Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA)
Internationally renowned writer and scholar of religions Reza Aslan exploded
into our collective consciousness a few years ago with his first New York Times
god but God, the Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam,"
offering up a uniquely positive perspective on Islam to a terrified post 9-11
audience. Three years later, Aslan is making waves again with his second book,
"How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror,"
in which he explores how apocalyptic thinking plagues every religious tradition,
every inspired nationalism, and argues that it cannot be defeated with brute
force, upon which it thrives.
A leading columnist at the
Daily Beast, Aslan has
appeared on CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, as
well as many other media outlets. He has degrees in Religions from Santa Clara
University, Harvard University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara,
as well as a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa, where he was named
the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. He is a member of the Council on Foreign
Relations, the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, and the Pacific Council
on International Policy. He serves on the board of directors for both the
Ploughshares Fund, which gives grants for peace and security issues, Abraham's
Vision, an interfaith peace organization, and PEN USA.
Aslan's first book is the New York Times Bestseller, "No god but God" which
has been translated into thirteen languages, short-listed for the Guardian First
Book Award in the UK, and nominated for a PEN USA award for research
Non-Fiction. Born in Iran, Aslan now lives in Los Angeles where he is Assistant
Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.
PAAIA's Rudi Bakhtiar sat down with Aslan on his book tour through Washington
DC this week.
Rudi: You've been travelling all over the states in the past few weeks
since your book launch. You've been on The Daily Show with John Stewart, CNN's
Anderson Cooper 360, and you're on Bill Maher on Friday. Are you exhausted or
Reza: Both. It is really hard to complain about the fact that I get to
travel around the world and share my ideas with people. That said, it is
exhausting to constantly be "on" all the time. After I have finished a lecture,
I can barely move. All I want to do is get back to the hotel and crash.
Rudi: In your book "How to Win a Cosmic War" you make the case that "The
War on Terror" is unwinnable because it's the wrong war to fight. So what is the
answer to religious extremism?
Reza: It depends on the cause of the religious extremism. That is really
the biggest mistake we have made in the so-called War on Terror. We have lumped
together every movement, organization, non-state entity, and nation-state that
calls itself Muslim and uses terrorism as a tactic into a single category, as
though they all want the same things, or are motivated by the same grievances.
Some groups are acting out of specific socio-economic concerns. Some groups,
like al-Qaeda, are fighting what I call a cosmic war-a war of the imagination.
For these latter groups, there is little that we can do but confront them
militarily. For the former groups, we must address the underlying social,
economic, and political grievances that fuel their particular brand of
to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War
Random House (April 21, 2009)
Rudi: Your first book "No god but God" hit the New York Times Best
Sellers list. What is it that draws you to these controversial religious themes?
Reza: I have always been interested in religion and the power it has to
shape society. Maybe it is because I lived through the Iranian revolution. Maybe
because I myself am a person of faith and so I take religion seriously. There is
just something about the phenomenon of religious faith that fascinates me.
Rudi: Are you religious yourself?
Reza: I believe in God and I strive to have a spiritual life. I am
unconvinced by arguments that nothing exists beyond the material realm.
Rudi: What is the biggest challenge in tackling some of these sensitive
issues, especially in our Iranian American community?
Reza: There is so much emotion wrapped around issues of Islam among
Iranians in the US. The older generation especially has so much anger and
resentment toward the Islamic Republic that it is sometimes hard to have a
rational discussion about what is best for the future of Iran. I know because my
father feels the same way. But I always have to remind people that what they
want for Iranians back in Iran is irrelevant. We need to focus on what Iranians
in Iran want and figure out how to get it for them by using the system that is
already in place.
Rudi: In light of your socio-economic based solutions to fighting
"terrorism", what did President Obama's election mean to you?
Reza: It was huge. This is a man who has presented himself as the bridge
between the civilizations. A man with a Muslim father and a Christian mother who
understands how the world views the US. I think he's doing a marvelous job so
Rudi: You're not only about to publish your third book, but you're also a
member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Los Angeles Institute for the
Humanities, and the Pacific Council on International Policy. You also serve on
the board of directors for both the Ploughshares Fund, which gives grants for
peace and security issues, Abraham's Vision, an interfaith peace organization,
and PEN USA. And you write for one of the most popular blogs DailyBeast.com. How
do you manage it all? Does that leave any time for fun?
Reza: No. I have no fun at all. Thank God my work is so much fun. My job
is my hobby so I can't complain.
Rudi: You are also Cofounder and Chief Creative Officer of BoomGen
Studios, a hub for creative content from and about the Middle East. What are
some of the exciting projects you are working on?
Reza: We work with a number of large studios and
filmmakers to make sure that their projects dealing with the Middle East are
successful and that they are made with integrity. We have a number of our film
projects in various stages of development but I'm not allowed to talk about
those just yet!
Rudi: When was the last time you were in Iran?
I went to Iran for eight weeks in 2005 and just hung out with family, traveled
around a lot, and talked to young people about what they wanted for the future.
It was an amazing trip!
Favorite Iran story?
Reza: I had a teenage girl ask me, when she found out I
lived in the US, how I liked living in a theocracy. This was in 2005 at the
height of the Bush Administration. It was hilarious.
Rudi: How old were you when you moved to the U.S.?
Reza: I came to the US at the age of seven. We originally
landed in Oklahoma but it did not take long to figure out there were other
places in the states worth living in. So we moved to the Bay Area and that's
where I grew up. I went to High School in San Jose and college at Santa Clara
University, where the Jesuits taught me everything I know!
Rudi: You're very well travelled. What's the most fascinating place you've
visited and why?
Reza: I loved living in Morocco for about four months in
2000. It was incredible. I lived in Fes and spent a lot of time in Marrakesh,
which is the last place on earth where the orientalist fantasy of the Middle
East still exists.
Rudi: Now that you have put this book to bed, what's next?
Reza: I have an anthology of literature of Middle East
that Norton will publish in the Fall of 2010. Then I am deciding which of two
books will be published next. I have a historical novel that's been dying to see
the light of day and a book on Jesus I have always wanted to write.
Rudi: What keeps you up at night?
Rudi: What do you like to watch?
Reza: I love 30 Rock and Lost. And I never miss the Daily
Rudi: Favorite music?
Reza: I like hip hop and electronic music. But I also like
Rock and Roll.
Rudi: Give me some names!
Reza: Mos Def for sure. And I live for Radiohead.
Rudi: Anyone special in your life?
Reza: Nope. I am single and available ladies!
Rudi: Where are you most likely to be on a Friday night?
Reza: These days with my beautiful puppy Nick. I can't
stand being away from him for even a moment.
Rudi: Maybe that's why you're single?!
Reza: Thanks Mom!
Rudi: Any exciting plans this summer?
Reza: Just touring.
Rudi: What's it like growing up as Leila Forouhar's nephew? ☺
Reza: That's all everyone wants to know! I love Leila. She
is so good to me. She has promised to sing at my wedding though I'm not sure if
that's ever going to happen.
Rudi: I wouldn't have expected such skepticism from the optimist who
believes "cosmic wars" can be won! Are you saying it's easier to win a cosmic
war than get married these days?
Reza: Well they're both battles between good and evil.
If you live in Los Angeles, you can join Reza Aslan when he debuts his new book,
"How to Win A Cosmic War: God Globalization and the War on Terror," at Largo at
the Coronet, Saturday, May 2, 2009. Doors open 7:30 pm, show starts at 8:30 pm.
Joining Reza are indie rocker Kutsal and her musicians, and hip hop innovator
For more information is available
... Payvand News - 05/04/09 ... --