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Religious scholar Reza Aslan recently appeared on the FoxNews.com show Spirited Debate and the host insisted that his being a Muslim somehow affects the quality of his new book about Jesus. The whole ordeal was embarrassing for Fox News, but things are only going to get better from here for the author.
Aslan appeared on the online show on Friday to promote his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, about how the environment Jesus grew up in shaped him. But host Lauren Green didn't want to talk about the book so much as she wanted to talk about how Aslan is a Muslim. "You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?" was Green's very first question. "Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who also just happens to be a Muslim," Aslan politely replied. Green doesn't give up, though, the interview goes downhill from there:
At one point Green goes so far as to accuse Aslan of hiding his religion, as if he was trying to be sneaky, or as if it matters. "Ma’am, the second page of my book says I’m a Muslim," he tells her. "Every single interview I have ever done on TV or in print says I’m a Muslim."
The whole ten minute appearance is embarrassing for the news network, even if it was an online show, for a number of reasons. As Uproxx's Josh Kurp points out: "At no point does Fox News realize the irony of persecuting someone over their religion in a discussion about Jesus." That's probably the biggest one.
But after the interview started to get passed around quietly on Saturday, and then exploded late last night after Buzzfeed called it "The Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News Has Ever Done," the outrage train was off and running. The reaction fell somewhere between praise for Aslan and disbelief at Fox News' horrible behavior. "This Fox interview with Reza Aslan is absolutely demented (& he handled it with remarkable calm)" said The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum. Wired's Steve Silberman simply called the interview "embarrassing," as did many others. "Please, please watch this if you haven't yet. It's amazing," urged Digg editorial director David Weiner. "How fitting to watch that [Aslan] clip during a commercial break from Idiocracy," he added later. Buzzfeed's Raymond Sultan called it "the greatest thing" he's ever seen. "The level of stupidity and ignorance here is bewildering," said writer Chris Addison. "My patience would have vanished within a few minutes if I was being asked these questions," said Deadspin's Samer Kalaf. "Reza Aslan is superhuman."
But there is one thing everyone can agree on:
The disgust and glee and outrage stemming from the interview should actually help Aslan. Controversy like this usually drives book sales through the roof. Remember what happened with J.K. Rowling's pseudonymous mystery novel? The same thing will likely happen with Aslan's book, too, and plenty of people have mentioned buying the book after watching the interview. But the nice thing about this controversy is Aslan's book was selling well without the help. While Rowling's book had sold less than 2,000 copies before the big reveal -- leading some to suspect it was a promotional work -- Aslan's Zealot debuted at the number two spot on The New York Times' Best Seller list behind Mark Leibovich's This Town this morning. Just wait until the post-scandal numbers come in.