CNN host Reza Aslan, a Muslim, is sparking outrage after eating part of a human brain during a televised meeting with a cannibalistic extreme Hindu sect called the Aghori.
The meeting was part of his television series “Believer,” which is said to feature the “world’s most fascinating faith-based groups.”
The Aghori, while identifying as worshipers of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, are condemned by mainstream Hindus for their practices, which includes drinking out of human skulls and eating the flesh of the dead. They also wear the ashes of cremated humans on their faces and consume their own urine and excrement.
Aslan explained in the episode that the Aghori engage in these practices because of their belief that since god lives in them, nothing can defile them. Mainstream Hindus, on the other hand, believe that it is important to be cautious about maintaining purity.
Aslan visited the Aghori in Uttar Pradesh to educate the public about the group, but nervously went along with their practices as he had ashes rubbed on his face and was given a skull filled with an alcoholic drink.
At one point, the Aghori guru became upset by Aslan’s questioning and threatened, “I will cut your head off if you keep talking so much!” Aslan then sought to back out of the meeting, but his production crew advised him to stay and see what transpires.
Aslan was soon given a piece of cooked brain to eat, which he consumed with a disgusted look on his face. However, on Sunday, he posted to social media, “Want to know what a dead guy’s brain tastes like? Charcoal. It was burnt to a crisp!”
The footage and the post horrified viewers, some who accused him of portraying Hindus in an extreme light, and others who were simply sickened by his ingestion of human flesh.
“You’ve insulted and misrepresented a pure, gentle and insightful religion like Hinduism. As a devout Hindu this has caused tremendous hurt to my sentiments,” one commenter wrote. “A million explanations from you will not make up for this injustice. Perhaps the only thing you said in your mock-umentary would come true for you—-you have earned your bad karma.”
“You’re pretty gross—even if this is just a harebrained publicity stunt. I’d give you a piece of my mind, but for the risk you’d probably just eat it,” another wrote.
Aslan then posted again, writing, “I’m not the only one turned off by these Aghori theatrics.”
But on Wednesday, he Tweeted an article on “Why CNN’s Reza Aslan Shouldn’t Eat Human Brains,” remarking, “You work all your life for a headline like this.”
Less than two hours later, as the outrage continued, Aslan released a statement defending his coverage of the group and insisting that he was clear the sect is not representative of Hinduism.
“[A]s I repeatedly state on camera and in voice-over, [the Aghori] are not representative of Hinduism but are instead an extreme Hindu sect who reject the fundamental Hindu distinction between purity and pollution,” he wrote. “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.”
“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,” Aslan continued. “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.”
He did not include regret for consuming a piece of human brain in his statement, but rather focused on offended Hindus.