Reza Aslan tries, fails to sit at the Big People’s Table

February 19, 2015 • 12:10 pm

UPDATE: I’ve been informed that Dan Arel, at his website “Danthropology,” has an even longer list of Twi**er exemplars as well as his analysis.


Reader Barry sent me a couple of bizarre tw**ts emitted yesterday by Reza Aslan, and when I went over to verify them, I saw this:

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 1.54.59 PM

Blocked! Aslan is, as far as I know (and I don’t know very far), the first person to block me on Twi**er, even though I don’t read tweets and don’t follow anybody. I’ve never directed a tw**t at the man, or anyone else for that matter, though I have posted about him, and those posts automatically go to my Tw**er feed.

Fortunately, Aslan’s tw**ts were retweeted by Sam Harris, so I can verify their authenticity. What I find bizarre is this: I am a very small fish compared to Sam, and my skirmishes with Aslan have been minor compared to Sam’s. So why am I blocked and not Sam? Well, never mind: it’s not that I care if I’m blocked, for, as everyone knows (so I’m told), you can see tw**ts from someone who’s blocked you by simply signing out of Twi**er.

Anyway, here are Aslan’s tw**ts; he is responding to Harris’s podcast about the Chapel Hill murders, in which Harris accuses Aslan not only of intellectual dishonesty (I agree), but also of making life more dangerous for people who criticize Islam (I agree with that, too).

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 2.45.45 PMThis is no way to have a rational, much less intellectual, discussion, but I’ve come to expect this from Aslan. Like Chopra (who, by the way, has not blocked me), Aslan is afflicted with Chronic Maru’s Syndrome (inability to not enter any box he sees), and responds to disagreement with childish and ad hominem insults. This is not exactly what I’d call a response to what Sam said. Further, who is obsessed with whom? Aslan takes every opportunity he can to go after Sam and also Richard Dawkins, for he knows that he can dine out on attacking the New Atheists. And the stuff about not giving Harris a second thought is simply a lie: Aslan talks about him constantly.

Here is Harris’s response:

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 10.43.35 AM

Well, this is all internet drama, but there’s also a larger purpose here: I see Aslan as a dangerous man, one who tries to pretend that Islam has no fangs and, by minimizing the very real dangers that some of its adherents pose to the West, makes people less aware of those dangers. Now we see that he’s not only wrongheaded, but narcissistic and immature as well. That makes him even more of what they call a “useful idiot” for religious appeasers.

But of course we know how to deal with people who have Maru’s Syndrome. . .

98 thoughts on “Reza Aslan tries, fails to sit at the Big People’s Table

  1. It is great to be the Switzerland of the Twitter wars. I can’t see tweets and don’t care. I am usually succint in my comments but I never have to worry about putting my thoughts in 140 characters or less.


    1. I will be cremated upon death, but if I had a tombstone, I would like it to read:

      Here lies a man who never sent a tweet. RIP

          1. Surely it would read;

            @mourners, here lies a man #dead as a dodo. @family, sorry ’bout the will but I #spent your inheritance.

          1. It fits just fine in my jeans or in my cargo shorts. The only place it doesn’t fit is the shirt pocket, but I don’t have many of those.

            I have never carried a phone in the back pocket.

  2. I saw this as it was happening (which probably means I have too much free time on my hands lately). I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and for some reason just assumed whoever was paid to run Aslan’s account just got carried away. My estimation of Aslan is in free fall, simply (but not only) because his internet discourse is indistinguishable to me from that of an unpaid media intern. It’s one thing to hold problematic positions and speak publicly about them, but it’s another thing to act like a literal child in front of everyone.

    I get the impression that even if Sam had made no other points in his podcast except to ask that Aslan discontinue the slander that might see Harris or his family harmed, the jerk STILL wouldn’t admit the faux pas.

    Just disgraceful on every conceivable level.

    1. “…but it’s another thing to act like a literal child in front of everyone.”


      If part of your strategy to seem like the more reasonable person with better arguments includes blocking well-respected public intellectuals who teach at reputable universities then you’ve already lost.

      Someone who’s interested in the content of the arguments and in reaching a resolution, rather than in image and rhetoric, doesn’t pull this kind of puerile crap.

