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NY Mag & Reza Aslan

YYW
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10/14/2014 6:25:23 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
As a disclaimer, this is a thread, about an interview by Jesse Singal, about Resa Aslan's critique of New Athiest's critique of Islam... just so that everyone is keeping up. The text was published on NY Magazine's website.

The Article: http://nymag.com...

I'm not going to post the entire article for (1) copyright issues, (2) it's not especially well written and since I know many on here don't like to read I'm only going to include the pasts I think are important, (3) character limits.

The article/interview begins referencing an op-ed that Aslan wrote in response to Bill Maher's now infamous exchange with Ben Affleck, which the instant article characterizes, (implicitly in agreement with Aslan's characterization) as "islamophobic." So, it's clear that we're off to a brilliant start. If you regularly follow the threads I post, you will know that I linked both the op-ed (which was more or less baseless, poorly worded doggerel that mischaracterized what Maher said as effectively as noted scholar of religion, Ben Affleck did). I encourage you to watch the interview for yourself, and draw your own conclusions.

I furthermore encourage you to review the op-ed in question, (link: http://www.nytimes.com...) for your general edification as well. The interview was about what amounts to, in Aslan's view, the "profound weaknesses in the New Atheist worldview, the rise of ISIS, and why it"s important to understand the differences between various Islam-influenced terror groups." The "new atheist worldview" is what Bill Maher and Sam Harris believe, according to Aslan.

Now, to the interview:

The first question Aslan gets is "So let"s say you had Bill Maher and Sam Harris as a sort of captive audience in a lecture hall for a half hour, and only a half hour. What would you focus on? What do you want them to hear that you don"t think they"re hearing?" (source cited above).

Before talking about the answer, I want to talk about how fundamentally weak a question this is. That's typical interview strategy -to ask easy questions before getting into harder ones- but this question was designed to give Aslan the opportunity to make the case for why Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and presumably everyone else who disagrees with Aslan (including myself) are wrong. This was more or less a golden opportunity for Aslan to give an incredibly broad, well thought, open-ended answer. But, that's not what Aslan does at all.

Instead, Aslan says this:

This is going to sound odd to say, but probably nothing, because when you are dealing with that kind of level of certainty, whether you are talking about a religious fundamentalist, or an atheist fundamentalist, which is precisely what someone like Sam Harris is, it"s really a waste of time to try to argue either data points or logical reasoning, because they have already made up their mind and it becomes kind of useless to have that kind of conversation.

So, a couple of things should be really clear. First, he is not answering the question he was asked, because to answer that would be to provide some argumentative foundation for his perspective (which is very clearly explained in the NY times op-ed linked above) which I think he knows is more or less devoid of merit or value. (1) Second, Aslan is saying that he's going to disengage with those who disagree with him, and he's doing that for two reasons: (a) he knows the facts are on Sam Harris's and Bill Maher's side, and (b) he's subtly reinforcing the notion that anyone who has the audacity to criticize Islam with any certainty is not even worth being taken seriously. That's the essential 'thru-line' of everything that Aslan does: "If you criticize Islam in any way, you are an islamophobic bigot and therefore anything you say must be dismissed."(2)

Third, Aslan is drawing a direct parallel between his opposition and the people they are criticizing. He does this (a) because this is to reinforce the postmodern liberal policy position (in terms of academic research) that any position which proffers any criticism of anyone who is not a heterosexual white male is automatically intolerant/bigoted and therefore to be dismissed because of the fact that they made such criticism, (b) he is implicitly trying to portray them, Maher and Harris, as in some ostensibly relevant way "similar to" or "like" the subjects of their criticism so as to "expose the hypocrisy" of their criticism. The implication is subtle, but clear: just as fundamentalists are crazy, so too are Maher and Harris because they're both so sure of their position. Finally, (c) Aslan does this because 'certainty' of anything, just like deductive logic, thesis-driven writing, and all other forms of meaningful discourse, are "rational" and when "reason" is not on your side, the postmodernist strategy is to throw reason out the door. How we know this is what Aslan is doing is clear: he is literally saying that he has no interest in discourse with his opposition, because of the 'degree of certainty' by which they hold their position. (3)

Aslan literally says that "it would be a waste of time to try to argue either data points or logical reasoning" with either Harris or Maher because logic and data suggest that Aslan is not only wrong, but willfully manipulating the narrative of reality. Logic and reason, not being on his side (4), he can't argue that point because Aslan knows that to the extent that he argues on the facts, he will necessarily lose. That's why he brings no facts. He brings no data. Instead, all he brings to the table is a deceitful smile and and the underhanded attempt to play on liberal prejudices against intolerance to advance his point. There is no substance to what Aslan is saying, and he knows that there is no substance to what he is saying.

