Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reza Aslan: No "Clash of Civilizations"

Reza Aslan at The Commonwealth Club, where he discussed Iranian-American identity and politics with journalist Jonathan Curiel on September 1. (Photo by Beth Byrne.)

Despite the high levels of religious identification by Americans, this country remains quite ignorant about -- and sometimes fearful of -- minority religions, especially Islam, scholar Reza Aslan told The Commonwealth Club last night. During a conversation with journalist Jonathan Curiel, Aslan said that someday, Americans will accept Muslims the same way they think of Catholics; but when John F. Kennedy was running for president in 1960, he had to face public skepticism about whether his Roman Catholicism would entail him being more loyal to the Vatican than to the United States. Today, that accusation sounds laughable.

That attitude (and the hope embedded in it) are a good summary of Aslan's attitude toward the world's conflicts and the various intersections of religion and politics around the globe. In short, he said there is no "clash of civilizations," to use the phrase popularized by historian Samuel Huntington; he argued instead that the chief source of mistrust and misunderstanding was religious.

For a thoughtful and extensive overview of Aslan's program, read The Majlis report by Evan Hill.

For more about the Iranian-American experience, you might want to attend the upcoming event with popular author Firoozeh Dumas, who returns to The Club September 10. There's more event information here.

And on October 28, Haleh Esfandiari, founder and director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Middle East Program, will discuss her time as a prisoner in Iran (a story she wrote about in her book, My Prison, My Home: One Woman's Story of Captivity in Iran). More on her event information here.


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