    2. Yes, how immature of Aslan and how classy of Sam. Who looks like the jerk here? Certainly not Sam Harris.

  3. Aslan is a career opportunist holding on to the last vestiges of his risible apologetics while trying to obtain maximum permitted mileage from Harvard Divinity School.

    No Islam but Aslan: The Origins, Devolution, and Future of Twitter Sophistry.

      1. Thanks for the good idea – on Goodreads, you can make your own shelves. Maybe one day for LOLs, I’ll make one like that and include Mr. Childish Pants on it.

  4. I have to wonder if this “useful Idiot” is providing instruction to Obama these days. After some of the nonsense in his speech today, you have to think so.

    If you deny any resemblance to Islam or the Koran by ISIS then you have detached yourself from reality or you need to stand up and say you know anyhing about Islam. In Aslan’s case he just cherry picks the hell out of it, but I think Obama just doesn’t know.

    1. I disagree with regards to Obama. I think he knows that religion is the primary driver behind the likes of Daesh (ISIS). However, seems to me that Obama is very practical and only says as much as he thinks he can say and still get support from our ‘allies’ in the middle east.

      One thing I learned dealing with the locals during my 2 years in Iraq was that honor is very important in Arabic culture. In an honor culture every insult must be righted.

      Although our middle eastern ‘allies’ practice the same religion as Daesh, our ‘allies’ see themselves as superior to Daesh and holding of the ‘one true way’ of Islam. If Obama says that Daesh is Islamic, then he is insulting our ‘allies’ by association. So Obama can’t actually say what we know to be true if he ever wants the US to get any help from our ‘allies’ in the fight against Daesh and other terrorist groups.

      I strongly recommend that you call them Daesh. This is the Arabic pronunciation of their groups initials. Bonus! – ISIS considers it an insult. See link.

      1. Obama and GWB before him don’t connect the terrorists to Islam because it would incite a religious war – Christians x Muslims – and that would obviously be a bad thing.

      2. It bothered me that he said that saying Islam was behind atrocities was untrue. It sort of says anyone who proclaims this is a dissembler of some sort.

        Also, of course the whackos on the right say things like “Obama says that because he was surrounded by Islam as a child” with the little hint, of course, that Obama is a Muslim. Good grief, who wants to be associated with these guys?

      3. I basically agree with you. But then it may be better if the president of the United States stayed out of the debate about the true meaning of Islam altogether. By using such strange wordings, he only inflames this absurd theoretical war and gives it a political side which in long term will only make matters worse.

      4. ” . . . honor is very important in Arabic culture. In an honor culture every insult must be righted.”

        One can hardly doubt that, inasmuch as “insult” is synonymous with “offense,” and the propensity for being “offended” is extraordinarily widespread.

    2. Come on, the president is not an ignoramus. But he can’t just publicly blurt out whatever he really thinks about a sensitive topic.

  5. I have to give him credit for one thing. The man has parlayed misrepresented credentials, fatuous and intellectually dishonest criticisms of New Atheism and an absurd Fox News interview into a career as a media figure.

  6. The “starting to get creeped out” thing is a common tactic to see from a segment of the – and I’m not sure what to call it – extreme/authoritarian left and/or phony sjw community. It’s part of the construction of a narrative. Aslan will next talk about how he believes he’s being stalked and/or harassed.

    Can’t you see he’s a victim?!?

      1. Never mind Sam or Jerry; Aslan would be hard put to match wits with a rutabaga.

        I’ll give him one thing, though. He has the moral integrity of a tobacco company executive, and is as trustworthy as a priest with children. Two things I’ll give him…and I guess I’d better come in again….


  7. Since the tweets above, there have been three more petty anti-Sam Harris remarks made by Aslan on Twitter, one attacking all the people who stood up for Harris. It all reminds me of the way Chopra can’t resist responding. Wasn’t it you Diana McP who recognized narcissism and some other stuff in such behaviour?

    1. Yes, it was me. Very narcissistic to fly off the handle. Often narcissists don’t want to do the hard work to achieve something worthwhile but they do like the accompanying acclamations. So, Aslan and Chopra love being adored for their BS. It’s not that they aren’t capable of doing great things, they just don’t want to because they are so distracted by adulation that that becomes the main focus of their life versus actually doing the thing that may or may not result in adulation.

      Oh how I’ve met so many of them. I should write a book or song – These are the Narcissists I Know.

