The Muslims are Coming is documentary coming out that highlights the efforts of Muslim comedians who attempt to combat Isalmophobia using humor. Comedy has always been an avenue to critique social inequalities, foreign policies, domestic race-relations, and other aspects of society that are often seen as taboo, and when used effectively, can definitely challenge the views of the audience and later spark dialogue. When I heard about this project, I had high hopes that this would be the outcome.
I was excited about the Muslims are Coming because the comedians all identified as Muslim in different ways (some claim to be only culturally Muslim or are politicized due to their Muslim-sounding names. However they may choose to identify as Muslim, they should not be chastised and their efforts should be appreciated) and were looking to have a non-Muslim audience. Too often, Arab and Muslim comedy is often only directed towards an Arab or Muslim audience, consisting of jokes that would not be understood by an individual who was not part of those demographics. This is not necessarily a bad thing because this comedy often provides an internal critique of those communities without propagating negative stereotypes to a member of an “out-group.” So, the question arises; would these comedians focus on these critiques and present a seemingly self-loathing Muslim comedy act? I guess I had to watch the trailer to find out.
After watching the trailer for the documentary, it became clear to me that the project was different than the one I had anticipated. One thing that I found somewhat troubling was the emphasis on the point that these comedians were secular Muslims, and in one scene referred to themselves as “normal” Muslim-Americans. In this exchange, an older White gentleman praises the comedians for dressing and “looking American.” While the comedians correctly assert that they are, in fact, American, and that there are many Muslims like them (also a fact), I think a message that states: “the Muslims that look like us (excluding men with big beards and women wearing hijab) are the ones who are proud to be American,” is sent to the man. After watching the newest trailer, I could not help but notice that these groups (the secular Muslim and “practicing” Muslim) seemed to be painted as being in opposition to one another.
This is highlighted by Ali Veshi’s comment in the trailer, which is as follows: “We’d much rather the edgy Muslim who says vagina is the one that we are more associated with than the edgy Muslim who kills people.” From this statement, Veshi hints that neither of these groups is an accurate or fair representation of most American Muslims. Yet, instead of criticizing this, he says he would rather associate himself with the more pleasing inaccurate portrayal. This further perpetuates the idea of the secular, moderate Muslim being the most desirable American Muslim.
This becomes especially troubling when the comedians are consistently faced with the ill-founded question: Why don’t Muslim-Americans do more to denounce terrorism? Let’s just forget that every North American Muslim organization denounced 9/11 shortly after it happened. Why is this burden to apologize for 9/11 still placed on Muslims? I think this burden completely decontextualizes anti-Western terrorism that places the blame solely on Islam while overlooking decades of colonialism, sanctions, and abysmal foreign policies that have negatively affected countries with predominately Muslim populations. From the trailer, it seems that the comedians do not address these issues and seem to propagate the idea that Muslims that look like “us” (secular, White, etc.) are the ones that are sorry for 9/11, but we can’t guarantee that the ones that don’t look like us (i.e. women wearing niqab) feel the same way. I am sick of having to constantly demonstrate that I am sorry. I think Aasif Mandvi said it best when he said, “Why do I have to prove to you that I am not dangerous?”
Ultimately, all these judgments are based off of two trailers and I hope that I am wrong about what I perceived as a polarizing presentation of American Muslims. I applaud the efforts of these comedians, and I hope that their acts do start a conversation regarding Islamophobia in America. I hope their efforts are not apologetic and do not aim to favor one American-Muslim demographic over another. As Rachel Maddow says at the end of the trailer, “You have to appeal to what is un-American about Islamophobia. You have to make an appeal based on American values.” Perhaps comedy is one of these values. Plurality is also one of these American values and I hope the comedians keep that in mind when they talk about American Muslims by keeping in mind that they cannot speak for all Muslims, nor do they have to.
HERE IS THE LATEST 3-MINUTE TRAILER