Pfleger’s friends

Michael Pfleger

On June 22, readers of the Chicago Sun-Times were treated to a report by columnist Michael Sneed about “activist priest” Father Michael Pfleger, a well-known figure in the Windy City. In May, at his invitation, Louis Farrakan had preached from Pfleger’s pulpit at St. Sabina Church. Unsurprisingly, the appearance had not gone down well with some members of the Jewish community, and now, as a result, wrote Sneed, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), sponsor of a planned “concert for peace” at the church by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, had canceled the event – or maybe just postponed it; the CSO Association’s president, Jeff Alexander, said he wanted to “give things time to settle down, give everyone some space, and try to do it next season after everything gets resolved.” It wasn’t clear exactly what any of that might mean. In any event, Pfleger was not happy. The concert, he said, had been intended “to draw people together.” It was meant to be “a celebration of love and unity and peace” by “people from ZIP codes all over the city.” At a time when America is “a divided nation,” said the priest, he had wanted to do something to “unif[y] the human family.” One sermon by Farrakhan, he lamented, and “44 years of my ministry was put aside.”

Louis Farrakhan

Pfleger spoke as if his invitation to Farrakhan had been a one-off. And Sneed, for whatever reason, chose not to provide his readers with information that might have helped them to recognize that picture of the situation as disingenuous. In fact, as we noted here in April 2017, Pfleger and Farrakhan – who has called Judaism a “gutter religion,” urged his supporters to murder white people, and told Jews that “when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever” – are old pals. Pfleger himself has described them as “very close friends,” referred to Farrakhan as his “Brother,” and praised Farrakhan for “his Prophetic and courageous Voice.” They’ve dined at each other’s homes “many, many times.” When he allowed Farrakhan to preach from his pulpit in May, it wasn’t the first time; it was at least the fourth.

Jeremiah Wright

Pfleger’s affection for Farrakhan isn’t some fluke. He’s also chummy with Jeremiah Wright, the Obamas’ notorious former minister who accused white scientists of creating HIV to kill blacks and summed up 9/11 by saying that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” He’s buddy-buddy with Al Sharpton. Shortly after 9/11, he let Harry Belafonte take to his pulpit at St. Sabina to blame the terrorist attack on the U.S. itself. On one of the anniversaries of 9/11, the preacher at St. Sabina was an imam named Kareen Irfan, who has defended and befriended terrorists. Never had Pfleger expressed regret for his association with any of these people. Once, when challenged on TV about his friendships with Farrakhan and Wright, Pfleger didn’t get defensive but went on the attack: “I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back while you tear down Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright. How dare you. How dare you. How dare you seek to reduce Jeremiah Wright, who’s one of the greatest Biblical scholars this nation has, to a 30-second sound bite and try to demonize him and trivialize him. You cannot do that.”

Yo-Yo Ma

Given all this, it’s rather puzzling that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Yo-Yo Ma agreed to the “concert for peace” in the first place. Or is it? The very fact that Alexander spoke of “giv[ing] things time to settle down” suggests that the CSO was less concerned about being associated with a despicable piece of work like Pfleger than about the bad publicity. Alexander’s remarks to the contrary, there’s no way to “resolve” this ugly situation and make everything nice; if one thing’s clear from Pfleger’s vile history, he’s one leopard who’s not about to change his spots.

Reza Aslan, phony & hater

Reza Aslan

Born in 1972 in Iran, Reza Aslan was brought by his parents to the U.S. seven years later when they fled the Khomeini revolution. He grew up in the Bay Area, where as a teenager he converted from Islam to Christianity and then converted back. He earned degrees in theology, writing, and sociology, and over the past decade or so has become a leading voice on religion, a subject he has discussed frequently on CNN, Fox News, and other TV networks and on which he tries to sound very modern.

No religion, he argues, is objectively true; on the contrary, each is a set of “symbols and metaphors” that represent one’s sense of connection to the divine and eternal and ineffable. He admits to identifying as a Muslim, but is at pains to insist that this is more a matter of cultural or aesthetic affinity than of thinking that Islam is “truer” than Christianity, Hinduism, or any other faith. Indeed he has said, in effect, that all religions are ultimately the same and that “we are all God.”