  8. So, ISIS beheading 21 copts for being copts has nothing to do with Islam. Hicks’ murder of three muslims for to-be-determined reasons has everything to do with New Atheism. Nope, no bias here.

    1. Yeah the hypocrisy of some sections of the media is shameful in this regard. While Hicks and his wife are both saying it was not a hate crime, somehow it is Islamophobia. And the Charlie Hebdo murderers are on video saying “We have avenged the Prophet”. But it has nothing to do with the religion.

  9. Aslan is a true pioneer in the tradition of Deepak. He stand by his beliefs and never gives up on them. He recognizes that there is an audience of epic proportion who love resolute people…regardless of the content of what they stand, only that they stand for it.

    I can almost hear them now: “I like that guy. He stands behind what he believes. And does not change his mind.”

    This is anti-science. This is a stolen season of reason. Unintelligent and conspicuously immature.

    1. It’s nothing like that. Reza is a fraud who was suddenly sympathized with by The Young Turks and other media houses who I previously thought were voices for liberal and secular values. When he started out I felt he was a liberal of his faith. But it has been proven that he is a pretender and has limited scholarship on theology (if you can consider that to be scholarship) itself. Somehow he has managed to fool a section of the media, or they have found him sellable.

  10. Being relatively iced-in, and indulging my latent masochism, I’m listening again to a 2007 debate between Aslan and Harris, in an effort to try to give Aslan credit wherever I reasonably can. Am finding it a challenge.

    Has Aslan addressed the beheadings of the Coptic Christians?

    Bring on those enlightening tw**ts, O noble Aslan.

      1. I note that Reza seemed to be given an opening when Sam (sort of) agreed that science wasn’t the only way of knowing. Sam uses the term “spiritual scientists”, which I wish he hadn’t. Reza jumped on it and said well religious experience is the same as science except that it has a different language for the same ideas. The discussion was ended there and there wasn’t time for Sam to respond.

        1. If ‘spiritual scientist’ perjures science, it perjures Reza correspondingly. He has no action against my just-as-special claim that any of his claims are rubbish.

          I can say this, if I wanted to, simply by invoking my “other ways of knowing”. I know (and science cannot disprove otherwise) that Reza’s other ways of knowing are bloated with agnostic feces. It’s the metaphysical sword agains the transcendent knife.

            1. I have no worries there…as I am off the social media radar, but I would hope he glances at WEIT to put some sense into him.

    1. Years ago I remember watching some sort of debate between Reza and Sam; maybe it was the 2007 debate you are referring to. It was the first time I had seen and heard Reza. Though I remember little about the substance of the debate, I do strongly recall coming away with a distaste for Reza. He likes to hear himself talk, has a big ego, thinks he’s a world authority of some kind, and is busily at work kissing the ass of religion, Islam in particular.

  11. Your eyes are always sharp, professor Jerry. Reza Aslan is dishonest and dirty.

    By all means, we must consider the worst senario, what if Reza Aslan is backed up or forced by Iran Intelligence? then, he is not only an opportunist, but very very dangerous. Why did he convert from Christian to Muslim? Before or after his huge success on that book , which you regard as the worst book you read last year?

      1. If you had a car accident while you just got on a taxi, right after the day you had a strong negative comment on Reza Aslan. I think above comment is not so “paranoid”. Possibility is small but I’m open to that possibility.

  12. As far as I know, he has never answered Harris’s challenge either:

    It’s hard to take anyone seriously who calls Sam Harris, “genocidal fascist maniac”.

    And his opinion of Richard Dawkins isn’t much different:

    “Sorry Richard Dawkins” no matter how many times you condemn the Chapel Hill Shooting we are just going to keep assuming you haven’t and don’t.”

    Why does anyone take this crank seriously?

  13. So my question is how does Reza aslan make a living is his job a professor somewhere?
    I wouldn’t be flabbergasted to learn if he makes enough money from his books to survive on. Pardon my lack of knowledge ,but where does he work and get a paycheck from does anyone know anyone who has taken one of his classes???does he work in a public or private institution? Is he breaking any separation of church and state rules?
    I’m just curious. If anyone knows someone who has taken one of his classes or has some video from his class would be fascinating to see how he talks to his students. (wondering out loud)

    1. UC Riverside, creative writing department. A lot of people think he is in history, religious studies or sociology (I was a grad student in the soc department at UCR myself from 2003-07), but he’s not. I’ve never taken one of his classes. A friend of mine finishing up his dissertation in the history department occasionally was a TA in the religious studies department (his topic is the reformation) and when I asked him, he said he didn’t know anything about Reza.

