For all his chauvinistic, misogynistic and racist drivel, old man Imus finally got the boot. I can’t say I feel particularly bad, considering his confederate-style punditry and his perpetuation of negative imagery of the non-white males our society, but I still think people are missing the point. Racism, bigotry and sexism are alive and well, and generally accepted in this great country—well it depends on who you’re talking about.
Unsurprisingly, one important question has not been asked since Imus’ downward spiral: what if those “nappy headed hos” were Arab or Muslim? Regrettably, we have a plethora of examples to point to post-911, but we don’t need to rehash all of it, one can just watch a nightly episode of Fox News’s Bill O'Reilly or CNN’s Glenn Beck. Yet, my bone to pick is not with the establishment neocons, Fox News, or Ms. Malnourished herself, Ann Coulter, but rather those “peaceful” and “all-accepting liberals” who complain so frequently about Imus and those like him.
To see how anti-Arab/anti-Muslim bigotry is accepted and applauded in America, one has to look no further than HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, hosted by “left-wing” comedian and political commentator Bill Maher. “Liberal” pundits like Maher pass off their anti-Arab/anti-Muslim rhetoric as an innocent invocation of Samuel P. Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations.” Yet, Maher’s vitriolic diatribes are no different than one saying, “black people are ruthless, welfare grubbing criminals.” Nonetheless, to a “liberal,” the previous comment is racist and wrong, because black people, unlike the days of slavery, are now “like us,” meaning white Anglo-American society, whereas Arabs and Muslims (as if they are a unitary, monolithic people), can still be labeled wholly as “backwards, ruthless, Jew-hating animals.”
In Maher’s program, he regularly brings on guests that espouse anti-Arab/anti-Muslim views, some of them being supposed “self-critical” Muslims. These guests, however, principally serve to support Maher’s own bias against Muslims and Arabs, bolstering his pro-Israel feelings. These guests include conservative Israeli politician, and former Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Lebanese-born neocon and political hack Fouad Ajami, putative introspective Muslim moderate Irshad Manji, and former Muslim, now professed atheist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, among many others.
Showcasing the “tolerance of liberalism,” Maher brought on his claimed “hero,” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, of the hawkish American Enterprise Institute, to help him explain to HBO viewers just what was wrong with Islam. Like a fat kid in a candy store, Maher looked to Hirsi Ali on his panel this season and stated, “[I] s Islam a religion of peace? You are one of the brave people who say it’s not really a religion of peace.” More than happy to respond, Hirsi Ali proclaimed, “It’s not a religion of peace. Immediately after 9/11 they should have said, it’s not a religion of peace, we’re up against Islam.” That’s right because Pat Robertson speaks for all Christians and the list of disgruntled students that have gunned down their schoolmates since Columbine speak for all people under the age of 25. What if Hirsi Ali said, “Immediately after the black thug robbed the liquor store, they should have said, black people are criminals, we’re up against black people.” After her enlightening comments, while she went on to trash Saudi Arabia for a moment, Hirsi Ali received a huge applause from the audience. Even Steven Weber, an actor who stars on TVs Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, had to jump in and beg the question of whether it was right to characterize a whole religion and the beliefs of 1.3 billion people this way. Apparently it is because Maher, educating the naive Weber (who was talking of moderate Islam), asserted that “no, [religions are] not all alike…no [Islam] was extremist to begin with. Mohammed was a warrior.” Maher’s lesson on the malady of Islam followed up on his earlier comments in which he said that the West is not only better, but “superior” to the rest of world. Huh, I wonder why they don’t like us.
Bias against Arabs and Islam—and bashing them as a monolithic entity—is accepted across the news media, whether it is in reporting or punditry. This makes it even more important, especially in this “gloves off” age of comedy, to make a clear distinction between comedy and news. It is equally, if not more important, to condemn bigotry that is masked as humor. We should make fun of ourselves, our ethnicities, religions, and races, but when it is done in a vindictive nature or when a seemingly comedic joke or informative political comment is enveloped with racist, sexist, or bigoted undertones, it should be rejected by all peoples. That is not the “thought police” taking over, it’s common sense. Unfortunately, Don Imus was used by reactionaries across the board, both condemners and defenders, when people should have been talking about the issue of racism and sexism long before his comments. Tragically, a couple of days ago, 33 people, mostly kids, were massacred by a student at Virginia Tech. The Imus case, like its predecessor the Anna Nicole Smith drama, has run its course in the mainstream media. Sadly, racism and sexism now seem to be out of the minds of Americans until the next big gaffe. The only question left is how big of a gaffe is necessary for Americans to come to the defense of Arabs and Muslims?
Remi Kanazi is a Palestinian-American poet and writer based in New York City. He is the co-founder of www.PoeticInjustice.net and the editor of the forthcoming anthology of poetry, Poets for Palestine. He can be contacted at Remi@PoeticInjustice.net