They are part of the national fabric that holds our country together. They contribute to America in many ways, and deserve the same respect as any of us. I pledge to spread this message, and affirm our country’s principles of liberty and justice for all.
Posted by mfa on Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012
Last night I read the news announcing Saturday Night Live’s newest addition, comedian Kate McKinnon – the show’s first openly lesbian cast member. I felt really excited. I have been a fan of SNL ever since I arrived in the U.S. from Israel almost 8 years ago. SNL has been for me not only a source of entertainment, but also a place where I could learn about American pop culture and attitudes towards politics and current events. My favorite cast members from recent years have been the hilarious and multi-talented women performers – Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Kristen Wiig. While all of those funny ladies have left a big mark on the show and have extended their talents to writing, producing, and starring in their own projects, they are still a minority compared to the number of men playing lead roles in comedy films, TV programs, and skit shows. There always seems to not be enough women comedians in mainstream American television, including SNL, so whenever new female cast members are added to the show, I take notice. As an advocate for gay rights, the fact that the new woman cast member is a lesbian made an even more positive impression on me. American society may be more open to gay people being part of the mainstream than ever before, but recurring controversies, such as the One Million Moms campaign against Ellen Degeneres, remind us of the fact that there are still plenty of homophobes in the country, and that they are very vocal about their views.
This got me to thinking: if someone who’s as controversial as an openly lesbian comedian could land a spot on a mainstream program like Saturday Night Live, when will the time come for the first Muslim to be cast on SNL? The only performer who comes close to that at this time is Nasim Pedrad, who is Iranian-American. While she seems to have embraced her background and even drawn from it for her characters (prior to SNL Pedrad had a one-woman show called “Me, Myself and Iran” and on SNL she has played Christiane Amanpour and Azam Farahi), it is very difficult to find the answer to whether she is Muslim or not. Would it hurt her popularity if she was Muslim and open about it? Possibly. But that seems very unfair when you consider how open Jewish cast members such as Seth Meyers and Andy Samberg are about their religious and cultural background. I won’t complain about it being okay to be both openly Jewish and popular; after all, I’m Jewish myself, but the double standard does bother me. I firmly believe that everyone, regardless of their profession or role in society, should be able to feel proud about where they come from and what they believe in.
Speaking of popular Jewish comedians, Jon Stewart is coincidentally one of the only big names in the industry writing for an openly Muslim comedian, Aasif Mandvi. My favorite thing about the pairing is that just as Stewart doesn’t hide the ways in which his upbringing has shaped his worldview (we all know he grew up in a progressive, New York Jewish household), neither does Mandvi. Of course, in Mandvi’s case, the fact that he’s Indian and not Middle Eastern (as most would think), is not usually brought up, but his religious background often gets highlighted, so much so that Stewart usually refers to him as the Daily Show’s “Senior Muslim Correspondent”. Obviously the title is more for a comic effect than actually attributing any real expertise to Mandvi on everything Islam-related, but the mere vocal acknowledgment that Mandvi is in fact a Muslim, is in my opinion quite unprecedented and as such, definitely a step in the right direction.
That said, it’s important to remember that while The Daily Show has made room for a Muslim comedian without making him hide his religious beliefs, it is still a program that mostly attracts the left wing leaning American public. Aasif Mandvi’s religious identity has not been very controversial because the people who watch the show tend to be progressive liberals. That is why I think that if Saturday Night Live, a program with a rich history and a huge following that cuts through most demographics, added to its cast an openly Muslim comedian, that would make a really significant impact. If they didn’t care about possible backlash when hiring Kate McKinnon from homophobic viewers, they should also not pay attention to Islamophobic audiences and worry about how they may respond to a Muslim performer. Take your pick, SNL, there are many talented Muslim-American comedians out there (refer to our previous posts) . You just need to make the move.
Posted by Anni on Monday, March 26th, 2012
I was an athlete all through school. I played soccer and basketball for all four years of high school and all four years of college. We played a lot of parochial schools in our league. They would pray before games and again afterwards. We also played Orthodox Jewish schools and had to plan our games around Jewish holidays. I don’t ever remember there being any conflict about the fact that we were playing religiously oriented teams so I was rather surprised to read about the recent controversy in Texas.
Posted by Anni on Friday, March 23rd, 2012
If I were asked to identify one entity that I felt, if changed, would dramatically improve the image and lives of Muslims in America, it would be Fox News. This is thoroughly unsurprising. Fox has a longstanding reputation for vitriol. Even Fox’s fans recognize the polarization—for Fox vs. against—that splits our popular culture like a knife through butter. But they may not recognize the fabricated stories, the lack of fact checking, or the rampant opinion masquerading as real news. And can we really blame them? Every program on the network is designed to entertain, to shock, to terrorize, and to rally, and each of those things is compelling.
Posted by Anni on Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
At this point in our nation’s history, islamophobia has become a constant hum. Each time someone new proposes a prejudice-driven piece of legislation, speaks out against a peaceful mosque, protests against a Muslim television program, or otherwise feels the need to share xenophobic rhetoric, life gets a little darker for a lot of people. How is the average Muslim living in America supposed to process these constant reminders of the prejudice all around him?
Posted by Anni on Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
Before I even start discussing this recent finding, nobody is suggesting that prejudice is a simple thing. There is no single factor that makes someone prejudice: in many ways it is a choice, and people of all types can be open-minded. That said, a study at Brock University in Ontario suggests that people of lower than average IQ tend to gravitate towards socially conservative ideologies. They also tend to display more open prejudice towards others. The authors of the study suggest that this prejudice is a result of the conservative tendency to “stress hierarchy and resistance to change.” This tendency, as one might imagine, increases the likelihood that an individual will view a member of an unfamiliar religion or ethnicity as outside the hierarchy, and will resist redefining the hierarchy to include them.
Posted by Anni on Monday, March 12th, 2012
In my opinion, The Onion is one of America’s greatest endeavors. It’s right up there with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report—fake news that makes us take a long hard look at ourselves right before we bust out laughing. Laughter is something we all have in common, and sometimes we just can’t see the forest for the trees unless someone points out how silly the forest is. Satire flips the big picture, and somehow that picture looks a whole lot different upside down.
Posted by Anni on Tuesday, March 6th, 2012
America is nothing if not a nation of trends. We love to follow what’s popular. We fetishize popular movie stars; spend thousands of dollars each year on 7 jeans, fancy coffee drinks and coconut water; become fans of whatever is “cool” on the music scene; and turn to political commentators to tell us what’s popular to think. Basically, we work way too hard to shape ourselves into something that reflects the general consensus of the people we admire. Americans are not alone in this. As a people, we often look to our cultural icons, fashion brands, television, and our friends to show us how to live, what to buy, and what to think. In a world like this, prejudices are just one more trending topic.