Some two years ago, I wrote about Reza Aslan’s gushing praise for a book by Max Blumenthal under the title “No Truth in Advertising: Max Blumenthal’s New Book on Gaza.” But now Aslan is involved in a major project that has actually been advertised quite truthfully, because the way CNN has promoted their new series “Believer” reveals right away that it is just a sensational show intended to boost ratings: “In this new spiritual adventure series, renowned author and religious scholar Reza Aslan immerses himself in the world’s most fascinating faith-based groups to experience life as a true believer.” While I’m not religious, I don’t know any sincere “true believer” who would like to see his or her deeply-held faith presented in a “spiritual adventure series” featuring a “religious scholar” who “immerses himself” for every episode in another – preferably exotic – “faith-based group.” It’s a bit like making the now fashionable donning of a “hijab for a day” into a lavishly produced series, and the message is inevitably: just dress up appropriately and participate in some rituals, and voilà – you’ll “experience life as a true believer” of whatever beliefs are deemed telegenic enough to be featured by Reza Aslan on CNN.
An excellent critique under the very appropriate title “Reza Aslan’s Cynical Careerism and CNN’s ‘Believer’”, written after Aslan’s first (truly atrocious) episode on Hinduism, notes that “creating controversy seems to be all part of the plan too; during the premiere of Believer Aslan tweeted a link to an interview on the Huffington Post entitled ‘Every Episode of Reza Aslan’s ‘Believer’ Will Piss Somebody Off (And It’s Awesome).’ It is essentially click-bait for TV.”
However, originally Aslan apparently didn’t think that “every episode” will “piss somebody off,” because when he was busy filming the episodes some two years ago (i.e. not long after he had warmly endorsed Blumenthal’s glorification of Hamas), he tweeted: “Just wrapped episode 3 in LA (which everyone will love) and off to Israel for episode 4 (which everyone will hate).”
Apparently, Aslan still feels that this episode will be particularly controversial; his pinned tweet at the time of this writing reads: “No matter what I say, no matter what I do someone is going to get pissed off in this episode;” an embedded short clip shows him in Jerusalem with the same message.
I’m writing this before the episode is airing on Sunday evening (conveniently at a time when most Jews will be very busy preparing for Passover), but the promotional material shows already that, as usual, Reza Aslan will dress up to ‘immerse himself’ in Judaism…
But I’ll also admit that I don’t need to watch the episode to be pissed off – just reading the title of Aslan’s CNN article promoting this installment is enough for me: “Reza Aslan: Why I worry about Israel’s future.” Well, when people who cheer Blumenthal and other antisemitic Israel-haters profess “worry about Israel’s future,” it usually means they’re worried that Israel has a future.
To be sure, Aslan focuses on an issue that actually also worries me and many secular Israelis: fundamentalist tendencies among ultra-orthodox Jews and their political influence. But with his trademark superficiality, Aslan dramatizes what serves his agenda and ignores whatever doesn’t fit his desired “narrative” – after all, while he likes to describe himself as a “scholar of religions,” he is “a tenured Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.” So it is hardly surprising that Aslan claims to have spoken “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;” but if he really found people who worry “that the ultra-Orthodox are on the verge of turning Israel into a Jewish version of Iran,” he perhaps mingled with the same people Max Blumenthal met with when he was in Israel.
From Aslan’s Twitter timeline, one can see that he greatly appreciates Ha’aretz as a source of material for denigrating Israel, but for once, I have good tidings from Ha’aretz for Reza Aslan: he doesn’t have to lose sleep over his worries for Israel’s future – as Anshel Pfeffer concluded in a recent article under the title “In Israel the Age of the Rabbis Is Ending”: “No, Israel isn’t becoming more religious. It’s actually becoming more flexible as the lines that used to divide among the secular, traditional, religious-Zionist and ultra-Orthodox − and clearly demarcate the sects and streams − have become blurred.” Pfeffer even threw in a line criticizing the media for overlooking the trends he described: “The media as usual is finding it hard to drop its old habits.” Looking at you, Reza Aslan…
So here’s how Aslan concludes his article:
“Whether the ultra-Orthodox are in fact able to one day transform Israel into a religious state remains to be seen. But what cannot be denied is that their influence over Israeli society and the Israeli government is only growing. And as someone who lost his own country to a small but powerful group of religious zealots, I genuinely worry about the future of Israel.”
But Aslan is genuinely lying when he claims to worry about the future of Israel, because he doesn’t want Israel to have any future. As he said in a Twitter exchange with notorious Israel-haters some two years ago, he rejects a two-state solution “as a fantasy;” at the same time, he indulges the fantasy that the Arab-Muslim majority state that should replace Israel can work out swell if there’s “1to1 interaction thru art/culture.”
Yeah, maybe Reza Aslan will do his part by teaching a free workshop on creative writing?
But the truth about Aslan is that he has for years promoted antisemitic Israel-haters. Here’s a selection of his relevant tweets and statements from the past few years.
Less than two years later, Aslan endorsed Blumenthal’s next book, which glorified the Islamist terror group Hamas; Aslan’s praise is downright obscene: “Max Blumenthal has spent the last decade transforming himself into one of the most vital voices in journalism today, always speaking truth to power with fearlessness and integrity. As with his previous books, The 51 Day War is sure to be talked about for years to come.”
Astonishingly, Aslan didn’t think that, given his new role as a CNN star, it might be prudent to tone down his ardent support for the Israel-hating fringe. A few weeks ago, he backed Rania Khalek, who – just like Blumenthal – had come under severe criticism from erstwhile fans for her whitewashing of the murderous Assad regime. Together with notorious anti-Israel activists like Ali Abunimah and several other contributors to the Electronic Intifada and various other anti-Israel sites, Aslan even signed a statement in support of Khalek. Among several other notorious Israel- and Jew-haters, Aslan’s co-signatories also include the cartoonist Carlos Latuff, the proud winner of a prize in the 2006 International Holocaust Cartoon Competition sponsored by the Iranian regime, who is well known for using “’Judeophobic stereotypes’ in his attacks on Israel.”
That’s the kind of company Aslan chose when he endorsed Blumenthal a few years ago, and that’s the kind of company Aslan chose now when he backed the notorious Khalek. Apparently, CNN has no problem with that, but to provide a person with this record a prominent platform to claim that he worries about Israel’s future is utterly misleading: like the Israel-haters Aslan has repeatedly endorsed, his main worry about the world’s only Jewish state is clearly that Israel has a future.