The real issue with Reza Aslan

Act one, Vlad Chituc wrote a post at Nonprophet Status yesterday saying how great Reza Aslan is and how wrong ex-Muslims are to have any quarrel with the things Reza Aslan says.

The hashtag campaign #AnApostatesExperience initially drew my attention because it seemed like a welcome attempt to elevate the experience of ex-Muslims in conversations about Islam.

Instead, the campaign seems to have started as a response to this tweet by Aslan:

Reza Aslan @rezaaslan

I’ve written about Muslims, Jews, Xtians, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists. I’ve never received more venomous threats than I do from Atheists.
8:31 AM – 13 Oct 2014

To quote fellow Patheos blogger Dan Arel, #AnApostatesExperience was meant to show “what real threatening and venomous attacks look like,” as if that erased the threats that Aslan received. It’s hard for me to see how this is any different than “Dear Muslima,” except this time it’s a Muslim as the target.

Heina has written a response to him today.

To answer the title, i.e. “Why is it so hard for critics to read Reza Aslan charitably?”: It’s because Aslan is far too charitable when it comes to the oppression that Muslims perpetuate within their own communities. Further, I find the characterization of #AnApostatesExperience in the post to be not only uncharitable, but also poorly-informed as to the real issues with Reza Aslan and with ex-Muslims.

We at EXMNA were hardly one-upping Reza Aslan in some Dear Muslimah-esque ploy. Rather, we were responding to Aslan’s long and storied history of pretending as if Muslims as a whole are far more progressive than they are, i.e. as progressive as he happens to be.

Here’s a news flash for Vlad Chituc: not all progressive Muslims do that, to put it mildly. The really progressive ones are far more interested in standing up for progressive values than they are in defending Islam from criticism.

In fact I have that in common with them; lots of us have that in common with them. We’re all far more interested in standing up for progressive values than we are in defending our theist/atheist community from criticism. We want our theist/atheist community to get criticism, and to pay attention to it and to change for the better. We want that community to include us and all the marginals as equals, not as a servant class to the Real members.

Setting Aslan’s disingenuous arguments aside for just a moment, the Dear Muslima comparison feels like a rather low blow. Personally speaking, I joined Skepchick on the heels of the so-called “Elevatorgate”. Part of why I did was my disdain with Richard Dawkins’s use of people like me as props in his arguments against Western feminists. I wanted for my own voice to be heard about issues involving me rather than people squabbling about people like me as if we were rhetorical points rather than human beings. My fellow ex-Muslimah and Freethought Blogger Hiba has also spoken up and out against the Dear Muslimah tactic. That we were accused of doing so to Reza Aslan is painful as well as inaccurate.

And yet appropriate, in its way, because it’s another iteration of this pattern of throwing feminism under the bus in order to give preferential treatment to theism/atheism. Odd, that, isn’t it – theism and atheism are opposites, yet both have weirdly parallel “issues” with women and feminism.


  1. dshetty says

    I think Vlad is right – that we get worse threats is not an appropriate response to Aslans tweets –
    It is however a valid response to Aslan in general.

  2. Ed says

    I always thought he seemed like a decent man, but then I saw a message where he joked about ex-Muslims thinking he wants to kill them when a group of ex-Muslims had complained about the very real threats they face.

    I mean, it’s literally unimaginable that he doesn’t know that there are a lot of Muslims that want to (and sometimes do) kill ex-Muslims. He can’t just brush it off by saying how liberal he is and that he’s married to a Christian. Is he all Muslims?

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    I first read the EXMNA response as challenging ” Aslan’s long and stoned history”, and thought for a second that there might be something to that regarding RA’s terminal mellowness (except as regards those icky infidels, or course).

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    There is a very clear difference between “Dear Muslima” and the response Aslan received. Rebecca Watson said (paraphrasing) ‘this thing happened to me and it was not good.’ Replying that there is something worse, as Dawkins did, does not in any way negate that what happened is real and bad. It does not in anyway falsify what Watson said. This is why it was off-target.

    What Aslan said (again paraphrasing) is ‘the response I got from atheists is the worst thing‘. Pointing out that there are things worse is relevant in this case. I don’t see how there could be any honest confusion about this.

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