After all, “news” is in the network’s name. But when they venture into entertainment and religion, CNN gets in trouble. Reza Aslan’s show “Believer” is nothing more than Muslim apologetics and bubble-gum comparative religion sold as entertainment. He takes the worst of every religion except Islam, which he portrays in the best possible light.
Hey! Let’s take the most extreme, cringe-worthy, out-of-the-mainstream practices of every religion except Islam, and display them as if that’s how everyone does it. What a concept!
Now it’s ultra-Orthodox Jews. There are approximately three quarters of a million Haredim in Israel, which Aslan pegs at about 13 percent of Israel’s population. Aslan worries that these Jews “challenging the secular nature of Israeli society for years and could change the very fabric of the country.”
What total, utter, garbage.
Israel is, by its Basic Law, a Jewish state. The laws of Israel are based on Torah. That’s why you can’t buy non-Kosher food in most Israeli restaurants. It’s why elevators go into “Shabbat mode” on Saturday because you can’t use machines. It’s why the busses stop running at sundown on Friday. That’s Jewish law. Israel is not, and never has been, a “secular state.”
Granted, some Haredim are violent. But violence is not part of ultra-Orthdox Judaism. Yet, Aslan wrote:
I myself spoke to a number of secular Jews in Israel who openly worried that the ultra-Orthodox are on the verge of turning Israel into a Jewish version of Iran. While that may sound extreme, it shows the level of concern that is running through the secular community in Israel.
There’s so much wrong with Aslan’s portrayal of Haredim that I don’t really know where to begin. He paints them with a huge extremist paintbrush when in fact, the spectrum of ulta-Orthodox Jews in Israel is quite broad. For a complete takedown of the multiple and severe problems with Aslan’s piece, read Asher Schechter’s piece in Haaretz.
Blinded by a visceral hatred for the world’s only Jewish state, Aslan went out of his way to sensationalize the beliefs of a minority sect of “Haredi” Jews in order to frame the Zionist struggle for Jewish independence as an irrational and fanatic pursuit designed to create a theocratic Jewish state.
But what else should we expect from Aslan? The man is a faux academic with a background in sociology and creative writing. Every book Aslan’s written is a model of trashy comparative religion where Islam is portrayed in the most favorable light, while other religions (and Jesus Christ) are lensed through faulty and discredited paradigms.
Aslan sells this as if he’s a scholar, but he’s not.
So according to Aslan, Islam is whatever anybody wants it to be, and on top of that it can still be called Islam! And so Fantasy Islam is played.
Aslan’s book “Zealot” paints Jesus as a political zealot in Roman Judea. It’s a tired retreading of a discredited theory that’s unlikely to convince any scholars. Craig Evans, reviewing the book in Christianity Today, concluded:
Aslan has canvassed much of the responsible scholarship in the field, but he does not always choose his options prudently. He often opts for extreme views and sometimes makes breathtaking assertions. I cannot help but wonder if Aslan’s penchant for creative writing is part of the explanation. Indeed, Zealot often reads more like a novel than a work of historical analysis.
And so it is with “Believer.” Elias Muhanna wrote of the show in The New Yorker that it was “sensationalist and short on substance.” Muhanna also expressed concern that Aslan has it in for Israeli Jews.
Aslan is disturbed by the intransigence of the Haredim, whose political ascendance he likens to the Islamic Revolution, which led his family to flee Iran, in 1979, and the secular Jews he speaks to evince a similar frustration. This change in tone threatens to undermine the cheeky ecumenism of Aslan’s larger method. Why do renegade Scientologists get the benefit of the doubt, while ultra-Orthodox Jews do not? Perhaps there is a limit to universalist tolerance, after all.
It’s pretty obvious, why, isn’t it. Reza Aslan is nothing more than an apologist for Islam posing as a religious scholar, with a particular distaste for Jews and Israel. CNN would be wise to take this irresponsible piece of garbage off the air before it does more damage.