by Dalia Hashad
“Muslim to Host MTV Movie Awards”! When the press statement hit my inbox, I sighed. The members of a Muslim advocacy group are celebrating the ascent of Aziz Ansari–a comedian and fellow Muslim who currently stars in NBC's Parks and Recreation–to Billy Crystal-esque pop-culture status. And not that I blame them. Muslim advocacy groups are forced to issue an apologetic statement each time a Muslim, somewhere in the world, commits an act of political violence. Once the news breaks that another Nidal Hasan has done the unthinkable, I painfully await the stream of condemnations from a host of Muslim organizations. If you haven't seen them, the pattern breaks down along these lines:
“This is terrible. We are sorry. This person's actions aren't representative of Islam. Please don't hate us.”
The advocacy group's statement that a Muslim got the coveted MTV gig is the flip side of the typical apologist declaration. It highlights that Muslims are generally good, harmless–even funny–people. I suspect that the effort to draw attention to MTV's choice is, in part, a PR effort to “rehabilitate” the Muslim image, assuring skittish Americans that there is no need to transfer their child to another school when she comes home to tell them about her new friend Ahmad.
Good or bad, I've never thought that one person's actions could represent the character of an entire religion/ethnicity/nationality/sex/whatever. We are all individuals, and regardless of the popularity of certain Fox News commentators, I still want to believe that most of my compatriots are sophisticated enough to understand that no major religion exists for the purpose of providing a road-map for the destruction of humanity.
Still, it is disturbing to think that we live in a society where a woman walking into a store with a scarf on her head provokes fear. But alas, if Deepak Chopra expresses that fear, then it must be widespread.
After I received the press statement, I scanned various media outlets looking for journalistic commentary on MTV's choice of a Muslim host. Apart from a few perfunctory news briefs, I didn't find much, which felt good. Maybe that means we are one step closer to seeing Muslims as regular people who don't need to be held to account for the actions of each of their one billion cohorts.
Or maybe not. The absence of chatter around Ansari's selection could also mean that the news media and the consumers they serve simply don't see Muslims except in the context of mayhem. That in itself is a story.
To try to gauge the situation one way or the other, I wondered whether MTV could manage to spotlight a Muslim comedian without stooping to terrorist jokes. I received the answer in the form of a commercial promoting the upcoming awards show. The spot featured a sweet-talking Ansari cuddled up next to his movie date–a blonde, “all-American” and unsuspecting Kristin Bell–with a bomb in his pants. Sigh. Let's see what happens when the event airs on June 6.
Dalia Hashad is an attorney specializing in human rights and civil rights. She has also been a host and co-executive producer of “Law and Disorder,” a weekly talk-radio program.