Clowes Memorial Hall was packed with students, faculty and community members on Tuesday evening, all waiting to hear Reza Aslan speak on “The Future of Islam.”
According to his Web site rezaaslan.com, Aslan is an “internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions.” His first book, “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” was named one of the 100 most important books of the last decade.
In addition, Aslan has been featured on television shows like “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “CBS News” and the “Colbert Report.”
His speech was the second in Butler University’s four-part series titled “Seminars on Religion and World Civilizations.”
Aslan opened the night light-heartedly, joking that he almost missed the lecture because his plane was delayed because the man sitting next to him was wearing “Muslim garb.”
While he may have been joking, the underlying issue was real: America is suffering from “Islamaphobia,” he said.
“What in the world is going on in America today?” Aslan asked.
He sarcastically quipped that America could never be prejudice toward it’s wealthy, integrated Muslim community.
But of course, he said, we are.
“Anti-Muslim sentiment has reached an unprecedented extreme,” Aslan said.
He said a poll conducted by The Washington Post shows that anti-Muslim sentiment among Americans is increasing. Currently it is at about 50 percent.
That is an 8 percent increase from a poll conducted directly after Sept. 11, he said.
The problem, Aslan said, is that anti-Muslim extremists like Pamela Gellar and Robert Spencer, have become “media darlings,” and are rubbing off on politicians and media outlets.
“These kooks and clowns, because that’s what they are, are now part of the regular dialogue in America,” Aslan said.
He said he believes it is the economy and our “fear of war” that is allowing these radical predjudices to prevail.
Aslan said everyone is looking for someone to blame for America’s economic struggles right now and, “depending on where you live the scapegoat of the year is the Mexicans or the Muslims.”
Weariness of the 10-year long war is another factor, he said.
However, the biggest contributing factor to America’s “Islamaphobia,” he said, is that “20 percent of American’s are convinced Barack Obama is Muslim.”
Aslan said more Americans today believe our president is Muslim than when he was first elected.
This may seem trivial, Aslan said, but what’s happening is that Islam is becoming “otherized,” meaning, it has become a “receptacle” for Americans to throw away unfamiliar and frightening thoughts and “tag them with Islam,” he said.
This is nothing new, Aslan said. Everything currently being said about Islam was said about Jews and Catholics too, he said.
“Now we look back with shame and mockery [on those days],” Aslan said. “I am confident that 20-30 years from now we will look back on this Muslim hysteria with the same shame.”
Aslan said our Muslim hysteria poses serious consequences for national security, pointing out that we are still engaged in a “war on terror” with a Muslim country.
But more than that, he said, America’s Muslim hysteria challenges how we idealize ourselves as a country.
“This country was founded on the idea of religious liberty,” Aslan said. “It is what defines us. We are a country that says religion is a good thing.
“That’s the kind of country I assumed we lived in.”
Aslan said the solution to getting past this problem is by building relationships.
“Sixty percent of Americans claim they have never met a Muslim,” he said. “If you do know one single Muslim, it cuts your negative perception in half.”
Aslan said that means every single one of us is responsible for moving forward. He said it is up to Muslims to be a beacon for their faith and it is up to Americans to get to know their fellow citizens.
“We are a country that defines itself by its differences,” he said. “So what kind of American do you want to live in?
“One that believes that constitutional values are unconditional? That is the question we have to ask ourselves.”