      1. “creative writing”

        So, crafting believable fictions is his forte?


        PS. I hadn’t realised until know, when I did a quick spelling check (accent? no), that “forte” and “foible” are fencing (sword-fighting) metaphors for a strength and a weakness, referencing the strong and weak parts of the blade.

      1. Call me Pollyanna, but it’s always upset me that profs are rated by “easiness”, as if the best courses are the easiest. (not to mention rating them by hotness…though if Brian Cox were my prof…;-)

        1. Not to condone, but a lot of places do teaching evaluations but don’t make them available to students. Admittedly there are some matters which perhaps should not be, but I know from my student days students tended to find it silly to have to bother filling in course evaluations if they cannot easily benefit from doing so.

          1. I don’t imagine students will ever be similarly evaluated. By that I mean, student attendance, motivation, behavior (messing around with their sacred digital devices and not paying attention, talking, distracting, interrupting), study habits.

  14. i started to comment to him on twitter yesterday, but i just can’t do it. i did it once before and felt horrible for participating. mostly because of your last comments, he is just disrespectful, pedantic and completely immature in responses. same with that cj werleman guy.

    i post on a private message board where we all let our hair down and sort of rib and antagonize each other all day. i had no idea that some intellectuals behaved this way until i got on twitter. i find this stuff to be pretty sad, honestly.

    1. I don’t do twitter but if I did, would not be to him. Attention is all this jerk is looking for and there is no talking that would fix what is wrong with this guy. Maybe a good tune up is what is needed.

  15. Twitter narcissism by any other name would still smell like marketing. (Sorry Shakespeare.) A narcissism is a narcissism is a marketing. (Sorry Gertrude Stein.)

  16. Checking my stats, I’ve just discovered that someone found my website yesterday by googling “reza aslan apologist bullshit”.

    I think I might be just a little bit proud of that! 🙂

  17. With regard to the mass media, I sometimes think that in debating people like Aslan, we atheists use too many generalities rather than the particular. The purpose is to convince the people who are listening, those who are probably in general sceptical of religion, but who think in some vague way that the teachings of Christ and the Koran are in some general way civilized, liberal, loving and humanist.

    I bet a lot of WEIT commenters have read the Bible, the Koran and the Hadith and we know otherwise. But in conversation, say online or with liberal or socialist friends, do we limit ourselves to the agreed Weltanschauung that religious texts may have moral authority but that they are of little relevance for how to organize modern society and that they have little influence on behaviour? There is an assumption among those friends that people in any developed society share those common liberal values.

    WEIT commenters and new atheists, and I think I can generalize, know different: remember when you first read the monotheistic holy texts how shocked you were by certain passages? Such as:

    ‘But as for these mine enemies who would have me reign over them – bring them hither and slaughter them before me.’ Luke 19:27

    ‘Amen I say to you, there are some of those standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom pf God present in power.’ Mark 9:1

    ‘…there are eunuchs who have made themselves such for the sake of the kingdom of the heavens. He that can take this in, let him take it in.’ Matthew 19:12

    And from 1 sura of the Koran:

    “God’s curse be upon the infidels!” (2:89).
    “They have incurred God’s most inexorable wrath. An ignominious punishment awaits [them]” (2:90).
    “God is the enemy of the unbelievers” (2:98).

    We forget how easy it is to find morally repugnant ideas in the monotheisms. And in ordinary debate with reasonable people, those whom Aslan and Greenwald are trying to neuter, the rhetorically most convincing and visceral arguments are the moral ones.

    Harris, Dawkins and even Hitchens quote and quoted very little from the monotheist texts: they generalized. They tend not to declare, in public, say to Ben Affleck, “The Koran says this, ‘God’s curse be upon the infidels’. What do you think of that?”

    The strongest rhetorical argument in the sphere of the mass media lies in quoting the Bible or Koran. Why not use those quotes? Start from the particular and move on to the general. x

    1. You and I have crossed swords plenty of times, but I’m perfectly with you on this one. I’m frequently quoting or referring to Luke 19:27, and I’m continually surprised by how few people are even aware of its existence.

