Meme Patrol: #MuslimRage

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 06:04 AM

Two parody Newsweek covers, created by Iain Ronayne and Ben Silverstein, flank the original image at far left. (flickr)

If there’s a silver lining to Newsweek’s feckless decision to run a cover feature on the Global Angry Islamic Mob — complete with a cover image of enraged Arabs protesting fraudster Nakoula Basseley Nakoula’s abysmal, no-budget hateflick Innocence of Muslims — it’s that it has given Muslims the chance to show that Jews aren’t the only Semitic population with a sense of humor.

The newsmagazine, which has grown increasingly shrill and trollish under the direction of editrix Tina Brown, also chose to establish a Twitter hashtag to prompt discussion of the story and the issues behind it. (Because 140-character epigrams are the best format for a complicated debate on faith, tolerance and freedom of speech! It’s like a Presidential debate format requiring candidates to express their positions solely in fortune cookie slips. Which, now that we think about it, would be totally gangnam.)

The rules of the Internet require that any vacuum immediately be filled with either porn or snark, and the hashtag, #MuslimRage, was no exception: It was quickly overtaken by tweets mocking the concept of specifically “Muslim” rage, detailing rage-triggers that were sometimes inanely innocuous, sometimes darkly ironic, and all very much on point with what it means to be a modern Muslim — thereby proving that the phrase “modern Muslim” isn’t an oxymoron. A prime selection:

  • I'm having such a good hair day. No one even knows. #MuslimRage
  • Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can't yell for him. #MuslimRage
  • Cannot say “hi” to Jack inside a plane. #MuslimRage
  • Wore a white hijab to a TV interview with a white backdrop. #floatinghead #MuslimRage
  • Boarding plane and people misheard me when I said I'm a “tourist” #MuslimRage.
  • Knowing deep down in my heart that pork chops probably taste amazing #MuslimRage

Kamran Pasha, a recovered lawyer, one of the writers behind Showtime’s Golden Globe nominated miniseries Sleeper Cell and author of the historical novel Shadow of the Swords, notes that there’s a “long tradition of humor as a spiritual teaching vehicle” in Islam.

“It’s said that Prophet Muhammad himself would tell jokes to his followers,” says Pasha. “The Sufis in particular have a tradition of telling jokes about a character called ‘Mulla Nasrudin,’ essentially a ‘wise fool’ who gets himself into ridiculous situations through which he can share veiled spiritual messages. The jokes tend to be like zen koans, with a surprise twist in the punchline that makes you stop and think.”

And Aisha Sultan, parenting columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, points out that Muslim humor has recently experienced a contemporary pop-cultural boom. “In recent years, there's been a renaissance of Muslim American comedians — very popular at colleges and Islamic conferences, private parties, and so on,” she notes. “It's all a part of reclaiming a narrative hijacked by misinformation and extremism, and knowing that funny always trumps angry. Plus, humor is a vital coping mechanism, especially during times of crisis and duress.”

Comics like Egyptian American Ahmed Ahmed, now appearing on TBS’s Sullivan & Son, have been at the forefront of redefining the image of Muslims away from the stereotypes represented by the Newsweek cover; a documentary he directed and starred in, Just Like Us, will make its video-on-demand debut on December 6 from Lionsgate Entertainment. It promises to “uproot the widely held misconception that Arabs have no sense of humor — when in fact they laugh, and are, just like us,” documenting Ahmed Ahmed’s tour across four countries in the Middle East that generated sold-out crowds totaling over 20,000 people.

As Iranian-American activist, academic and author Reza Aslan — himself a contributing editor to Newsweek’s online sister publication The Daily Beast — pointed out, flipping the conversational switch from anger to hilarity effectively reframes the conversation in terms that non-Muslims can easily (or begrudgingly) embrace, while also setting an example for those at the fanatical fringes of the Muslim world as well. As the meme’s momentum grew, he tweeted: “To those few violent MidEast protesters, this is how you fight Islamophobia. You make fun of it. #MuslimRage.”

In that spirit, Aslan’s Twitter bio reads: Simultaneously an American spy working to bring down Iran and an Iranian agent working to bring down America. Also I write books.


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Comments [7]

Sandy from NYC

I support Jeff in deeming this Newsweek cover as "feckless", because that is exactly what it is. It's screaming "fire!" in a crowded theater; completely irresponsible, and utterly shameless. The issue at hand isn't terrorism, or Islam, it's journalism. This is what journalism has turned into; a folding medium that would rather incite "buzz" than retain its integrity. The cover is irresponsible, dangerous, and along with the rest of the mainstream media, feeding into, and off of, wingnut extremists.

Sep. 25 2012 03:21 AM
mck from NYC

mck from NYC

I have not heard any discussion of the real thing that is going on here: Another campaign dirty trick aimed at defeating a Democratic Presidential candidate who has a big lead in foreign policy issues. It is like the "Swift Boat" tactic that was so effective against John Kerry. The supposed producer of this film a Coptic Christian Egyptian immigrant who is on probation for minor financial fraud OBVIOUSLY could not have raised the money to make this video. Last I heard, he was claiming, like the original actors, that he had been tricked about the video. WHO financed this is deadly provocation is now much more important for the USA than even the lives it has cost and the chaos it has unleashed. What if a thorough investigation could link it Karl Rove or the Koch Brothers, or a Super PAC? What would be the implications for the elections?

Sep. 20 2012 10:39 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

WHY exactly is the decision to run a cover pertaining to a serious issue that has dominated the news for days in which some people have died, deemed "feckless" by the author here?

Sep. 19 2012 12:12 PM

Amanda from New York, NY

someone is missing the point.

they are laughing for real. Study their history, you're finding excuses for their behavior when there are none.

Sep. 19 2012 10:33 AM
Amanda from New York, NY

I agree that there is nothing funny about the violent impact of terrorism, but there is a difference between mirthful or even dismissive laughter and the kind of dark humor that comes from living with the absurdities of a painful situation. It is nuanced. Yes, radical Muslims have killed Americans, and all kinds of people-including other Muslims, all over the world. Yes, this is horrible. Yes, we all have to live with the daily absurdities that are the indirect result of this horror. Because of some wacko terrorist, I have to take off my shoes in the airport. Because of some lunatic fringe element, ordinary every day Muslims have to put up with people assuming that they are wacko terrorists. This kind of humor is an act of resistance from all of the various stakeholders who are oppressed by the presence of fundamentalist terrorism in our world- and I say this as a person who lives less than a mile from Ground Zero. That day will never be erased from my memory and there will never be anything funny about it, but there is a kind of absurdity resulting from some of the ripple effects. It is not haha funny, it is ironic- something we New Yorkers specialize in. But the thing about humor is, if it has to be explained to you, then you just don't get it and probably never will.

Sep. 19 2012 10:21 AM

Thank you.

Public Radio makes excuses for Moslem extremists activity aka torrorist murder.

Sep. 19 2012 10:21 AM

I agree with Herb. While this kind of humor has its appropriate place in moderate Muslim society, and may be necessary to deal with the shadow of the terrorist/extremist fringe, it is not appropriate here and now, even to address hyperbolic, shrill hysteria. Innocent Americans have died in the recent violence - there is no joking about this, let alone the thousands of previous victims of Muslim terrorists.

Sep. 19 2012 09:57 AM

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