Reza Aslan effectively provides us with a perfect Marxist (or at least materialist) analysis of Islam (though not of other religions). Or at least Aslan does so when he's rationalising or explaining the systematic and large-scale violence done by Muslims almost every single day in at least two dozen countries.
All the violence actions carried out by Muslims in the Muslim world and in Europe have absolutely nothing to do with Islam. It's all really to do with economics, colonialism, ethnic conflict, the malign influence of the West... anything as long as it isn't Islam.
For example, when Muslims criticise the Islamic State (as mentioned by Aslan and others recently), or when they give to charity (though only to fellow Muslims – which is something we aren't often told), are they merely responding to material conditions or to Islam? Or is it that only the negative or violent deeds and actions of Muslims yield to such a Marxist/materialist analysis?
"It is really the single most basic idea about religion, that it marries itself to whatever culture it comes into contact with.”
As it stands, the statement above contains some truth. Nonetheless, it also has to be said that it is Islam (or the Koran, hadith, sharia law, etc.) which “marries itself to whatever culture it comes into contact with”. After all, it's not atheism or astral travelling which does so.
Reza Aslan, for example, cites the case that Saudi women aren't allowed to drive cars; though they are, I assume, in Turkey. However, perhaps no law is needed in, say, Pakistan because - outside of rich political families, etc. - Muslim women will simply accept that they're not allowed to drive cars. As for Turkey, liberality when it comes to women driving cars has occurred in spite of Islam, not because of it. In other words, it has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with the secularisation of Turkey which began some 90 year ago (in 1923).
“inability to understand the difference between a cultural practice and religious belief”.
That shameful inability to offer a Marxist or materialist analysis of Islam is “shocking among self-described intellectuals”.
In terms of honour killings, for example, the main problem is that Islam - or, more correctly, the Koran, the sunnah and the hadith - are full of references to "honour" and the concomitant need to abide by the "principles of honour".
In sharia law there's also the notion of 'ird. This applies to the honour of the individual Muslim. Abdul Wahid Hamid (in his Islam the Natural Way), for example, writes that
"preserving honour... is the goal of... sharia laws that punish sexual relations outside marriage'. In addition, the 'severe punishments' of Sharia Law are there to 'protect honour and chastity”.
This is the case when he assumes - or pretends - that all such critics and criticisms are “not very sophisticated”. (This is also a Loonwatch idea,along with the ad hominems that all critics of Islam are “loons”, “fascists”, “racists”,“pseudo-intellectuals”, “self-described intellectuals”,“bigots”, “haters”, whateverists, etc.)
"problem is that you’re talking about a religion of one and a half billion people, and certainly it becomes very easy to just simply paint them all with a single brush”.
1) ".... Islam is largely a process of Arabization, so to speak. The teachings and practices of Islam stem from those of the Arab desert culture from which Mohammed came...."
True; up to a point. Islam is still indeed Arabic. Though Arabic culture became Islamised too in that it can't be denied that Muhammad brought things to the Arab tribes which they would have been unfamiliar and unhappy with.
So Muhammad "married" himself to Arab culture. (He couldn't help but do so - he was an Arab.) Then he created an Arabic-Islamic culture and society. From then on, all Muslim societies married themselves to Arabic Islam; rather than the other way around, as Reza Aslan suggest.
After all, it's 2014 and the vast majority of non-Arabic Muslims still have both Arabic first names and Arabic second names. Many still wear Arabic clothes. Allah is himself a monoglot who only speaks Arabic. And the Koran "can only be truly understood in the original Arabic"... and all that's to miss out the many abominations of Arabic sharia law.
2) "Rather, the truth is that Islam affects local culture and local culture affects the practice of Islam."
I hope I didn't come across as going too far in the opposite direction to Reza Aslan - completely denying local culture or "material conditions". Marxists called that position both "idealism" (the philosophical position) and "voluntarism" (i.e., the - complete? - psychological freedom from material conditions).