Earlier this month on December 8th, the Global Initiatives Program hosted an event with speaker Reza Aslan. Aslan is an Emmy- and Peabody-nominated producer, renowned writer, professor, and expert in world religions. Aslan’s event follows his controversy from last month described in my blog from early December.
Conversation with Reza Aslan
On Monday, November 14 the 2022–2023 global scholars cohort along with interested students from the community met with…
In summary, Aslan received backlash from the Poly community, mainly about his involvement with the National Iranian American Council(NIAC) due to accusations of lobbying for the Iranian government. However, this month’s event focused on Aslan’s new book, An American Martyr in Persia: The Epic Life and Tragic Death of Howard Baskerville.
The event began with Aslan introducing himself and giving a brief background on his Iranian roots to the crowd of Poly students, alumni, faculty, and parents along with community members from Westridge and other local schools. Then, Aslan shared his expertise on Iran’s rich history. Specifically, Aslan focused on the Iranian Revolutions and Howard Baskerville’s involvement in them.
Prior to this event, I knew a little bit about Iran and the Iranian Revolutions from history classes I have taken and from the parts of Aslan’s book that I read, but I left this event knowing significantly more than before. Also, I now fully understand Aslan’s fascination with Baskerville. I learned that after Baskerville studied under Woodrow Wilson at Princeton University, he decided to become a missionary and applied to be a teacher abroad. Baskerville was sent to Iran, one of his last choices. In 1907, Baskerville traveled to Iran and began teaching English and spreading the gospel. Naturally, as a twenty-two-year-old in Iran, he fell into the revolutions there and ends up meeting Hassan Sharifzadeh. From Hassan Sharifzadeh, Baskerville learns about the revolution and feels compelled to participate, but the United States government had declared neutrality in the conflict, so he kept quiet.
However, his silence does not last long as he witnesses firsthand the suffering and horror of the Iranian people. Caught between his home country and a country that needed him, Baskerville ultimately decides to resign from his position at his school and give up his missionary position to join the revolution. And quite literally, he does this in the middle of a class, leaving the room and his students standing up and following shortly after. After hearing about this, the United States threatens Baskerville with treason if he does not return back to the US. But the US could not stop him. In response, Baskerville hands over his passport and gives up his American citizenship. Baskerville eventually is killed in battle and he becomes known to the Iranian people as the American Martyr who died fighting for the Iranian revolution.
I was deeply impacted by Baskerville’s story and courage. Especially when Aslan related the Iranian revolution to present-day issues. Aslan pointed out that today Iranians are fighting for the same rights that Baskerville did and ended with the comforting statement that “the only difference between us and others is the place of our births.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this event, however; throughout the event, some audience members asked questions about Aslan himself and the controversies he is involved in. These questions were quickly shut down and never answered. I wish that we had the opportunity to hear these questions and their answers as I think it would have been interesting to hear other people’s perspectives on the issues instead of just Aslan’s. Nonetheless, Aslan’s knowledge of Iran’s history was both incredibly insightful and interesting.