Academic and writer Reza Aslan appeared on an online segment for Fox News entitled “Spirited Debate,” on July 26, 2013 to discuss his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Zealot is a historical account of the life of Jesus and analyzes religious perspectives on Jesus as well as the creation of Christianity. The host, Lauren Green, began the debate with this question, “You’re a Muslim, so why would you write a book about Christianity?”
Aslan, who obtained several degrees including a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, reassured Green that his position as a historian justifies his book about Jesus. However, his accolades were not enough to convince Green; she continued to make Islamophobic remarks throughout the interview.
While Green questioned Aslan about his Muslim faith, Green never asked Barry Vann, a professor at the Southern Baptist-affiliated University of the Cumberlands, about his book Puritan Islam: The Geoexpansion of the Muslim World. This interview in 2011 was focused on Vann’s book, not his religion.
It is obvious that Fox News host, Lauren Green, used unbalanced and biased journalism when she interviewed Reza Aslan. Her interview focused on the fact that Aslan was a Muslim writing about Christianity. On the contrary, during her interview with Barry Vann she never asked the question, “You’re a Christian, so why would you write a book about Islam?”
The mentioning of a person’s religion or nationality by the media is a subtle attack that promotes Islamophobia. Islamophobic remarks and anti-Muslim bias are not new phenomenon in the media. For example, the New York Post in the immediate hours after the Boston bombings of April 2013, accused an injured “Saudi national.” Later it was discovered that the individual was an innocent bystander. While this was a blatant example of racist Islamophobia, there have been more subtle attacks by the media.
On April 15, 2010, ABC 7 News Chicago reported that a man killed 4 members of his family. The ABC 7 correspondent interviewed the suspect’s aunt, who claimed that her nephew was quiet, except for when he talked about Islam and Muslims. The journalist notably mentioned this fact towards the end of the article as if to infer that because he was a Muslim convert, he committed this crime.
On the contrary, ABC 7 Chicago covered a similar crime in 2009 where a man shoots and kill his own daughter. However, the journalist did not mention the suspect’s religion. This shows that coverage of murders rarely, if ever, mentions the religion of the perpetrator if he is not Muslim. Similarly, the religion of a scholar or academic is rarely, if ever, called into question if he is not Muslim.
The selective process journalists make when determining to reveal a person’s religion should be questioned. This new brand of Islamophobia may be more subtle, but it nevertheless inhibits the growth of peaceful understandings of Islam and Muslims.