(more to come later)

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Footnotes:

(1) Aslan is not a stupid man, by any measure. In fact, I think he's a brilliant PR propagandist/spin artist; he's like the Gobels of Islam. That is why I think he knows that he's monumentally full of crap. The evidence of Aslan's cleverness is manifest in virtually every media appearance he makes. He's a good looking guy, who presents a softer, kinder message, and he never loses his cool. He crafts the way he communicates to be well received, because he's relying on the feelings/sympathies/prejudices of the audience he's trying to appeal to, rather than their brains. This is a more or less sociopathic level of manipulation/willful denial of objective reality here.

(2) This is an extremely common method of argumentation among the postmodernist left. The principle behind the method follows: "If anyone criticizes any religion, group or people, oppressed nationality, etc. in any way, regardless of whether objective reality yields credence to that criticism, such a person is automatically a bigot (in the relevant way) by the very virtue of their proffering such criticism. Anyone who is a bigot of any kind must be dismissed, because no bigoted position may hold any merit in this lovely and wonderful pluralistic society that we have." The method is as hollow as it is intellectually disingenuous, and the fact that it is employed is a testament to the "fallenness" of the postmodern academic left.

(3) I want to emphasize this point clearly: there is nothing "rational" about postmodernism. It is an intellectual movement that is decidedly irrational because reason did not produce the conclusion that postmodernism's intellectual precursor desired. To discuss that point further, though, would be to deviate beyond the subject of this interview.

(4) This is explained in another post I made.
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10/14/2014 6:55:25 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Aslan continues to shift the scope from the substance of what Maher and Harris said, to why their views cannot be taken seriously:

I think it"s important to understand that when Bill and I have a debate on his show, or when Sam and I have a debate, as we"ve had on more than one occasion, we are not talking to each other; we"re talking to the people in the middle. And that points to the problem of these conversations to begin with, is that you often do have very entrenched worldviews that are being discussed, not particular arguments or opinions, not differing interpretations of data points, but just two different worldviews: one worldview [that] sees religion as insidious, as irrational, as responsible for all the evil in the world, and one worldview that sees religion as an ideology like any other ideology, no different whatsoever, from secularism or nationalism or socialism. As any ideology, it is completely up to an individual to interpret it. If I were to put the difference in those worldviews in the simplest way ... someone like Sam Harris or Bill Maher sees religion as defining people of faith, their values, their motivations, and I see people as defining their religion.

That sounds, at least in theory, an impressive rebuff of atheism's critique of religion. But, let's be clear about what Aslan is doing: he is talking about something that deviates from the substance of what Maher and Harris said, to some entirely irrelevant topic. Notice that Aslan is not refuting, he is not rebuffing the specific points Maher and Harris made 'about' Islam, he is talking about how "new atheists" (whoever these people are) view 'all' religion. This is subtle, nuanced, and shifty. He is treating all religion as "the same." So, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and all others, in Aslan's view, are cut from the same cloth. They do the same thing, and mean the same thing. What Aslan goes on to explain is that what he's talking about is how critics of religion "believe that people derive their values, their morals, from their religion" which he claims is false, and so to the extent that "every scholar in the world" will say the same thing.

People don"t derive their values from their religion " they bring their values to their religion. Which is why religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, [and] Islam, are experienced in such profound, wide diversity. Two individuals can look at the exact same text and come away with radically different interpretations. Those interpretations have nothing to do with the text, which is, after all, just words on a page, and everything to do with the cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, political prejudices and preconceived notions that the individual brings to the text. That is the most basic, logical idea that you could possibly imagine, and yet for some reason, it seems to get lost in the incredibly simplistic rhetoric around religion and the lived experience of religion.

What Aslan is saying is essentially that to have faith is to be perpetually engaged in hermeneutics. (For those of you who do not know what that word means, "hermeneutics" are the branch of knowledge concerned with interpretation of text, especially religious texts). That is to say, there is nothing about religion that is prior to its interpretation; it is all interpretation. The implication to that argument is that because all religion is interpretation, one cannot criticize what is essential to any one religion, because there is nothing essential about any religion. All religion, therefore, is necessarily subjective because it is always already interpretive.

