Noted Islamic Scholar Speaks on Campus
Reza Aslan, a leading expert on Islam and the Middle East, spoke about U.S. relations with the Muslim world to kick off Occidental College's 2009-10 First Tuesday speaker series in Thorne Hall on Oct. 6.
An assistant professor of creative writing at UC Riverside and a contributing editor at the Daily Beast, the Iran-born, U.S.-educated Aslan is the author of How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror and the New York Times bestseller No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.
Aslan focused his remarks on the pros and cons of the Obama administration's Middle East policy. On the plus side, he said, the administration "has recognized the importance of changing the tenor of the dialogue between the Western and Islamic worlds." In particular, he said, President Obama has "pulled back on the religious rhetoric" that characterized the Bush administration's approach. Also important is that Obama has "shattered the illusion that there is a monolithic enemy in this war on terror." The president recognizes, Aslan said, that "these are different groups with different agendas."
However, Aslan criticized the Obama administration for "stepping back on the [Middle East] democracy promotion of the Bush administration." "We need to continue to push for greater democracy in these Islamic countries," he said. "The Muslim world doesn't want the U.S. to give up on that."
Aslan also touched on problems with the war in Afghanistan, saying that the Obama administration "hasn't done a very good job of explaining what we're doing" there. We need to realize, Aslan said, that "there is a distinct difference between the war on terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither of those wars is a war on Al Qaeda," which is a trans-nationalist movement, not an entity, he explained.
Aslan has degrees in religions from Santa Clara University, Harvard University, and UC Santa Barbara, as well as a master of fine arts from the University of Iowa. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, and the Pacific Council on International Policy.
His talk was sponsored by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and by the Remsen Bird Fund and the Values and Vocations Project funded by the Lilly Endowment.
For more information on Reza Aslan, go to www.rezaaslan.com.