Americans are expressing outrage after a CNN host ate a cooked human brain with a group of cannibals in India for the Sunday premiere of the network’s show, “Believer.”
“Want to know what a dead guy’s brain tastes like? Charcoal,” CNN host and religion scholar Reza Aslan wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. “It was burnt to a crisp! #Believer.”
But it’s apparently not the immoral and stomach-churning act of cannibalism that has everyone in an uproar.
No, what is angering people most is how Aslan, a Muslim who is also a creative writing instructor at the University of California at Riverside, portrayed Hindus.
While filming the episode, Aslan met with the Aghoris of India, a small sect that worships Shiva, a Hindu god of destruction. According to CNN, the Aghor is a secret fringe sect that is generally not accepted by mainstream Hindus. They have been known to eat human flesh, drink from human skulls, eat feces and spread the ashes of corpses on their bodies.
For the show, Aslan joined the Aghoris in performing some of these rituals, including eating part of a human brain and smearing the ashes on his face.
(Warning: The following videos contain graphic content from a CNN show depicting disturbing cannibalistic behavior and may offend some readers.)
One cannibal told Aslan: “I will cut your head off if you keep talking so much.”
That’s when Aslan turned to his director and said, “I feel like this may have been a mistake. Maybe we just, like, somebody distracts him and then I just leave.”
When the cannibal began drinking his own urine, Aslan had enough and walked away.
Rather than reacting with horror and disgust at the televised act of cannibalism, most of Aslan’s critics are accusing him of spreading “fear of Hinduism.”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu member of Congress, tweeted Tuesday: While good people across our country are working hard to increase mutual understanding and respect between people of different religions, I am very disturbed that CNN is using its power and influence to increase people’s misunderstanding and fear of Hinduism.”
Amid the uproar over his episode on the Aghoris, Aslan posted the following message to 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. In the case of the episode on the Aghor – which, as I repeatedly state on camera and in voice-over, are not representative of Hinduism but are instead an extreme Hindu sect who reject the fundamental Hindu distinction between purity and pollution – I tried to ease the concerns of those who may have missed this fundamental distinction by providing multiple articles and videos on CNN.com that address the beliefs of Hinduism and debunk its myths. … In almost every interview I did about the show I talked at length about the issue underlying the episode, including the fluidity of the caste system, the problems inherent amongst the untouchable class, and how devout Hindus of all stripes are working tirelessly to overcome both. …
I know 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. 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.
ON Wednesday, Aslan also retweeted an article by the American Council on Science and Health. It was headlined, “Why CNN’s Reza Aslan Shouldn’t Eat Human Brains.”
Aslan wrote, “You work all your life for a headline like this.”
Still, some critics took to Twitter to blast CNN for filming an act of cannibalism for its show:
- “@CNN fake news wasn’t bad enough? Cannibalism?”
- “@CNN is normalizing cannibalism now! The reporter just ate human ashes and has human body parts on his head!”
- “To me it seems like they’re trying to further push cannibalism as a norm.”
One Twitter user shared a photo of a CNN promotion of Aslan’s show with the caption: “We’re so desperate for viewers that we’ll eat humans on our programs.”