He presents himself as a man of high moral character with a deep interest in the divine; as a clear-eyed observer of and expert in religions; and as someone who respects all belief systems and is eager to focus on their similarities and not emphasize their differences. In practice, however, he consistently puts his finger on the scale for Islam. In his 2005 book No God But God, he depicts Islam as inherently benign, blaming pretty much everything that’s negative about it on Western imperialism. In another book published four years later, he strives to distance Islamic terrorism from Islam itself, to draw at least something of a moral equivalence between jihadist murder and the American “war on terrorism,” and to distinguish sharply between jihadism and Islamism. Indeed he actually defends the latter, making the ridiculous claim that the answer to “extremist Islamism” is “moderate Islamism.” Nearly two decades after 9/11, the absurdity of all this should be obvious to any halfway intelligent individual in the Western world. But instead Aslan’s fanciful, friendly picture of Islam has won plaudits across the U.S.A. and elsewhere.

Aslan hasn’t been satisfied with merely whitewashing Islam. In his 2013 book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, he sought to alter established views of Christianity; two years later, he produced and hosted a CNN series, Believer, in which he purportedly sought to take viewers on tours of Christian, Jewish, and Hindu doctrine and practice, at both their ugliest and most beautiful. As Alexander Waugh noted in the Spectator,

Each episode featured the sensational and disgusting practices of fringe groups connected to Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism, which, unsurprisingly, offended mainstream Hindus, Christians and Jews who did not care to be associated in the public mind with their pee-drinking, brain-eating, death-worshipping sub-sects. No discreditable customs of any Muslim sub-sect were shown. Since Aslan has elsewhere gone out of his way to dismiss Islamic terrorism as less of a problem than ‘faulty furniture’; has described jihadism as a mere ‘pop culture’; and has denied any link between the Islamic religion and female genital mutilation, he soon found (no doubt to his delight) that he had sharply divided America’s liberal progressive movement.

Waugh went on:

Aslan explained that the purpose of his Believer series was to reveal to the world how everyone is ‘the same’. His detractors interpreted this to mean that Christians, Jews and Hindus should stop complaining about the unappealing practices of Muslims because there are people doing equally appalling things in the name of their religions too.

Indeed, many of Aslan’s erstwhile fans began to feel that he was at once a shameless apologist for Islam and an eager denigrator of other religions. Even as he slickly denied the established connections between Islam itself and certain abominable practices that are considered matters of faith by its adherents, he exaggerated out of all proportion the prevalence of certain unpleasant aspects of other faiths.

What’s more, professional historians of religion began to look more closely at his academic record and noticed that his claims to be a credentialed historian, a professor of religion, and a Ph.D. in the history of religion were all bogus.

For all his efforts to represent himself as a man of faith, moreover, Aslan has certainly said things about various public figures that are, shall we say, rather deficient in what we in the West used to quaintly call Christian charity. After the 2017 terrorist attack on London Bridge, Aslan wrote a tweet in which he condemned not the terrorists but President Trump, whom he called “a piece of shit” for having refused to mince words about the danger of Islamic terror. (That tweet lost him his CNN series.)

That’s not all. Aslan has maintained, risibly, that women enjoy equal rights in Muslim countries where that is quite plainly not the case. Aslan has not only misrepresented the extent of female genital mutilation but also savaged the comedian Bill Maher when he condemned that practice and dared to acknowledge its connection to Islam. After he appeared on Good Morning America, his interviewer posted online a breathless summary of what she had “learned” from him about Islam:

Did you know Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet and a messiah? I didn’t. Did you know Muslims actually rank Jesus higher than the Prophet Muhammad? Again, I didn’t.

If we’ve decided to give a bit of critical attention to Aslan now, it’s because of his latest headline-making act. Last month, when that group of students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky were harassed outside the Lincoln Memorial by a group of fanatically racist “black Israelites” and by a drum-banging Native American “elder,” the boys were demonized throughout the mainstream media, even though, as it turned out, they were the victims in that encounter, not the bad guys. Aslan was one of those celebrities who piled on, and he did so in a particularly nasty way, retweeting a picture of the most prominent of the Kentucky boys, Nick Sandmann, and writing: “Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?”

It was one of those comments that give the whole game away. After years of promoting himself as a sober, sincere, and thoughtful student of religion, and as a builder of bridges between different faiths and cultures, and as someone who is, therefore, by definition, a decent human being and a man of peace, Aslan, with this one tweet, shattered that image forever. Sandmann is sixteen years old, a boy from Kentucky who did nothing wrong and who, in a TV interview after the Lincoln Memorial episode, acquitted himself with quiet dignity and intelligence – qualities missing entirely from Aslan’s tweet. Reza Aslan wanted to punch a teenage boy, someone’s child, presumably because Aslan didn’t like what he thought he saw in the look on the boy’s face. And this is supposed to be one of America’s leading teachers of religion? No, thank you.