The intellectual exercise of deriving meaning from text is complicated, and I don't think anyone would dispute that, but to say that religion is necessarily an exercise in hermeneutics is categorically beyond the scope of the totality of Maher's and Harris's point. Their point was not that "there is something inherent about Islam which causes people to commit terrorism." That has also never been my point. The point, articulated by all of the above (Maher, Harris and I), is that there is something about the culture correlated with Islam that produces certain acts of violence that are unique to Islamic cultures. Said more simply: Muslims who interpret Islamic texts make choices based on those interpretations, and terrorism as well as other acts of violence and egregious inhumanity are some of the the choices that follows from the interpretation by some Muslims of Islam.

So, to be clear: we're talking about choices made on the basis of particular interpretations. Unlike Aslan, Maher and Harris are actually able to stay on point. There is nothing about Maher's position on Islam that involves discussion of whether religion is always already a hermeneutical exercise. That is wholly irrelevant to the discussion that was had between Maher, Harris and, again, noted scholar of religion Ben Affleck.

Also, unlike Aslan, Maher and Harris do not color all religion with the same brush; or, said less metaphorically, Maher and Harris recognize that Christianity and Judaism (that is to say, Christians and Jews) do not, on the basis of their interpretations of religious texts, engage in acts of terrorism or egregious violence. That is not to say that no Christian or Jew ever did anything violent, but only to say that Christian and Jewish theology is not 'cited' as providing impetus to kill innocent people. That is unique to Islam. That is Maher's and Harris's point. Maher and Harris are not criticizing what is inherent about Islam, they are criticizing 'the way Islam is practiced.' To use Aslan's words, "That is the most basic, logical idea that you could possibly imagine, and yet for some reason, it seems to get lost in the incredibly simplistic rhetoric" surrounding everything that Aslan has ever written about Islam, or religion generally, in response to people who disagree with him.

Aslan then proceeds to dismiss Richard Dawkins, Maher, as more or less plebs who cannot be taken seriously because they have no background in religion:

This is not the philosophical atheism of Schopenhauer or Marx or Freud or Feuerbach. This is a sort of unthinking, simplistic religious criticism. It is primarily being fostered by individuals " like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins " who have absolutely no background in the study of religion at all.....What we"re seeing now instead is a sort of armchair atheism " people who are inundated by what they see on the news or in media, and who then draw these incredibly simplistic generalizations about religion in general based on these examples that they see.

Except, while Maher and Harris and Dawkins do criticize 'all' religion, what Aslan is doing here is talking about stuff that has nothing to do with the salient issue. I agree that the scouring of religious texts for undesirable quotes that, if interpreted literally mean very bad things is a disingenuous way to criticize religion. But, that has nothing to do with the subject at hand. What's at issue is why some Muslims interpret their specific religious texts in the way that they do, and make certain choices that result in killing innocent people, and committing other acts of brutality, on the basis of their theology....

...and Aslan more or less knows that. But, he also knows the answer to that issue: because Islamic culture (whether that culture was produced by Islam or whether the culture itself produced a body of theology that is so egregious) is uniquely violent. That's the elephant in the room that he will never talk about, because he can't and still make the point that the religiously inspired behaviors Harris and Maher were criticizing actually happen, and therefore showcase the fact that everything that Aslan has said is utterly meaningless.
Tsar of DDO
YYW
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10/14/2014 7:19:17 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
It occurs to me, btw., upon reflection of this, that the number of people who are interested in the tension between Liberalism and multiculturalism or postmodernism on this forum is probably 3... if even that.
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10/14/2014 7:21:28 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
What the f*** is an atheist fundamentalist? That's not even a real term. Fundamentalism is a strict following of orthodox religious doctrine. I'm already marking this guy down.
"It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here,
And I'm much obliged to you for making it clear - that I'm not here."

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1harderthanyouthink
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10/14/2014 7:43:31 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 10/14/2014 6:55:25 PM, YYW wrote:
Aslan continues to shift the scope from the substance of what Maher and Harris said, to why their views cannot be taken seriously:

I think it"s important to understand that when Bill and I have a debate on his show, or when Sam and I have a debate, as we"ve had on more than one occasion, we are not talking to each other; we"re talking to the people in the middle. And that points to the problem of these conversations to begin with, is that you often do have very entrenched worldviews that are being discussed, not particular arguments or opinions, not differing interpretations of data points, but just two different worldviews: one worldview [that] sees religion as insidious, as irrational, as responsible for all the evil in the world, and one worldview that sees religion as an ideology like any other ideology, no different whatsoever, from secularism or nationalism or socialism. As any ideology, it is completely up to an individual to interpret it. If I were to put the difference in those worldviews in the simplest way ... someone like Sam Harris or Bill Maher sees religion as defining people of faith, their values, their motivations, and I see people as defining their religion.

