The thing about being Muslim in 2010 is that most people take it a lot more seriously than you do.
I’m Muslim. I’m so Muslim, in fact, that my name is Arafat and I have a cousin six months older than I am whose name is Yasir. And clearly, I’m American too. I’m fat, slow, loud, and I believe with all my heart that the solution to the world’s problems is open trade channels.
But whenever I meet someone new, there’s always that split second registration in that person’s mind:
Step 1: Oh, Muslim.
Step 2: …Wait, that’s ok.
I don’t mind. I believe that it’s an important step for an immigrant culture’s naturalization process. At first, you’re a rainbow-feathered alien. Then, you’re treated with suspicion. Then, ‘you took our jobbbbzzz!’ Then it’s that split-second registration, and finally, ‘Arafat’ becomes ‘Joe.’
In my experience living in a few countries, I think that Americans are the kindest, friendliest people I’ve ever met. So much so that even after 9/11, the one question my American friends asked me was, “Are you all right?” Never, “Let’s lynch the motherfucker!!!” which is what would have happened in my native Bangladesh.
Still, you might say that the split-second registration is an act of hypocrisy. We’re supposed to accept people regardless (or, as we say on the internet, irregardless) of whatever their ethnic, cultural, religious, sexual etc. makeup might be. I think that’s a bit flawed, since that negates the rich variety that makes America what it is.
But this hypocrisy is not a uniquely hetero-normative white Christian American thingie. We Muslims have it too, and I’ll bet you a dollar or maybe even three dollars, that everybody has it. So much so, that whenever someone asks me how it feels to be a Muslim immigrant, I refer them to Philip Roth’s hilariously filthy Portnoy’s Complaint, which is about growing up Jewish in the 1960s.
It’s kind of the same deal. Like Alex Portnoy, Muslim men are all horndogs who are torn between paying lip-service to tradition, making their parents happy, and overachieving for overachievements’ sake. I guess there are some differences. I think American Muslims probably listen to more rap music. And… well, I’ll be honest. I’ve been sitting here for the last fifteen minutes, trying to think of a serious difference between Alex Portnoy and your average American Muslim, and I can’t. Except we don’t violate pieces of liver.
From an anthropological point of view, that’s pretty interesting. Especially since popular opinion defines Muslims by their opposition to the Jewish people. But in the 1950s, the American Jewish population shared some similarities with American Muslims today. They were cultural other figures, they were smart, they were torn between their own unique heritage and wanting to integrate into the greater norm of American society, and they didn’t eat no pork except for Chinese restaurants and prosciutto.
Within a decade though, the Jews that Don Draper sneers about in the first season of Mad Men had started to produce such towering figures as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Woody Allen, Saul Bellow, and so on. A list which culminates in Larry David, the greatest comedian alive.
So what I’m saying is, we Muslims might seem to be different now, but watch out. In 2020 you’ll see a sitcom about Arif Abdullah, the guy who flosses too much.
Arafat Kazi is a copywriter and non-threatening Muslim. He rambles at arafatkazi.com.