Part 2—Baiting the Romans: When Salon interviewed Reza Aslan, we thought we saw some good news and we thought we saw some bad.
Aslan is the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which was published last year. Lauren Green, who normally isn’t crazy, conducted a ridiculous interview with him for a Fox News webcast, repeatedly asking why a Muslim would want to write about Jesus.
Needless to say, the ridiculous session went viral. In an interview this week for Salon, Michael Schulson asked Aslan about the mess.
We would say some good news was lurking here:
SCHULSON (4/20/14): Your interview on Fox News was painful to watch, but it also pushed you to the top of the bestseller lists. How do you come to terms with that kind of bittersweet PR boost? Do you ask for an apology? Do you write a thank you note?For the record, the book was not “a massive bestseller” at that point. But you can’t exactly blame an author for overstating a tad.
ASLAN: [Laughs] Well, just to set the record straight, the book was already a massive bestseller. But you’re absolutely right: the Fox News interview shoved it to No. 1. Obviously, I’m grateful for that, but mostly what I’m grateful for is the way that the interview launched a much-needed public conversation about who gets to speak for Jesus. I think Fox News watchers, conservative Christians, were outraged by that interview, as many of them have emailed me to say. This idea that there are only these gatekeepers who get to speak for Jesus—that’s something that’s obviously absurd, and a lot of people reject that.
Aslan said that many Fox watchers, conservative Christians, have emailed him to say they didn’t agree with the tone of the interview.
To the extent that’s true, we’d call that very good news. Schulson followed up on the comment:
SCHULSON (continuing directly): So you’ve gotten a lot of support from regular Fox News viewers?Aslan may still be overstating, of course. But to the extent that he isn’t, we would call his report good news.
ASLAN: Of the thousands of emails I’ve gotten about that interview, I think 99 percent of them were positive, and many of them were from regular Fox News watchers who said they would never watch Fox News again. Many of them were from conservative Christians who said that, while they disagree with my interpretation of Jesus, they were horrified by the blatant bigotry that was shown in the interview.
We think it’s good when people from the other tribe find ways to agree with our own tribe’s approaches. Getting people to agree with your point of view is what politics and other forms of persuasion are all about.
To the extent that Aslan was telling the truth, we would call his comments good news. On the other hand, we thought there was something like bad news lurking in these later comments, where Aslan tilts toward division and ultimate conquest:
SCHULSON: On your Twitter feed, the background picture is of Glenn Beck looking distressed. I have to ask: Do you enjoy being the bane of these right-wing media personalities?Really? On his Twitter feed, Aslan features a picture of Glenn Beck? Aslan says he sometimes “baits” such figures, though “it’s not a professional thing to do” and he isn’t “proud of it.”
ASLAN: Am I allowed to say yes? I mean, look, when someone like Glenn Beck puts you on his chalkboard of crazy, I think it’s a moment to be proud of. When designated hate-group leaders like Robert Spencer or Pamela Geller spend all of their days Googling you and writing articles about things you’ve said or written, I think you should be proud of that, because these guys are clowns. They are racist, bigoted individuals, and you want people like that to hate you.
So, listen, I’m guilty of baiting these guys sometimes; it’s not a professional thing to do, I’m not proud of it, to be honest with you. At the same time, there is something to be proud of when Glenn Beck and Pamela Gellar and Robert Spencer and magazines like First Things hate you.
(Aslan wants people like Beck to hate him? Really? Why? What’s the point?)
In our view, Aslan should possibly listen to the inner voice which is saying his instincts may be wrong here.
In our highly tribalized culture, we’re constantly rewarded for name-calling the other tribe+for heightening the contradiction. Unfortunately, there are three million ways to define and locate The Other—three million ways to divide the public against itself.
Sometimes, Salon seems devoted to helping us pursue each one.
Yesterday, we noted the way Salon enjoys urging generational division. As the week proceeds, we’ll look at one or two more.
In our view, every time we divide the 99 percent without need, we’re just helping the one percent win. Divide and conquer! It’s the oldest play in the plutocrat play book!
The liberal world was asleep for decades. Today, it’s alive and snarling, not necessarily in completely constructive ways.
This revived liberal world loaded for bear. On a political basis, is that the best route to success?
If Aslan can be believed, many conservatives took his side after Green’s unfortunate, uncharacteristic interview. Helping others learn to see things your way—mightn’t that be the route to success?
Tomorrow: Good morning, Tuscaloosa!
Thursday: Name-calling Mr. O