Comedian | Professor | Writer
(& Smartest) Arab
2011 was a busy year for Arabs. According to my calculations, we were on CNN at least once every day. On MSNBC, same thing. When it came to Fox News, we were on 75 times a day. They clearly love us the most.
In fact, we made it onto the newscasts even when we had nothing to do with the news. When the tragic events occurred in June in Norway, where a Norwegian terrorist killed 78 people, including detonating a car bomb in downtown Oslo, news outlets quickly reported that the explosion “didn’t seem to have any signs of Islamic radicalism.” I listened to that report, wondering exactly how an explosion could have signs of Islamic radicalism. Does the smoke form a crescent? Do the fumes smell like garlic? But Muslims are always the first suspects, so they’re even mentioned by CNN to declare that they probably didn’t do it.
But not all the news coverage about us was bad, though. The Arab spring dominated the news for months. After massive demonstrations in Tunisia led to the ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011, popular protests followed in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. Arab citizens were reclaiming their societies and reasserting their pride after decades of corrupt and brutal dictatorships.
In Cairo, Husni Mubarak was pushed out, and the struggle for a new Egypt continues, as the people are moving to bury their past and forge a brighter future. In Libya, Muammar Qaddafi was driven out of power after a more bloody revolution, with the help of American-led NATO airstrikes. In Yemen, protests swept over that country, leading to a sort of soap opera where Ali Abdullah Saleh was out, then in, then out, then in again, then finally out. In Bahrain, a sustained campaign of civil resistance led to a government crackdown. There’s been no real change there yet, but the people did speak with a loud voice, leaving King Hamad to issue a report admitting that torture was used against the protestors.
And then we have Syria. What’s going on there would be funny if the human toll wasn’t so tragic. Syria, home to some of the Arab World’s deepest cultural traditions, is now witnessing a bloody onslaught led by a ruler who had the audacity to tell Barbara Walters that he doesn’t control the military. I know Arab men can tell some big lies to impress blonde American women, but that was unprecedented.
The Arab Spring was also the inspiration to the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that took hold in America in 2011. As an Arab, I take pride in that influence. As a Palestinian, I can’t support anything with the word “occupy” in it.
Of course, President Obama was at the center of our year as well. He spent much of it going after Arabs. After hunting down and killing Osama bin Laden in May in Pakistan, he assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki (an American citizen, by the way) in September in Yemen, and then helped to finish off Qaddafi in October in Libya. Watching Obama is like watching Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.” We thought Obama didn’t want anything to do with the “family business.” As it turns out, he’s just like everyone before him.
As it turns out, the only thing that Obama was good at in 2011 was finding the bad Arabs and killing them. And that means, since 2012 is an election year, we’ll be hearing about those accomplishments until November. Who would have ever known that a Muslim president would be so good at killing other Muslims? Well, FOX News probably knew.
Of course, 2011 also saw the arrival of “All-American Muslim,” the reality show that follows five Muslim-American families in Dearborn, Michigan. There were all kinds of debate about the show. First, some Muslims complained that the families on the show weren’t “Muslim enough.” Then, the Florida Family Association complained that the families on the show weren’t “terrorist enough.” Then Lowe’s pulled their ads. Then I returned $2600 of appliances to Lowe’s. Some Muslims grumbled that the show shouldn’t have profiled a young Muslim businesswoman who was trying to open a lounge with alcohol. But after watching Muslims on TV my whole life, I was totally OK with this show. I’d rather see a Muslim starting a nightclub on TLC than starting a terror cell on NCIS.
Now, we Palestinians had a kind of weird year in the news. Unlike every other year in history, we were not in the news for sabotaging negotiations or committing terrorist attacks. First of all, President Obama said a final settlement would have to be “based on 1967 borders.” That pissed off Benjamin Netanyahu, who promptly gave a speech to the US Congress telling them that Palestinians “educated their children to hate” and that Jerusalem “must remain the united capital of Israel.” He got a bigger ovation than the Pope gets in Rome on Christmas.
Later in the year, we created headlines in a different way. Our biggest move was, of course, going to the United Nations to submit a proposal that was basically dead on arrival. But it started an important conversation, and despite its material insignificance, it was probably the only good political move our leadership has ever made. If I knew getting people to talk about Palestinian self-determination was as easy as waving a piece of paper at the UN, I would have doneit a long time ago.
The Palestinian “ploy” at the UN led to a closing quarter of 2011 that thrust us into the spotlight in a totally new way. We discovered that our admission into UNESCO triggers the US Congress to cut off all funding to the agency. I never thought we had that much influence. Then, Newt Gingrich called us “invented.” And not “good invented” like seatbelts, but “bad invented” like the Macarena.
Finally, to end the year on a familiar note, Republican Congressman Eric Cantor said that Palestinian culture is “filled with resentment and hate.” He said that if Palestinians want a state, they must prove they are “worthy” of it. Spoken like a true supporter of oppression. Someone should remind Mr. Cantor of our American ideals, like “unalienable rights,” including liberty. Oh, and someone should tell him that America has been against slavery since 1865.
In any case, 2012 is here, and Arabs and Muslims are making the news already. Fox News reported a very interesting statistic: “According to studies, last year, 1 out of every 5 divorces were caused by Facebook. The other 4 were caused by Islamic radicals.” Damn.