Reza Aslan on Tehrangeles, revolution and the death threats that sidelined his book tour
In the past few days, the Iranian writer’s name has been floated as a potential presidential candidate for next year’s Iranian elections. He has been the focus of intense social media campaigns by advocates that have threatened to physically attack him and those standing behind him.
But Reza Aslan’s most recent controversy erupted over the course of three days of intense public questioning, at the end of which he had finally been invited on a book tour in New York. Aslan is the author of the memoir, “The New Muhammad: Islam, the Soul of the Nation,” which won the 2014 National Book Award. The book, which recounts Aslan’s journey from a Muslim American teenager to his Muslim adulthood, has been a popular and controversial bestseller in the Middle East. It has also stirred controversy in the United States, where it was reviewed by outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, which described it as a “fascinating memoir” and a “moving account” of “the evolution of Aslan’s thinking on Islam,” and “the many challenges that arose in his efforts to understand” the religion.
In the middle of that controversy, Aslan made a trip to Tehrangeles, an Iranian island town south of the Persian Gulf, to perform a reading and interview at a local cultural center, after which he was approached by members of the Iranian opposition who were protesting on behalf of the current president, Hassan Rouhani. The protests had been staged to protest the government’s decision to reinstate the country’s compulsory hijab, a form of Islamic dress code that has been illegal since 1979. On the day of the protests, the Iranian parliament announced that it would allow students to choose whether to wear the hijab in high schools, which Aslan was covering at the time.
But a day later, the anti-hijab protesters were joined by thousands of Iranians who decided to take to the streets in response to the government’s announcement. That day, Aslan’s schedule was