The events of the past couple weeks have confirmed something we Arabs and Muslims have known for some time:
Now, I’m a Palestinian Arab Christian Muslim American. My parents are both Palestinian Arabs. My dad is a Christian, and my mom is a Muslim. We affectionately call ourselves “Chrish-lims.” Now, many people say, “Well, you can’t be half this and half that.” Hey, take it up with my parents. But I should warn you. Arguing with Palestinians is no fun.
In any case, there is a bright side. In a world where Muslims are required to condemn ISIS on a daily basis, I am in a pretty good spot. As just a half-Muslim, I don’t need to waste as much time on this exercise. For those interested, condemnations are available 3.5 days a week, depending on my schedule, but never on Sundays. Since I’m related to Jesus, I rest on that day.
Of the many professional activities I engage in, one of them is conducting seminars to educate American companies and organizations on Arabs and Muslims. The National Football League should hire me immediately.
On Monday, September 29, I was watching as Husain Abdullah, a Muslim member of the Kansas City Chiefs, celebrated after returning an interception for a touchdown. He intercepted the quarterback of the New England Patriots, the great Tom Brady, a living legend. A defensive player returning an interception for a touchdown is a fairly rare occurrence in the NFL. Abdullah had every reason to celebrate. And celebrate he did.
As he reached the end zone, Abdullah slid to his knees and knelt down in Muslim-style prayer. The referees quickly penalized him for “unsportsmanslike conduct.” Football players are not allowed to celebrate “excessively” after scoring. This includes dancing, taunting, miming, pirouetting, back-flipping, and the such. Prayers, however, are not subject to penalty.
Now, if he were celebrating the fact that he was a Muslim who just embarrassed someone from a team called the “Patriots,” then I would squarely condemn such action. But let’s assume he was celebrating the touchdown, only the second of his six-year career.
I should say that I don’t think the referees were penalizing Abdullah for performing a Muslim prayer. They simply had no idea what he was doing. They were clueless.
Of course, we all remember Tim Tebow kneeling in prayer multiple times on the football field without penalty. Other players routinely make gestures to the sky whenever they score, and sometimes even when they simply catch a ball. None of this is ever penalized. Referees tend to have a very clear idea of what Christian prayers look like.
But why should the NFL even care about Muslims? Football is the all-American game! Well, first, as we all now know, there are at least two Muslim players in the league, Husain and his twin brother Hamza. There are more Muslim players that we do know about, of course. And there are even more undercover ones that we don’t. Second, there is at least one Muslim owner in the NFL, Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now, the Jaguars have been terrible under his reign, so I don’t like to brag about him too much. But here is there nonetheless, and as far as I know, he is not related to any terrorist activities, so that’s good. Finally, the NFL has millions of Muslims fans. If you visit any café in Dearborn on a Monday night, you will find yourself among scores of Muslims watching American football, cursing at the TV in a foreign language.
Now, to the NFL’s credit, the organization quickly announced the following morning that Abdullah should not have been penalized at all. But the bigger point is that the referees on the field did not correct their call, although they had ample time to do so. None of the seven officials on the field approached the others and said, “Um, guys, I think he was praying.”
Now, if the NFL had gone through some sort of Arab/Muslim sensitivity training, it could have avoided this whole episode.
A few days later, I was watching “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Bill definitely needs to hire me as well.
After Maher brought on renowned atheist and author Sam Harris, the two started discussing the ills of Islam. The duo proceeded to basically blame all Muslims and Islam itself for ISIS and other extremist elements. Now, Maher is famous for criticizing religion in general, but he has a special love affair with Islam. Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he has a special love affair with being clueless about Islam.
Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristof, two of Maher’s guests that evening, took much umbrage to what Maher and Harris were spewing. “It’s gross. It’s racist,” cried Affleck. “The picture you are painting is to some extent true, but it hugely incomplete,” noted Kristof.
Maher and Harris were regurgitating the same old things about Islam and Muslims. “They support female genital mutilation.” “They support killing people who leave the religion.” “They don’t condemn ISIS enough.” “They hate apple pie!”
And we also got the whole “Let’s empower the moderate Muslims” line from Harris. Of course, Islamic society around the world (like other societies) has some major issues it has to deal with, but it is simply not the place of Western civilization to cure Islam of itself. This is even more true when we take into account that as America has dealt with the Arab and Muslim worlds over the past 40 years or so, it has decided to use its bombs, not its words. If one were to say that Islamic nations need to take action to gain more credibility with the United States, one could also say that the reverse is true as well.
As Maher continued his rant, he cited surveys noting this many Muslims in this Muslim country say those who leave the religion should be killed, and that many Muslims in that Muslim country engage in female genital mutilation. Of course, he left out the other (and more numerous) Muslim-majority nations where such practices are extremely unpopular and denounced. There are about 1.5 billion Muslims walking the Earth today. Taking a small sample of an extremely large and diverse group of people, attributing the opinion of that small sample to the rest, and then saying, “See how bad they are?”… Well, that is simply the definition of bigotry.
It would be as ridiculous as me saying something like, “Of the 10 Arab women I have dated, 9 have dumped me. They must all hate me.” As it turns out, there are about 150 million Arab women walking the Earth today. I have no reason to think I don’t have a chance with the rest of them.
Now, I am not shocked that white guys like Bill Maher and Sam Harris don’t understand how dehumanizing their words and arguments sound to someone like me. In fact, quite sadly, I am very surprised when people like Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristof do.
But Bill Maher is doing something much worse than simply engaging in bigotry. He is trafficking in it. He is profiting from it. He is gaining fame from it.
Then he’ll say something like, “Well, I am not saying they are all bad.” This is not a concession. Nor is it any sort of intellectual argument at all. It is a statement meant for the lowest common denominator. It is meant to soften the prejudice. It is a narrow-minded and brainless utterance masquerading as a progressive and intellectual declaration. It’s clever bigotry. It’s something Sean Hannity would say… and has said.
Despite Maher’s intelligence, however, I truly believe his bigotry comes from a lack of understanding. Of course, he has every reason and opportunity to know better, but he doesn’t. He is simply clueless.
Now, if Bill Maher had gone through some sort of Arab/Muslim sensitivity training, he could have avoided this whole episode.
Of course, the cluelessness I am describing is not unique to the NFL and Bill Maher. It is an American epidemic. In this country, if you’re smarter than a fifth grader, you win a million dollars. In Russia, the most educated country in the world, if you’re smarter than a fifth grader, you just go to the sixth grade. There’s no prize.
And here’s the main problem. America being clueless about these things is not the same as a country like Iceland being clueless about these things. (My apologies to Iceland. I actually have no idea whether or not Iceland is clueless about Islam and the Arab world. It just happened to the funniest-named country that popped into my head as I was writing this.)
America, more than any other country in the world, has the resources. It has the influence. And, it has the bombs. Seriously, how many of our countries do you need to bomb before you pick up on at least some of our history and complexities? How long is it before you start understanding our traditions and customs, and not just the ones that scare you?
Luckily, cluelessness can be cured quite easily. I am available for training sessions on Islam and the Arab world at all hours of the day and night. I am at your service. You no longer have an excuse to be dumb.