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America's Funniest
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Islam is BAD… Or Is It?
Amer Zahr
by Amer Zahr
June 20th, 2011 (3 Comments)
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On June 8, I wrote a column entitled "The Arab Spring & Big, Bad, Scary Muslims" about the depiction of Muslims in academia and media, citing the recent cover of "The Atlantic." The truth is that I could write each and every day about the unfair depictions of Muslims and Arabs in the news, films, books, and by political pundits. But I'll do my best to just do it two weeks in a row.

This was a bad news week for Muslims.

Republican congressman Peter King held hearings last week about Islamic radicalization in American prisons. Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain proclaimed that he would not appoint any Muslim judges or cabinet members, since many American Muslims "are trying to force their Sharia law onto the rest of us." Syrian president Bashar Assad told the world that he was not killing peaceful protestors, but rather protecting his country from Islamic "armed gangs."

Now, let me add a personal note here. I am, to put it mildly, not the most religious guy. I come from a Palestinian Christian father and a Palestinian Muslim mother. Religion was present in our house. We celebrated every holiday: Christmas, Eid, Easter, Eid. During Ramadan, we fasted... a little. I think my dad even fasted a few times. He must have pissed off my mom the day before. Religion was present, but not central. My siblings and I grew up as neither atheists nor fervent believers. I was baptized (which is maybe why my dad had to fast), but I was never pulled in either religious direction. As a Palestinian, every Abrahamic faith is part of my heritage. So a Christian-Muslim marriage seems natural. If my dad was Muslim, I guess he could have married another woman. I would have rooted for a Jew.

In any case, I find myself loudly criticizing the mis-characterizations of Islam and Muslims in the media. It feels natural, and not only because I am defending half of my DNA. As with anything else, there is much to be criticized in Islamic culture and political systems. There is much to be poked fun at. But blanket denouncements, like those of Peter King, or outright collective characterizations, like those of Herman Cain, or blatant and intentional misleading labels, like those of Bashar Assad, are illegitimate.

Islam, like the cultures and societies it influences, is complicated, varied, storied, and deep. In "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," Gus, the irreverently proud Greek father, famously quipped, "When my people were developing philosophy, your people were still swinging from trees." A Muslim could easily say, "We had 100 Shakespeares 500 years before you had one."

The Arab Spring, in many ways, is a reclaiming of that deep pride. While the American mind might reach back a couple hundred years, the Arab/Muslim historical consciousness reaches back over 1500 years. To dismiss that history and simply paint Islam the way King, Cain, and Assad do is simply ignorant. It is meant only to instill fear. It differs little from the tactics of Al-Qaeda, which notoriously depicts Westerners in a way that simplifies and devalues them and their culture.

Perhaps Peter King should bring in prominent American Muslims to his hearings to speak about their thoughts. Maybe he could call in Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Fareed Zakaria. Or Shaquille O'Neal, Dave Chapelle, or Ice Cube. Or Barack Obama... wait, I think we're still keeping that one a secret.

Do you really think Herman Cain wouldn't hire Shaq? He'd make a great Secretary of Defense. No one would mess with us. He wouldn't hire Dave Chapelle as his press secretary? Those would be fun news conferences.

Of course, what Assad is doing is much worse. King and Cain could be characterized as victims of a decades-long smear campaign against Muslims in American film, media, and politics. But Bashar knows better. He is using Western depictions of Islam to scare his own Arab people. And it's not working.

So, yes, it was a bad couple weeks for Muslims in the news. And just when it couldn't get worse, along came Anthony Weiner. He tweeted naked photos of himself to various women, all while married to a beautiful, educated Muslim woman, Huma Abedin. Only God knows what she must have gone through with her family just to marry him. And now this. Well, it turns out Arab and Muslim men aren't the only philandering jerks. So are Jewish-American congressmen, Austrian-American governors, and French heads of the IMF.

Huma, you are Hillary Clinton's right-hand woman. I'm sure you guys have a lot to talk about now. But if you ever need to complain about your Jewish husband to a non-religious Christian-Muslim-Palestinian-American man... I'm here for you.

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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 (3)
  1. The problem with Islam Ahmed are the same problems inherit with any belief system based on fairy tales and superstition, it cannot be determined logically what is a part of it and what is not. Once you admit the irrational, you are “playing it deuces wild.”

    So, apologists will always claim that misdeeds committed by Muslims were done in spite of Islam, whereas good deeds are due to their faith. It is, however, entirely plausible to maintain the exact opposite. Namely, misdeeds are due to following the religion, and good deeds are done in spite of a professed commitment to Islam (or incidentally to it).

    Trying to defend the religion by pointing to non-essentials such as comedy in the ME or the presence of other religious faith within your family (as if they are nay better) or that most Muslims are pragmatic about their faith and its teachings (which doesn’t surprise me one bit) doesn’t really change the fact that it is ultimately an irrational religion that makes big claims for itself and deserves no respect but instead mockery and ridicule, as is the case with such belief systems in general

  2. well thank u Amer for this article. As a female muslim & an arab as well, i would like to say a few words to Michael.
    dear Michael,I think you should first get to know our religion before calling it irrational & deserves mockery. I wonder what do u really know about my religion?? have u ever read quran??? i don’t think so. If u see something on the news and they say this is islam or becoz of islam that doesn’t really mean its true.
    Islam doesn’t encourage violance, in the contrary, islam comes from the wors SALAM, which means peace! so when a closed minded arab decides to kill some one, or brain-wash a guy to doing what is PROFITABLE for him, “in the name of islam” that doesn’t mean islam said so!
    If a muslim is beating his wife, that’s becoz he’s a jerk as a man, not as a muslim. If someone hates americans or jews, maybe their family was killed by one in palestine or iraq!!! that’s what u should think about. if you are a christian and u have pre-marital sex, that doesn’t mean than the bible allows so! if a christian decides to blow some place up, that doesn’t mean that jesus asked him to do so.
    I understand that after september 11 event, we ,as muslims , are hated. I understand the anger & rage, becoz someone just labeled a killer with his religion instead of his brains & feelings !!!
    If u read quran you’ll see that islam does in fact respects Jesus & christianity, that prophet Mohammed had a jewish neighber and mohamed was good to him.
    so please before judging anyone, try to get to know that person. don’t look at a cult of close minded, long-beard, couple of jerks as the representatives of Islam.
    Thank you

  3. Hello Ms. A Salman,

    “I understand that after september 11 event, we ,as muslims , are hated.” This is not true. For most people, the men who committed the attack are hated, not ALL Muslims. Only the least intellectual, or those with political ambition, think otherwise.

    As for Islam being irrational (and deserving mockery), this is a poorly stated argument held by many Atheists about every religion. I always wonder why gods, from Babylon to Mecca, are always created in our image and infused with very human faults. The need for religion amongst men is fascinating to me.

    Amer, thank you for the article. I’ve yet to see your comedy but look forward to catching it if you visit DC. All the best, Joe


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