Can Humor Ease the Fear

The last month has seen an array of humor to counter the wave of Islamophobia that has been growing in the United States and other western countries with significant Muslim populations. A week ago, Comedy Central hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear that drew an estimated 200,000 people, and featured many jokes poking fun at the ridiculousness of Islamophobia within the United States.

Muslims Wearing Things was created in response to Juan Williams’ prejudicial comment profiling ‘Muslim garb.’ In case you missed it, Williams is a long-time political analyst and was recently terminated for his comments offered on Fox News three weeks ago:

“I mean, look, Bill [O’Reilly], I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Note to Juan Williams: Over the past nine years about 90 million flights have taken off from American airports, and not one has been brought down by a Muslim terrorist. Even in 2001, no flights were brought down by people in “Muslim garb.” (Thank you Robert Wright of the New York Times)

Let me also point out that the latest streak of hateful comments is originating from both sides of political spectrum and even comedians. The ‘liberal’ television host and comedian Bill Maher recently said that he was “alarmed” that the most popular name of newborn babies in the United Kingdom is Muhammad (if all of its various spellings are counted together). He went on further to say, “I don’t have to apologize, do I, for not wanting the Western world to be taken over by Islam in 300 years?” Responding to Maher’s sentiment, Religious Freedom USA has issued a request that American submit messages to ‘Tell Bill Maher About a Muhammad‘ they know.

Witty opposition countering Islamophobia is becoming increasingly more common in Europe as well. In response to recently passed French legislation banning any veils that cover the face, two young women, one of whom is Muslim, created a video entitled niqabitches, which has since become an internet sensation. Wearing only the upper half of the niqab, short shorts, and high heels, the the two women visited French Government ministries and took pictures with pedestrians around Paris.

Despite the satirical efforts of Muslims and non-Muslims both inside and outside the United States, high-profile politicians, media personalities, and athletes continue to make Islamophobic comments with little consequence. The week-old Republican Senator-Elect from Illinois, Mark Kirk, was recently quoted as saying, “I’m okay with discrimination against young Arab males from terrorist-producing states.”

So while humor and creative initiatives that point out the absurdity of Islamophobia have increased, it seems that the proponents of hateful speech and actions towards Muslims continue unabated.

What do you think of the recent increase in Islamophobia in the United States in particular? Why is it stronger now than immediately post-9/11? Are Jon Stewart, Muslims Wearing Things, and niqabitches having a positive impact on people’s prejudicial views towards Muslims and Islam? How have you personally reacted to these shows/websites/videos?

2 thoughts on “Can Humor Ease the Fear

  1. Thank you for pointing out the “Muslims Wearing Things” blog. That was particularly clever. I enjoyed seeing many of my favorite people included (Reza Aslan, Aasif Mandvi, Zarqua Nawaz, Omar Sharif, and of course, Shahrukh Khan!) on the list of people in “garb.”

    And as always, I am heartened by the support and understanding Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert continue to promote regarding Muslims, particularly those in America who are every bit as American as anyone else. Jon & Stephen have their roundabout ways of displaying many peoples’ ludicrous fears these days, but their antics restore my sanity everyday.

  2. Muslim wearing things made me chuckle. The absurdity of Mr. Williams’ comment and the fear of so many Americans about the Muslim population does lend itself nicely to satire. Maybe humor will make those who are Islamaphobic pause and reassess their attitudes. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert seem to capture this issue of fear in a manner that puts the issue front and center. It is always wise to have humor as it highlights the craziness of this fear in a nonthreatening way.