-the-Zealot was thrashed out between the late 1960s (S. G. F. Brandon) and the early 1980s (Jesus and the Politics of His Day). But as with his book about Islam, his intention is to take scholarly arguments out of the seminar room and give them a compelling narrative and popular appeal.

Now, there’s an argument that books like Aslan’s aren’t exactly doing a service by re-igniting debates in the popular sphere that the academy largely considers either settled or put off to one side as scholarly fashion heads off in a different direction. That in itself is a reflection on generational turnover: the academics who participated in the debates of the 1970s are largely retired or dead, and the ones taking their place came in with different research interests and sought to establish themselves on new territories.

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Nemo 08.01.13 at 1:09 am

Robert M. Price doesn’t believe that Jesus existed, or if he did that the Gospels contain any reliable information about him. I’m not necessarily convinced by Price’s arguments, but he is interesting. Price (who BTW, has TWO Ph.ds, one in theology, one in New Testament) has an incredible website at the URL below. For a five minute introduction to his ideas go to the second video clip on the opening page, the one down near the bottom of the page.

http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/

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LFC 08.01.13 at 2:24 am

@168
there’s an argument that books like Aslan’s aren’t exactly doing a service by re-igniting debates in the popular sphere that the academy largely considers either settled or put off to one side as scholarly fashion heads off in a different direction.
I know nothing about this area substantively, but isn’t there rather a big difference betw scholarly debates that are largely considered settled, on one hand, and on the other hand those that were never settled but have simply been left behind? Either way, unless the bk is conveying arguments that have been generally rejected, I can’t see that it does any harm to bring even old scholarly debates into the popular sphere. Ajay, upthread, said the bk is mediocre and referred to negative reviews, but w/o specifics (which he didn’t provide) I’m not inclined to denounce the bk solely on the ground that it’s a popularization. Popularization, haute vulgarisation, whatever, is a longstanding genre and, if done well, often does perform a service.

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nick s 08.01.13 at 3:45 am

isn’t there rather a big difference betw scholarly debates that are largely considered settled, on one hand, and on the other hand those that were never settled but have simply been left behind?

Often there is, but in this case, perhaps not: there’s a lot of scratching around in “it depends what you mean by…” territory, in attempting to dovetail a sparsely-documented ideological spectrum (Jewish resistance to Roman rule) with a biblical text of varied provenance and motivation, where a lot of conclusions have to be extrapolated from Roman practice. Rmj, who commented upthread, has a good post on the topic, and I’m sure that people like John Dominic Crossan will have a few words (though not many) after the dust has cleared.

My broader argument is that scholarship often runs in cycles, and popular work often dives into things that were subject to debate a decade or so previous, but not the things that are still being argued about because those topics have much messier edges and don’t lend themselves as easily to popularisation.

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Teafortwo 08.03.13 at 10:24 pm

@167 “There’s essentially no ‘neutral’, secular historical evidence for the existence of Jesus “

Which is why our knowledge of Jesus is so different from our knowledge of other figures of antiquity such as Socrates and Cleopatra, about whom there is such a wealth of disinterested testimony, right?

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