      I think many have heard of Matthew 10:34 but dismiss it as some sort of vague metaphor. Luke 19:27 is a double trap for Christians, for it clearly is part of a parable…but the character in the parable that Jesus quotes as saying that line is a stand-in for Jesus himself, and the parable is of Armageddon…when Jesus himself will be the one with the flaming sword of death killing all who stand before him.

      The fact of the matter is, contrary to widespread opinion, Jesus isn’t a love god — not even remotely close to anything vaguely resembling a love god. Love gods don’t order men to gouge out their own eyes and chop off their own hands after admiring a beautiful woman on pain of infinite torture, as Jesus does in the introductory verses of the Sermon on the Mount. He’s a death god, through and through, and the bastard rape child of the nastiest, most brutal and inhumane war god of all the ancient faery tales.


      1. Agreed. The problem comes when you have to move on the debate from religion to politics. Perhaps the argument is more problematic in a British context. The CofE is generally a pallid bunch of Oxbridge-educated crypto-atheists who feel the need to wander about in maxi-dresses telling us that we should all be nice to each other.

        The American context, with the strength of fundamentalism, probably makes it easier to exclaim, “Christianity, what a bag of spanners.” And so the corollary, “Islam, spanners, only plagiarized,” is not much of a leap of faith.

        But if you say that in a British context, it seems to your average Charles an incredible Bob Beamon of a jump. Look at Rowan Williams, everyone’s favourite cuddly bear. What can he have to do with religious intolerance? Layer over that our political correctness and the degeneration of multi-culturalism into self-censorship and you have psychological barriers to overcome. And ignorant assumptions that Harris and Dawkins, with whom by now someone will spot that you share ideas, are right wing crypto-fascists.

        So one is left with the wearisome requirement in the 200 words which you have to squeeze in references to women’s, gay, religious, secular etc. rights. When it should be obvious to anyone with eyes to read and brain to compute that your style and emphasis on ideas indicates your liberal values.

        Contrarian rant over.

        Allele akhbar. x

        1. Seems to me that the CoE types are the ones most in need of having their noses rubbed in the Luke 19:27, etc. verses. The more insistent they are that that’s not the Jesus they know and love, that they can’t possibly fathom how anybody could think that Jesus really meant what he’s quoted as saying…well, they’re decent folk, mostly, and it’s through little fault of their own that they’re worshipping in the love chapel of a death god. It shouldn’t take too much amping up of the cognitive dissonance to get them to finally just let go of all that bullshit.

          And when it’s clear that all the sane and rational people are godless and only the batshit fucking lunatics bow down in front of imaginary friends? Bowing down in front of imaginary friends isn’t going to be something one does publicly with pride any more, even if it continues in private. And, without the public transmission vector, that’s one disease that will die as surely as all the other gods, or astrology, or non-ceremonial hereditary monarchies, or….


          1. ” die as surely as all the other gods, or astrology”

            Don’t get happy feet just yet. A Harris poll gives (belief in Astrology) = 25% in the US.


            I think religion is a little like rock & roll, gambling, and NASCAR. They may diminish, but never totally disappear.

            1. First, I doubt that a quarter of Americans seriously take astrology seriously — to the point of regularly consulting horoscopes for important decisions. Even for people who “believe” in such things, it’s nearly universally limited to reading the horoscope in the paper and marveling at the sage advice contained therein, coupled with selective recall to validate confirmation bias. Yes, there’re some Nancy Reagans out there…but, even then, the treatment she got in the press for that was more than enough to shame her and others into keeping all that nonsense on the down-low as much as they could manage.

              I would be absolutely thrilled to see Christianity in the same position, and wouldn’t give it a second thought were that the case. That is exactly the future I dream of for today’s major religions — when the only time you ever encounter it is on the disposable placemats of themed restaurants.


  18. “..makes people less aware of those dangers.”

    ..and lets the Right Wing rule the dialog about Islam which basically gets channeled into Islamophobia and hatred of Muslims.

  19. Every time I’ve watched Aslan make an appearance on television, he quickly points out that he is an expert on religion. It is no surprise that a man who relies on the fallacious Argument from Authority would also result to other popular fallacies such as ad hominem attacks.

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