That sounds, at least in theory, an impressive rebuff of atheism's critique of religion. But, let's be clear about what Aslan is doing: he is talking about something that deviates from the substance of what Maher and Harris said, to some entirely irrelevant topic. Notice that Aslan is not refuting, he is not rebuffing the specific points Maher and Harris made 'about' Islam, he is talking about how "new atheists" (whoever these people are) view 'all' religion. This is subtle, nuanced, and shifty. He is treating all religion as "the same." So, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and all others, in Aslan's view, are cut from the same cloth. They do the same thing, and mean the same thing. What Aslan goes on to explain is that what he's talking about is how critics of religion "believe that people derive their values, their morals, from their religion" which he claims is false, and so to the extent that "every scholar in the world" will say the same thing.

Yes, the people who are constantly at each other's throats are the same thing...sure. In that case, let's give everyone Jerusalem. Let's make the Middle East a complete anarchy. The results would be immensely deadly.

And how is religion like "any other ideology?" Religion and politics are two separate things that are mixed a lot, but that doesn't make them alike: not at all.

A lot of our values are because of religious books saying that this is good and this is bad. This dude's full of s***. Even if he's full of s*** on purpose he just sounds stupid.
"It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here,
And I'm much obliged to you for making it clear - that I'm not here."

-Syd Barrett

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10/14/2014 8:23:58 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 10/14/2014 7:21:28 PM, 1harderthanyouthink wrote:
What the f*** is an atheist fundamentalist? That's not even a real term. Fundamentalism is a strict following of orthodox religious doctrine. I'm already marking this guy down.

There is, indeed, extreme irony in Aslan talking about ideologies when his standard for being able to talk about stuff is "having a background in it" and he has no background in it.
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10/14/2014 8:27:02 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 10/14/2014 8:23:58 PM, YYW wrote:
At 10/14/2014 7:21:28 PM, 1harderthanyouthink wrote:
What the f*** is an atheist fundamentalist? That's not even a real term. Fundamentalism is a strict following of orthodox religious doctrine. I'm already marking this guy down.

There is, indeed, extreme irony in Aslan talking about ideologies when his standard for being able to talk about stuff is "having a background in it" and he has no background in it.

I found something you'd like. https://www.youtube.com...
"It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here,
And I'm much obliged to you for making it clear - that I'm not here."

-Syd Barrett

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10/14/2014 8:55:12 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 10/14/2014 8:27:02 PM, 1harderthanyouthink wrote:
At 10/14/2014 8:23:58 PM, YYW wrote:
At 10/14/2014 7:21:28 PM, 1harderthanyouthink wrote:
What the f*** is an atheist fundamentalist? That's not even a real term. Fundamentalism is a strict following of orthodox religious doctrine. I'm already marking this guy down.

There is, indeed, extreme irony in Aslan talking about ideologies when his standard for being able to talk about stuff is "having a background in it" and he has no background in it.

I found something you'd like. https://www.youtube.com...

I used to watch TYT, but I stopped after the first time I saw then talk about Aslan. I don't think Aslan has an agenda other than seeking to have his name in the spotlight. I think Sam Harris regards lying as sinister, and I think Harris believes that Aslan is lying (and I think Aslan believes that Aslan is more or less lying). That said, I am not a fan of all that Harris does -but on this point, he and Bill Maher are right.

The other striking irony to Aslan's proposition is that, by his own standard for "fundamentalism" he's a fundamentalist. A "fundamentalist" in Aslan's view, is one who has (1) an absolute sense of certainty, (2) literalism, (3) sense of siege, (4) the notion that those who disagree with you aren't just wrong, but "sinister." Upon review of Aslan's (and any postmodernist's writing), there is (1) an absolute sense of certainty that nothing can be certain, (2) the literal rejection of literal interpretations, (3) the sense that objective reality is being attacked by such audacious concepts as 'objective reason' and 'data', (4) the belief that anyone who disagrees with him is a racist, bigot, etc.

But, that kind of bullsh!t is exactly what gets postmodernists like him, Aslan, into the news because what they do can be "sensationalized." It drives people like me insane because we know he's full of sh!t, but we can't reason with him because he didn't reason himself into the position that he holds. His position is, literally, irrational -as most postmodernism is.

Foucault talked about the concept of a regime of truth; it's basically how we come to know stuff or how information is intelligible. (1) The modern standard of intelligibility, the modern regime of truth (use of the word 'regime' here is significant because we're talking about a connection between truth and power's being exercised) is "reason." Modernity, indeed, is adage of reason. Postmodernity, and postmodernism generally, is a reaction to that. It defines itself against reason, that is to say, it is self defeating by modernity's standards -but postmodernism isn't concerned with that. (2) Rather, it's concerned with taking away power from reason. More or less the un-logic of "we cannot rationally arrive at the conclusion we want, so to hell with reason!" Implicitly, to hell with facts too, insofar as they are the basis of reason.

