Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, among others, blasted CNN host Reza Aslan this week in the wake of the most recent episode of his religion mini-series, Believer. On Sunday, Aslan featured an obscure Hindu sect called the Aghoris, who are known for non-mainstream practices, including cannibalism. The scholar turned TV host participated in some Aghori rituals, including eating a piece of a dead person’s brain.
Aslan wrote about this experience in a short Facebook post on Sunday: “Want to know what a dead guy’s brain tastes like? Charcoal. It was burnt to a crisp!”
People magazine’s Cici Adams detailed the controversy over Aslan and the Aghori in a Thursday post. Most critics took less issue with his cannibalism, and focused more on his apparent misrepresentation of the Hindu religion:
Many have since condemned the journalist, accusing him of using a fringe group to represent the entire Hindu faith. Critics include U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu member of Congress, and Hindu Trump advisor Shalabh Kumar.
Rep. Gabbard devoted 11 posts on Twitter on Tuesday to the controversy:
7/ “CANNIBALS,” perpetuated bizarre and ugly impressions of Hindus and their religion. CNN knows well that sensational, even false reporting
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) March 7, 2017
Mr. Kumar also took to Twitter on Sunday, and ripped Aslan for his “disgusting attack on Hindus.”
Aslan responded to the firestorm with an extended post on Facebook on Wednesday: “As someone who writes and speaks about religion for a living, I know better than most the sensitivities of the topic, and I have spent much of my career trying my best to address those sensitivities.” He continued that he “repeatedly state[d] on camera and in voice-over [the Aghoris] are not representative of Hinduism but are instead an extreme Hindu sect who reject the fundamental Hindu distinction between purity and pollution.”
The CNN host later acknowledged that “there are still those who are offended by the episode, especially when it comes to its treatment of such issues as caste discrimination, which remains a touchy subject for many Hindus in America.” However, he justified his look at the Aghori sect: “I have great sympathy for that position. But caste discrimination is a very real thing, and the attempts by the Aghor to overcome it using the principles of Hindu spirituality is important to highlight.”
[image via screengrab]
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