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July 29, 2013 9:26 AM You’re a Democrat, so why would you Write about Abraham Lincoln?

By Seth Masket

This FoxNews.com interview with Zealot author Reza Aslan has been making the rounds over the past few days. The entire interview is fascinating, both for the content of Aslan’s book (basically, the historical and political context of Jesus’ life) and for the Fox reporter’s interrogation of him. But really, you can get almost everything you need to know from reporter Lauren Green’s opening question:

Now, you’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?

That’s kind of amazing, right? To invite an academic onto a news show to promote/discuss his research and then suggest that his research is suspect and/or biased because of who he is? Is this the world Green or her editors live in, where it’s impossible to conceive of a Muslim scholar writing something about Jesus that isn’t an attack?

Green steps things up later in the interview by accusing Aslan of deceit, saying that he should have disclosed his faith in his writings. This is also pretty astounding. (And never mind that Aslan actually does disclose his faith in the book’s preface.) Are scholars who write about Abraham Lincoln supposed to reveal their party identification in their work? Does a white academic need to publicize his race before writing about Martin Luther King? If I identify as a Coloradan or a Californian, is my Nebraska research inherently suspect?

Fox contributor John Dickerson has an interesting defense of this line of interrogation, claiming that Aslan has an inherent conflict of interest:

Let’s hope reporters in future interviews will, being informed, mention the glaring conflict of interest in this Islamic opinion of Jesus. It is no more objective than my educated views about Muhammad, as a Christian.

So, yes, I suppose we see the world as we see ourselves, and Dickerson cannot conceive of himself as a Christian writing anything objective about Islam. Does the rest of Fox News subscribe to this worldview?

Being a scholar hardly exempts one from criticism. Indeed, scholarship improves with robust debate and critique — that’s the whole point. But this interview wasn’t scholarly debate, and it definitely wasn’t a critique of the author’s work. It was a criticism of the author for having the temerity to write about the subject in the first place.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

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Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.
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