(1) If you're thinking that it's ironic that I'm using Foucault to critique postmodernism, that might be because someone told you Foucault was a postmodernist. He was not.

(2) There overlap between postmodernism and fundamentalism, in terms of what counts for intelligibility; or, in Foucauldian terms, how they construct their regimes of truth, is also worth noting.
Tsar of DDO
YYW
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10/14/2014 9:01:28 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
One of these days, I'm going to write a post about the intersection of God, reason, modernity, fundamentalism, postmodernism, irrationality, Liberalism, multiculturalism, culture, values and regimes of truth...
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10/14/2014 9:24:50 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 10/14/2014 8:55:12 PM, YYW wrote:
At 10/14/2014 8:27:02 PM, 1harderthanyouthink wrote:
At 10/14/2014 8:23:58 PM, YYW wrote:
At 10/14/2014 7:21:28 PM, 1harderthanyouthink wrote:
What the f*** is an atheist fundamentalist? That's not even a real term. Fundamentalism is a strict following of orthodox religious doctrine. I'm already marking this guy down.

There is, indeed, extreme irony in Aslan talking about ideologies when his standard for being able to talk about stuff is "having a background in it" and he has no background in it.

I found something you'd like. https://www.youtube.com...

I used to watch TYT, but I stopped after the first time I saw then talk about Aslan. I don't think Aslan has an agenda other than seeking to have his name in the spotlight. I think Sam Harris regards lying as sinister, and I think Harris believes that Aslan is lying (and I think Aslan believes that Aslan is more or less lying). That said, I am not a fan of all that Harris does -but on this point, he and Bill Maher are right.

I believe TYT asked Sam Harris to come on too. If he does go on their show I'll send you a video.

The other striking irony to Aslan's proposition is that, by his own standard for "fundamentalism" he's a fundamentalist. A "fundamentalist" in Aslan's view, is one who has (1) an absolute sense of certainty, (2) literalism, (3) sense of siege, (4) the notion that those who disagree with you aren't just wrong, but "sinister." Upon review of Aslan's (and any postmodernist's writing), there is (1) an absolute sense of certainty that nothing can be certain, (2) the literal rejection of literal interpretations, (3) the sense that objective reality is being attacked by such audacious concepts as 'objective reason' and 'data', (4) the belief that anyone who disagrees with him is a racist, bigot, etc.

That's the doctrine. He's so caught up in being Mr. You're an Islamophobe that he can't have a logical argument with someone. Postmodernists tend to be quite contradictory.

But, that kind of bullsh!t is exactly what gets postmodernists like him, Aslan, into the news because what they do can be "sensationalized." It drives people like me insane because we know he's full of sh!t, but we can't reason with him because he didn't reason himself into the position that he holds. His position is, literally, irrational -as most postmodernism is.

I hate sensationalism because it's used to deliberately dumb down the population. That's the basis of FOX News, it's the basis of MSNBC, it's the basis of every single mainstream news source. People don't care about actual problems in the world because they hear of Aslan and other s***heads talking about how Bill Maher's an "Islamophobe" because he made a f***ing rational argument.

Foucault talked about the concept of a regime of truth; it's basically how we come to know stuff or how information is intelligible. (1) The modern standard of intelligibility, the modern regime of truth (use of the word 'regime' here is significant because we're talking about a connection between truth and power's being exercised) is "reason." Modernity, indeed, is adage of reason. Postmodernity, and postmodernism generally, is a reaction to that. It defines itself against reason, that is to say, it is self defeating by modernity's standards -but postmodernism isn't concerned with that. (2) Rather, it's concerned with taking away power from reason. More or less the un-logic of "we cannot rationally arrive at the conclusion we want, so to hell with reason!" Implicitly, to hell with facts too, insofar as they are the basis of reason.

(1) If you're thinking that it's ironic that I'm using Foucault to critique postmodernism, that might be because someone told you Foucault was a postmodernist. He was not.

I rarely hear anyone speak of Foucault.

(2) There overlap between postmodernism and fundamentalism, in terms of what counts for intelligibility; or, in Foucauldian terms, how they construct their regimes of truth, is also worth noting.

Everything I didn't reply to you said I completely agreed with and didn't feel any need to address.
"It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here,
And I'm much obliged to you for making it clear - that I'm not here."

-Syd Barrett

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