WATCH: Aslan to Stewart: Anti-Muslim Fear Manufactured by a 'News Channel' for Ratings

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Reza Aslan on the 'Daily Show' with Jon Stewart. May 2015. Credit: Screen grab


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REZA ASLAN: What drives me absolutely bananas is this constant refrain you heart -- from some of your guests in fact -- that you know what Islam really needs? It needs a reformation...

My answer is to that is: open your eyes, man. What do you think is going on? People think that reformation is about holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Reformation is about a cataclysmic debate about who has the authority to define a faith. Is it the individuals or is it the institution? 

That debate in Christianity led to the death of half the population of Germany alone... 

My point is that that argument is precisely what is at stake in the violence that we see...

Let me tell you, the wrong way to think about it is to simply divorce religion from it altogether. I fully understand that sentiment.

JON STEWART, DAILY SHOW: But it lends power to it. Anytime you land dogma to something, it lands power.

ASLAN: Absolutely. But I do think we need to resist saying, you know, ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, or that violence in the name of religion has nothing to do with religion. Well, of course it has to do with religion. Look, if ISIS calls itself Muslim, we should probably take them seriously. Fine. They are Muslims.

STEWART: That is their organizing principle. But I would suggest without that, they would find another organizing principle. Whether it be through a tribal affiliation, whether it be through a nation-state. We are very adept at finding organizational categories for ourselves to belong to to fight a group that belongs to a different one.

ASLAN: And religion is a very good category... Still, still, I'm okay with you saying that ISIS is Muslim as long as you also realize that the tens of thousands of people that they have kill are also Muslims and that the tens of thousands of people who are are fighting against ISIS are also Muslim.


So, if ISIS is Muslim and their victims are Muslim and the people who are fighting them are Muslim, then that doesn't really say anything all that interesting about Islam itself. Certainly nothing that you can make a generalization about.

STEWART: I think what's happened is, in America we've defined our largest fear as Islamic terrorists. And by defining that, because of the American character of whatever we're worried about is "the worry" that we have now and we want everyone else to define it in that same way. And Muslim communities may define the biggest threat as prejudice against them with people assuming they might be terrorists.

Other groups may rightfully look at it and go -- I remember after 9/11, asking a guy who was, he may have been head of emergency response and I said what can we do to protect ourselves from terrorists. And he said, well, "I think the thing that people can do is stop smoking and wear a seatbelt." And, but, it pointed out that you get locked into this idea of this is the greatest threat to us when we accept greater threats everyday without overturning the entire world order...

ASLAN: I will say on your point about anti-Muslim fervor. I mean, that's a very real thing. Two-thirds of Americans say that Islamic-American values conflict with each other. Half of Americans say that Muslims can't be loyal to America. One-third of Americans. That's 100 million of us believe that Muslims should be forced to carry special I.D.s identifying them as Muslim. There's a historical analogy there somewhere. I can't put my finger on it.

That is the reality of what is happening here. And I think it is important to understand that this fear is so manufactured by a news channel that has spun it into ratings gold. We won't talk about it. Politicians who use it to get votes.

STEWART: It's both sides, by the way. If you look at one of the greatest drivers of anti-American sentiment overseas are the fear-based rhetoric of their leaders, of punditry, of everything else.

Both sides have decided that to perpetuate their own power it makes best sense to play to the basic sense of fear of your constituency...

ASLAN: The good news is that everything that is said about Muslims today -- that they are not American, that they are fearful, that they don't belong here. Everything that was said about Muslims today were said about the Jews in the '40s and '50s. Was said about Catholics at the end of the 19th century.

And those two religions through the passage of time, through the slow-building of relationships and the integration of story became very much part of the religious fabric. The same thing is going to happen to Muslims. The bad news is then we will find somebody else to hate.

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