Terry Gross Fresh Air interviews
I suppose this isn’t a book, but it feels like an audiobook. I got this collection from our local library because I’m often thinking about the relationships between the subjects here. The interviews are interesting and enlightening, though I can’t say that I found myself persuaded at all.
And neither could Gross. While she occasionally prods her subjects a little bit, she doesn’t do so very often. Reviewer “Traveler” on Amazon explains her positives and negatives this way:
Gross interview[s] Tim Lahaye, author of the “Left Behind” series. This is a man who is as close as it gets to being fringe on the far right. Lahaye tells Gross that he respects other people even if he disagrees with them. He then goes on to explain how he once publicly asked the Dali Lama if he would meet with him in private so that he (Lahaye) could share the truth about Jesus Christ. Again, no followup question! A better interviewer would have very politely asked Lahaye what he thought if others saw this act as being disrespectful. . . .
Gross’ value as an interviewer is that she sometimes – and I stress sometimes – pulls from her subjects statements they might not otherwise say if they were thinking straight. Gross disarms them in part because she doesn’t challenge them. In other words, she gives them the rope to hang themselves.
I found myself agreeing. Gross interviews in a pretty unconfrontational way, giving the subjects the floor to say what they want. While there is need for this kind of frank discussion of belief in our public square today, I agree with Traveler that people also need to be challenged when they say things that are bunk.
One interview that I found particularly interesting (and somewhat galling) is the interview with the liberal Muslim advocate scholar Akbar Ahmed. While many of the points he makes are essential and must be heard–the idea that we need more conversation between Muslims and other folks, he simplifies to the point of being insulting the question of drawing Mohammed.
The prophet is the embodiment of the Koran, which Muslims believe, rightly or wrongly, that the Koran is the word of God. The prophet translates that word. And therefore he holds a very high status in Islam. To attack the prophet is to attack the base, the very foundations of faith itself.
Gross asks why Muslims get so upset when people draw Mohammed and his response is that Muslims hold the profit as the conduit for God’s word, and to disrespect the prophet is to insult everything they believe in. And then, as with LaHaye, Gross doesn’t follow up. It seems to me that the essential issue has to do with human rights, particularly the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience. In some Muslim countries, apostasy is still illegal. People are still murdered for thought crimes, for not believing what the mainstream in their countries believe. And even in other countries, people are being murdered for saying things or writing things. Not things actively advocating action, but criticism itself.
I’m afraid I come down on the side of extreme intolerance for suppression of speech and thought. And that’s where I differ from Ahmed. He suggests, pragmatically for sure, that Westerners and secular people everywhere should be tolerant and respectful of religion. But it’s against religion, kicking and screaming, that enlightenment pushes the world forward. And respect is hard to maintain when you’re being kicked.