This shocking story has been circulating for days now. The Islamophobic attitudes of the mainstream media: “Is violence inherent in Islam?” has become a real question. Really? The original incident involving Reza Aslan, an Iranian American who studied at Harvard Divinity School, took place on Sept. 29. CNN got hammered for its blanket assertions about Islam during that segment, and so the network resumed the conversation (sans Aslan) on Oct. 3. Clips are below; here’s the transcript. The two CNN hosts are Alisyn Camerota and Don Lemon. And they bring in Chris Cuomo of CNN’s show “New Day.” Media Matters has picked up this fracas, critically— noting Cuomo’s disgraceful charge that Aslan’s angry tone– “His tone was very angry. So he wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it.” Aslan is a Muslim.
CAMEROTA: OK. We had a very heated, controversial conversation here this week. So here’s how the conversation started.
We were talking about Bill Maher’s show. And Bill Maher made comments about the Muslim world.
LEMON: He talked about Islam. And he — and about whether or not it was more violent. Shall we just listen to him?
CAMEROTA: Let’s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL MAHER, HOST, HBO’S “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”: If vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe, and they do, that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea, or drawing a cartoon, or writing a book, or eloping with the wrong person, not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS, it has too much in common with ISIS.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: ok. So then we posed those issues to Reza Aslan, who is a Middle East scholar, and asked whether there is something about Muslim countries’ form of justice and human rights that is somehow more primitive than other countries.
LEMON: It got heated.
CAMEROTA: It did.
CUOMO: It got primitive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REZA ASLAN, MIDDLE EAST SCHOLAR: Did you hear what you just said? You said in Muslim countries. I just told you that Indonesia, women are absolutely 100 percent equal to men. In Turkey, they have had more female representatives, more female heads of state in Turkey than we have in the United States.
CAMEROTA: Yes, in Pakistan. In Pakistan, women are still being stoned.
ASLAN: And that’s a problem for Pakistan. You’re right. So let’s criticize Pakistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: He was, in a way, you know, playing off the last story we did. He was playing a little bit of the race/religion card on you guys. He was saying you’re calling everybody the same. You’re calling them all bad, and you shouldn’t do that.
CAMEROTA: And by the way, that was a great point. But I thought that what…
LEMON: That’s what he was saying.
CAMEROTA: I think that the point that he made when he said, “Listen to yourselves.” We were talking about female genital mutilation where, in Somalia, and Egypt, more than 90 percent of the women are subjected to it. And he said that’s an African problem. That’s an African continent problem. That’s not a Muslim problem. Well, that was an interesting point that he made. That’s educational.
And but the funny thing is…
CUOMO: You’re obviously agitated. Why?
CAMEROTA: I want to tell you about it. People on Twitter are angry that we even asked the question. If you don’t ask the question, you can’t have the conversation.
LEMON: I agree with that. But that wasn’t my beef. The country thing, that wasn’t my thing. I was simply asking the question in order to get an answer.
CUOMO: Why are people upset? Let’s look at it. Either it’s just PC gone awry. OK? And you can just dismiss it as that. I wouldn’t. And here’s why.
Do — does it promote violence? No. One, Islam is the culture. Being a Muslim, the faith, is that more violent inherently than Judaism or Christianity? No, not if you examine the text. Most experts will tell you exactly that. How it’s applied culturally. You now get into a big problem.
LEMON: That is a great answer. But I also think, that, you know, Reza, he apologized on Twitter.
CAMEROTA: Well, he apologized because during the course of it, he said that the question was stupid, and it implied that I was stupid. And he immediately apologized. And I don’t actually need an apology. I think that we need to be able to ask the questions, even controversial questions, even questions that you might deem as stupid. Because then it allows for the conversation. And you have to be able to have the conversation.
CUOMO: A lot of Americans think Muslims are inherently violent.
CAMEROTA: I don’t know who that is.
CUOMO: They think it’s a faith that encourages jihad, which they take as war against other faiths, and they happen to be wrong.
CAMEROTA: But I also want to say that it was interesting that Reza used the example of Indonesia, where he was saying they have — they treat women, you know, fairly. Because it was just last weekend that one province in Indonesia, Ache (ph), allowed legally caning of homosexuals. So I don’t know that that’s the paragon of human rights.
LEMON: I think, listen, I think he realized the moment you call someone a name you lose the argument. And that’s why — that’s why he apologized.
CUOMO: His tone was very angry. So he wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it.
Look, here’s what you guys are exposing yourselves to. This is the state of play in journalism today. The Muslim world is responsible for a really big part of religious extremism right now. And they are unusually violent. They’re unusually barbaric in the places where it’s happening. And it’s happening there more than it is in other places. Do you therefore want to generalize? Of course not. But you do want to call a situation what it is.
It’s not a coincidence that ISIS begins with an “I”. I mean, that’s what’s going on in that part of the world. Doesn’t mean that other faiths can’t be violent and other cultures can’t be violent. But you shouldn’t be afraid of the question.
LEMON: Thank you, sir.
The Aslan show:
The followup, which is worse:
Donald Johnson writes that describing these network anchors as moronic is not name-calling, it’s accurate:
Do these people truly not understand how widespread violence is in the world? Yes, Islamic extremists are a huge problem now, but they weren’t a huge problem just a few decades back and to the extent they are a huge problem the US helped start it in Afghanistan. (Again, not that I’m saying it’s all our fault. And Israel initially saw Hamas as a counterweight to the secular PLO.) I saw “Digby” commenting on this at her blog and she pointed out that it just demonstrates that utter vacuity of most of the people on cable news. They’re incredibly shallow and stupid and ignorant on the subjects they comment on. It’s like “man on the street” interviews at their worst, with the man on the street having a TV show.
Thanks to Annie Robbins.
P.S. Count me among those who believe that traditional religious teachings are responsible for violence. Islam, Judaism, Christianity are all in the dock. Globalization is making these traditional tribalist understandings more and more problematic/wrong. But the mote in your eye is always bigger than the beam in my own. I.e., Americans have a responsibility to consider our violence, and Jews have a responsibility to meditate on Zionism.