Dr. Reza Aslan, an internationally
acclaimed writer and scholar of religions, was the keynote speaker
at the SAJA 15th Anniversary Scholarship and Awards Dinner on Saturday.
The author of "How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror," shared his views on the events unfolding in Iran, media, and President Obama in a conversation with SAJA blogger Sweta Vohra.
What is the role of South Asian and Middle Eastern voices in Western media?
In the 21st century we are going to be a multi-polar world, and what’s going to shape the Western World is going to come out of Middle East and South Asia, even Southeast Asia. We can’t have outsiders speak. The key is to have people within the diaspora bridge that divide, those who have their foot in both cultures and who can speak to their indigenous culture, customs, etc. And they can do it with the confidence that American media requires.
Can you speak briefly about the recent events in Iran and what this means for the future of the country?
Iran is at a precipice. Iran is going to look different and its either going to be more militaristic and isolationist or it could nationalistic and democratic. Whatever it is, its going to be a very long process. This is a war of attrition and it’s going to happen in the back holes of power. We should try to shy away from the media narrative that the uprising is over because its really just beginning. What we do know is we’re on a path to greater openness that can be slowed but not stopped; this is a population largely under 30 that is politically sophisticated and highly educated. This is a generation in change.
Is there a bias here in America towards the Middle East, or the muslim world in general?
I do think there is definitely a bias towards the Middle East – a narrow focus. The Middle East does not represent the muslim world. In fact, the muslim world exists outside of that and that term should not even be used. Communities of muslims around the world is the term to be used.
You have spoken about how the younger generation in America encompasses a much more globalized point of view of the world.
I call this generation the "under 45s.” The formative experience of America up until now was WWII which for many generations defined American values and in many ways, America’s place in the world. But “under 45s”, thanks to Obama, have more of a role in defining these same values. They grew up in an Internet and globalized world where the world is a single space. Yes, they are nationalistic but have a whole different idea of patriotism.
So what is the responsibility of young journalists in the American media?
Well, they know what their responsibility is – it’s to inform people about global events. But the challenge is to do it in interesting ways and to convince people that what happens there matters here. There is still a majority of people who use “ink to paper” to get their news but for “under 45s,” the news is synonymous with opinion. The challenge to young people is to combine the reliability and responsibility of mainstream media with the immediacy and accessibility of new media technology.
You’ve already spoken a lot about the change under Obama – is this a more positive change?
Yes. It is different because he’s member of the generation that I’m talking about. And, he is the most powerful man in the world. He shares values that we have. He’s globalized, and he looks at world through the lens of decades not weeks. Obama said he is a “citizen of world” while someone like Newt Gingrich says “I’m not a citizen of the world.” You know what, Newt? That’s why you are irrelevant. That is why your thinking is irrelevant. Having Obama is having someone who gets it.
Photo by Preston Merchant