As this Twitter timeline demonstrates, Reza Aslan has had kind of a weird 24 hours.
It’s difficult to comment on breaking news as it unfolds, especially in 140 characters, and Aslan’s mistake really makes this apparent.
Aslan wanted to suggest, I think, that the language of anti-Semitism was easier for Westerners to accept and understand, even if the actual reasoning behind the murders was much more complicated. Indeed, because of the connection to the shooting deaths of the North African paratroopers, Aslan wondered aloud why “anti-Semitic” was so quickly deployed by the media instead of anti-immigrant or Islamophobic.
His guess was that the shooter — or shooters — would turn out to be from the radical right-wing, like Anders Breivik, someone who wanted to murder his way back to a white, Christian Europe. And, indeed, some media reports yesterday were certainly hinting in that direction too.
Early this morning (in the U.S.), however, we learned that the shooter — or at least one of the shooters — claimed to be a member of al-Qaeda who went after the paratroopers because of French military involvement overseas. Which likely means that the Jewish school was targeted because it was a Jewish school.
Aslan then tweeted about being wrong:
There are a couple things to say about all of this.
First, with murdered children on everyone’s mind, Aslan’s first few tweets ended up sounding much more callous than I suspect he intended. He was trying to make a point about the general anti-immigrant or racist sentiment that exists in Europe and he was trying to criticize those who were so quick to turn to anti-Semitism to explain the incidents.
But, second, he was wrong about the anti-Semitism, which now does seem to have motivated the killings at the Jewish school. He had an opportunity to correct himself or to apologize; he might have said, as I did above, that it’s really difficult to comment on breaking news as it unfolds. Instead, he essentially said, “I thought it was someone who hated immigrants (specifically Muslim ones), but it turns out to have been someone who hated Jews. Same basic thing.”
Of course, he’s right. Hatred of those who are different is hatred no matter which group is the target. But Aslan failed to own up to the fact that he was trying to make a point about what he regards as the overuse of the language of anti-Semitism and that he tried to make this point about murders that were, in fact, motivated by anti-Semitism. The Jews were killed because they were Jews and Aslan ought to acknowledge this to his thousands of Twitter followers.