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America's Funniest
(& Smartest) Arab

The Arab Spring & Big, Bad, Scary Muslims
Amer Zahr
by Amer Zahr
June 8th, 2011 (8 Comments)
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Yes, that was the cover of the most recent edition of The Atlantic, one of America's foremost magazines on foreign affairs, politics and culture. At first, I wondered why this magazine would be advertising a Kung-Fu movie. After reading the headline, I quickly realized that it was referring to a different kind of ninja... a much scarier kind... the Muslim kind.

I came across this edition of the magazine while perusing through Borders. I always like to visit the "Middle East History" and "Islam" sections, just to catch up on all the latest publications. Through my explorations, I've stumbled upon a few books I'd never heard of. Some of the titles include "Because They Hate", "They Must Be Stopped", "A God Who Hates", "The Truth About Muhammad", "A Religion of Peace?", and "Now They Call Me Infidel". All of these books are about the peril of what has come to be commonly referred to as "Radical Islam." One of my particular favorites was a book called "Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington." This book details how "Muslims masquerading as moderates" have inserted themselves into American society, including the realms of education, government, workplace, law enforcement, and the military, all with the aim to destroy our constitutional government and turn Judeo-Christian America into an Islamic state. Oooooooh.

And of course, we've all heard the pundits and politicians during the Arab Spring. "Watch out for the Muslim Brotherhood," they tell us. They ask with despair: "Will these revolutions create a vacuum for the Radical Islamists?" It's all scary stuff, indeed.

Now, the ignorance and fear-mongering of these publications, authors, politicians, and talking heads is nothing new. I'm used to it. What is most disturbing is the commercialization of it all. There is a whole industry dedicated to scaring non-Muslims of Muslims.

The cover of The Atlantic is most misleading. We all saw the news images of the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, and what we observed were young, modernized, technologically-savvy Arabs demanding liberty and freedom from their despotic leaders. Sure, I saw one demonstration in Yemen where about 20,000 ninjas were marching against the government. But it all depends on how you look at it. I just thought they were protecting themselves. I mean, it creates a great alibi. When the police come down to arrest you for leading the demonstration, you can just say, "It wasn't me, it was her... the one with the brown eyes."

Let me say to all Americans: Muslims are not as scary as they are made to seem. Nor are they as religious as they are made to seem. In my career, I've performed in front of lots of Muslim audiences. They laugh just like everyone else, and at the same stuff as everyone else. Ahmed Ahmed, one of the founders of the acclaimed "Axis of Evil" comedy tour, recently released a valuable documentary entitled "Just Like Us," where he follows a group of comedians (including himself) as they perform throughout the Middle East. The overarching theme is that humor is universal, and that "they" laugh just like "us."

Admittedly, Arab and Muslim crowds are tougher to make laugh. But that's just because each member of the audience is studying the act, figuring out how to do it better on his own. I can't tell you how many Arabs come up to me after shows and say to me, "Amer, you were so funny... I have a joke for you... You can use it." If there's anything wrong with us, it's that each of us believes that we can do whatever you're doing better than you can do it. See, we started only stocking the shelves at a gas station owned by a white guy. Now look at us.

Well, Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East have been watching democracy in other places for a long time. And contrary to popular belief here, they like it. They have been entering visa lotteries for generations just to get a taste of it. Now they're finally going to try it on their own. I'm not surprised it has arrived late. On my last trip to the Arab World, they were still watching the first season of "Lost."

So to all the naysayers and fear-mongerers warning us (as they profit) about the dangers of Islam, I ask you to just calm down. Give it a little time. Democracy is a new enterprise for the Arabs. They're just learning the basics, still stocking the shelves. You never know, they might even do it better.

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* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."

Comments (8)
  1. wow!!!! great job amer… well said!

  2. Very nice piece, will send it to all my scared american friends. Boo!

  3. Nabil KHoury ... June 8th, 2011 - 16:32

    Hello Amer:

    As you know, we see things similarly, and I agree with most of your comments. I have been disappointed by players in the Middle East who are inconsistent at best regarding the push for Arab democracy.

    Hizbullah condemned Mubarak and the King of Bahrain, but praised Bashar Assad!

    Qatar supports the Libyan rebels but also supported suppression of Bahraini protesters.

    There is a mix of sectarianism and political expediency that still compromises the authenticity of the Arab march towards democracy. I think that they’ll get where they need to be, but untold thousands will be killed, maimed, and tortured until we get there.

    Arab leaders have left no options for transition of power. Thus, “Apres moi, le deluge” holds for all of them. They shut down all the parties, but couldn’t shut down mosques. Thus, the “fear” that the Muslim Brotherhood will take over.

    There is a lot to fear, but I fear these regimes most. A government that comes to power on the heels of a popular revolution, should be more respectful of human rights. At least I hope so.

  4. well said Amer! I especially loved your ending…. “they might even do it better.” Inshallah!!

  5. great post Amer! you should share your posts on http://www.facebook.com/naapny so that others can benefit from the subjects you’re covering on your blog. Thanks!

  6. “Let me say to all Americans: Muslims are not as scary as they are made to seem. Nor are they as religious as they are made to seem”

    not taking religion seriously does not change what religion is or says or means.

    • Have you read the Bible? It’s my religion but wow, there are some really violent calls to arms there by God. If you think that theological attempts to understand and even legitimize war is something inherent only to Islam, you are obviously not familiar with other religions.

      My point is, war has always been part of human history and nature. Theology (in all forms) attempts to organize and make sense of phenomena bigger than ourselves. So it is completely understandable that war is dealt with in these holy books. Does that mean that, because ancient religious leaders were called to combat due to certain circumstances and their relationship with their God, that any follower in present day will follow the same path? Of course not! Some will- but there are also people out there who still believe that certain crops should not be planted together, that a woman who was raped but wasn’t heard screaming wanted it and should be stoned, that a child who speaks against their father should be put to death (and yeah, those are all Biblical examples)

      It’s up to those of us who practice our religion with clear heads to look at the zealots in our ranks with all of the confusion, frustration, and pity they deserve. And we should look to those of other religions who take a moderate, reasoned stance, and stand beside them, not condemn them to the same identity as the maniacs who happen to carry the same faith name. Otherwise we alienate them more, and push them closer to the nutters.

      In America, we associate a lot of Christians with the Christian right- unfairly. Most Christians think the book-burning idiot from Florida was a source of shame. Most Christians think that calls for women to be subservient to their husbands and live a life of childbearing without the option of employment are asinine. And most Christians think that calling our involvement in the Middle East a ‘Crusade’ or ‘Holy War’ is historically blind and invites disaster. So if we can give ourselves enough credit to know there are calm, rational practitioners as well as nut practitioners, why can’t we give others the same credit? Remember, not too long ago, we had our own Christian terrorists here in this country- the KKK. And Hitler in Germany. All religions go through periods where zealots scream louder, and I think it’s time we stand beside the calm, rational Muslims and help give them a voice.

  7. Your writing is pretty funny and sharp. I definitely agree that all the hand-wringing over whether or not Muslims are gonna get perfect “democracy” right off to be hypocritical at best and racist at worst. Americans didn’t even get democracy right off which is why we went through The Articles of Confederation and a Civil War amongst other things before arriving at the Constitution and a basically livable division of powers. And we’ve still amended the Constitution 27 times with politicians regularly suggesting new amendments. Considering the widespread poverty and newness of a lot of the Middle Eastern nations it would be a little obscene to expect them to “get” democracy right off when America still struggles with the “freedom and justice” for all bit.


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