Aziz Ansari the New Spokesperson for Muslims in America? It’s Worth a Shot
An Op-ed piece from the Okra
Yes he’s an atheist. He probably couldn’t quote you any verse from the Quran or how to get to the local mosque in his neighborhood. He’s not going to be an honorary member of CAIR anytime soon. The only fasting he may have done for the last 10 years is a 24-hour cleanse most likely to get in shape for some blockbuster movie he’ll be co-starring. And The Hajj for him might be some quaint bar in Santa Barbara. But God, come on! If there is one person out there who could possibly pacify most Americans completely clueless about Muslims or filled with the fury of Islamaphobia, it’s this guy. Aziz Ansari—born and bred in South Carolina. For the small minority that don’t bother plugging into any form of social media, Aziz is a comedian by trade, but also a big actor, known for playing the sly and sarcastic government official on NBC’s Parks and Recreations. He’s one of Judd Apatow’s boys. He might be a feminist too but that’s not important here. What we do know of him is the 31 year-old, who was raised as a Muslim, in a Muslim family, is famous; far more famous than any American Muslim albeit he’s not technically a Muslim. But does it matter?
Last month Ansari took on Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch when the latter tweeted all Muslims should be held responsible for the actions of extremists. Not surprisingly, in Murdoch’s demented and senile world, the entire Muslim population is liable for the antics of say, ISIS. Ansari’s response was brilliant: “Rups can we get a step by step guide? How many 60 year old parents in NC help destroy terrorist groups? Plz advise.” But it didn’t stop there. Ansari went on the verbal tirade following that up by two more tweets which said: “rupertmurdoch you are Catholic, why are you not hunting pedophiles?” and “rupertmurdoch is responsible for all pedophilia committed by anyone Catholic. @rupertmurdoch why are you pro-pedophile :(“ Touché. Plenty of responses and retweets.
The irony is something did happen in North Carolina this past Tuesday—and it had nothing to with the Jihadists but more with a hateful American who decided to put a bullet in the heads of three young promising Muslims because he allegedly got into a dispute over a parking spot. Yeah right. We’re not stupid. And neither is Aziz. He obviously is a smart dude; the kind you can hang with and laugh, but not in a stoner way. His strongest weapon is his wit. It’s cunning if it was ever evil. But thankfully he uses it to generate applause throughout the country. There is a lack of those qualities in most Muslims as by default our nature tends to become more consciously aware of our non-Muslim surroundings transforming us into introverts. Even some of our best and brightest shine only in front of Muslim faces. Isolation among the common folk creates safety and confidence. But it doesn’t do anything to the scared and unaware.
Some might argue that even if Ansari was Muslim, his shtick is too provocative to be accepted as an accurate representation of Muslim etiquette. