Reza Aslan was 6 years old during the Iranian Revolution of 1979. He remembers it and despite wishing to, he did not get to stay in Iran to see events play out there.
Today he is a naturalized American citizen who profoundly identifies with the founding principles of this country. He is also a scholar of religions, writer and activist who’s not afraid to provoke either side in what he perceives as the growing us-versus-them dichotomy of post-9/11 America.
Aslan will present a lecture and multimedia slide show on the subject, “Ten Years Later: Fighting Islamophobia and Understanding Muslims,” at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27 in Murchison Lane Auditorium at Sweet Briar College.
Frankly, he is upset by what he sees in 2011.
“Anti-Muslim sentiment is far higher than it was even in the immediate aftermath of nine-eleven,” Aslan said by phone from his California home. “The question is, why is that?”
There’s no single reason, he says. Persistent economic distress is one factor; in such times it’s natural for societies to look for the “enemy within.”
But he also blames a “well-funded, well-organized conspiracy” perpetrated by a small number of people and their organizations.
These individuals are spending tens of millions of dollars to “create hysteria” around an Islamic threat in the U.S. through misinformation, Aslan said, citing a recent report by the Center for American Progress, which details their activities.
Aslan, author of the international bestseller, “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” is himself the object of some of the writings on websites and blogs such as Jihad Watch. He has become prominent in the national conversation on relations between Americans and the Arab and Muslim world as a prolific writer, TV and radio guest, literary and advocacy group member, and as the CEO of Aslan Media.
His 2009 book “How to Win a Cosmic War,” now in paperback under the title “Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization,” is Sweet Briar’s 2011-2012 common reading selection. It relates to a yearlong discussion on “testing tolerance,” a theme underlying academic courses, a film series, public lectures and other events hosted by the College.
Aslan’s remarks will focus on what’s happening in the United States. Islamophobia has long been institutionalized in Europe, but what he calls the “otherization” of Muslims is a recent development in America. “Islam has become that thing around which Americans are identifying themselves against,” he says.
Although there is a history of villainizing immigrant groups in this country, he and other scholars didn’t think European-style discrimination against the religion would take hold here. Now he sees anti-Muslim legislation proposed in 23 states and he decries it.
“It’s a betrayal of our values,” he says.
Aslan’s talk will offer an alternative prescription for the future.
The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, email [email protected] or call (434) 381-6167.