Allie Raifsnider: Aslan Essay

Allie Raifsnider

September 11, 2011


In  his book Beyond Fundamentalism:  Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization, Reza Aslan  describes multiple examples of religious extremism as well as ideas of how to  solve this growing phenomenon.  The most  important section of Aslan’s book, to me, is the introduction.  Many readers of all different types of books  either skim the preface or introduction or they skip it altogether; however,  Aslan’s introduction introduces the reader to many new terms and concepts he or  she may not be familiar with while still discussing something that will always  remain fresh in everyone’s memories: the attacks on September 11, 2001.

In  his introduction, Aslan opens the reader’s mind by introducing the concept
that, “the hijackers who murdered more than three thousand souls on that
September morning were carrying out a liturgical act (Aslan 4).”  The pure emotion that the reader feels when  he or she reads the introduction is the emotional basis that he or she has for  the rest of the book.  With 2011 being  the ten year anniversary of September 11, 2001, many may take the introduction  as being a justification of the tragedy, but it is to be taken as more of an  explanation.

The  document, “discovered in the baggage of one of the 9/11 hijackers,” allows the
reader to get a glimpse of what exactly the hijackers’ mindsets were at the  time of the attacks (Aslan 3).  After  discussing the document further, Aslan explains that the attacks on September 11th did not spark the debate between religion and violence, but it
in fact forced the issue to be confronted and made it impossible to set it  aside any longer.  Throughout history, it  has always been easy for rulers and leaders to blame violence on religion, but  Aslan makes the point that, “no religion is inherently violent or peaceful; people are violent or peaceful (Aslan 4).”  This statement forces the reader to  consider the fact that it is not specifically Islam or Muslims that are “evil,”  but it is the specific people who participated in the attacks on the World Trade  Center and the Pentagon.  The United
States of America, in the days, weeks, and months following the attacks,  collectively thought of the Muslim and Islam worlds as evil entities.  As a collective whole, we did not take the  time to consider the point that Aslan made because the country, and the world,
was in shock.  Now that a decade has  passed, America has come to realize that, as Aslan states, “these men read the  Qur’an and assured themselves that it was not innocents they were sacrificing  but the allies of Satan, the brothers of the Devil (Aslan 4).”  One of the most important terms of Aslan’s  book is introduced in the introduction. He defines the term cosmic war as being, “a conflict in  which God is believed to be directly engaged on one side over the other (Aslan 4).”  Cosmic wars, according to  Aslan, can simply have no compromise, negotiation, settlement, or surrender,  and therefore, a cosmic war is divided into the general factors of good and  evil, “soldier and civilian, combatant and noncombatant, aggressor and  bystander,” and us versus them, which Aslan titled the introduction (Aslan  5).

The men who attacked the  United States of America on September 11, 2001 were cosmic warriors.  Cosmic wars cannot be won in real terms, and  the attackers knew this going in, but they did have one main goal: global  transformation.  This transformation is  the “victory” that would, “establish the truth and get rid of evil (Aslan  7).”  Aslan’s shift from talking  directly about the September 11th hijackers to introducing al-Qa’ida  is incredibly smooth, and his blatant use of negative phrases about the  terrorist group make the reader feel comfortable.

Aslan clearly states that al-Qa’ida,  as it can hope, “is incapable of erasing all borders and reestablishing a  worldwide Caliphate (Aslan 7).”  As  defined at the end of the introduction, Caliphate is, “the political office of  the titular head of Islam, established with the death of the Prophet Muhammad  in 632 C.E. and abolished by Mustafa Kemal Ataürk in 1924 (Aslan 14).”  In the years since September 11, 2001, the  American government has almost made us, the American public, fear terrorists  even more by making us believe that their goals are easily achievable.  By doing this, we, as a country, have come  together as one side of this cosmic war that has been occurring for centuries  in the Middle East.

“This  is not a normal war,” Aslan states.  “Our  very identity as a nation was at stake.
The world had been cleft in two, with good on one side and evil on the  other, and victory would come, George W. Bush promised, only when we ‘rid the  world of evil (Aslan 8).’”  With the  world essentially divided into two sides, good and evil, people begin thinking
collectively.  Collectively, we have to  stand together as to win, not lose, and not surrender.

“Religion  is identity. Indeed, in many parts of  the world religion is fast becoming the supreme identity, encompassing and even  superseding ethnicity, culture, and nationality (Aslan 10).”  Aslan’s introduction in Beyond Fundamentalism is one of the most important sections in the  entire book because it introduces the reader to many new concepts, terms, and  it also opens the reader’s mind to many new perspectives of world issues that  have arisen over the last decade.  The  opening paragraphs dealing with the attacks on September 11, 2001 hit home with  the reader making the rest of the book personable.  “In the end there is only one way to win a  cosmic war: refuse to fight in it (Aslan 11).”  Aslan’s positions on world conflicts open up  the reader’s eyes to new concepts that he or she may have not considered likely  in the past, and this strategy is helpful in that a wider range of conflicts,  perspectives, and reasons are surfaced.  Reza  Aslan makes the reader think, evaluate, and consider things he or she may not  have previously considered and he also opens up many questions that are  necessary for the reader to confront and answer before continuing to another  section of the book.

Works Cited

Reza, Aslan. Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of
New York: Random House Trade

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2 Responses to Allie Raifsnider: Aslan Essay

  1. harper15 says:

    I found your essay to be really interesting. The sentence about how readers interpret the introduction as a justification rather than a mere explanation really caught my attention. I think this could also be linked to the authors own religious beliefs and what assumptions the reader has made about him. Since he is Muslims readers could assume that he is trying to show the innocence of other Muslims like himself. I also found similarities between your essay and Metz pertaining to the government’s stance on eliminating terrorism. I think it was also important to mention the motive of the hijackers, as you thoughtfully included. The paper seemed to be filled with many facts and few fallacies.

    • harper15 says:

      I read your essay once more and came up with a couple more comments. I still feel like the paper mostly avoids the use of fallacies. However, while the paragraph on the documents found in the bag is very interesting, I think a little more explanation of what it was would be helpful. Overall, I thought the paper brought up some very good points!

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