Interviewer 1: Thank you everyone. Good morning and good afternoon, now, I guess and welcome. I’d like to thank everyone at the Rumi Forum for inviting me here today. It’s my pleasure and it’s my honor to be here to introduce Dr. Aslan. We don’t actually have that much time to list everything he’s accomplished by far in his incredibly prolific career. He’s an author and a scholar with degrees in religion in the University of Santa Clara, Harvard and the University of California. He was a Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction at the University of Iowa and he’s also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. His book, “No god but God: The Origins, Evolutions, and Future of Islam” has been translated into 13 languages. He’s a commentator of issues ranging from rights of writers under siege around the world and the possibility of peace between Israel and Palestinians. Just yesterday he actually offered a commentary to my news organization, National Public Radio, in which he said among other things that “The prospect of the two-state solution is dead and buried.” That’s something I’m sure we’d all like to hear a little bit more about today. Dr. Aslan’s latest book and the subject of our discussion is “Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization.” The New Yorker call it a thoughtful analysis and said Dr. Aslan’s consideration of works like Hamas and Hezbollah as a legitimate participant in the democratic process compared to groups like al-Qaida is an appealing if unproved claim. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Aslan.
Interviewee: Thank you very much and thank you Jamie. It’s a great honor to be up here with you and let me just begin by apologizing first of all for not being here during Ramadan and secondly for the fact that my voice is a little bit shot. So this is about as loud as I can talk unfortunately and I hope it’s enough for everyone to hear. It’s a great honor to be here at the Rumi Forum. I’ve been looking forward to this talk for quite some time now and I’m rounding the end of this very long book tour and it’s wonderful to, kind of, be able to be here in a very intimate setting and talk to you a little about some of the issues that the book “Beyond Fundamentalism” deals with. I want to begin by, sort of, stating what is sometimes seen as a startling statistic and that is that at the dawn of the 20th century, approximately one-half of the world’s population identified itself with one of the five great religious traditions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism. One hundred years of scientific progress, of secularism, of technological advancement and that number now stands at two-thirds. We are becoming more religious as a society, not less religious and the predictions about the impending death of God that, you know, started so many college coffee shop conversations have proven for better or worse to be false.
So the question is first of all, why? Why is it that religious identity seem to be on the rise across the world including here in the United States and secondly, what to do about it? What kind of challenges and problems does that bring up and how can we deal with them? First the question of why; there’s a, you know, a lot of theories for this. Entire books have been written about, you know, the causes of this surge of religious identities and I’m sure that there are people who can speak about this much better than I can, but I do think that there are two fundamental elements that we have to keep in mind when talking about the rise of religious identities. The first of them has to do very simply with the fact that secularism and certainly national secularism or, I’m sorry, Secular Nationalism this, sort of, founding principle of the 20th century that if we could just all strip away our religious and ethnic identifications and come together as a collective based around secular principles, based around an agreement of common principles, common interest, then we will finally see the peace and prosperity that humanity has been desiring for so many years. In other words get rid of religion and peace will reign. Well, how’d that go for everyone, by the way? I mean, really this is the one kind of fundamental truth that sometimes gets lost in the debates about the causes of religious violence which is that the past century has seen the most bestial acts of human violence in recorded history and more importantly, those acts have, for the most part, been carried out in the name of unabashedly secularist ideologies, Fascism, Nazism, Socialism, Maoism, Stalinism, even, you know, social Darwinism. These theories, these ideologies that have accounted for the deaths of hundreds of millions of people in the 20th century were not just explicitly secularist but saw as part of their ideological foundation the replacing of religion.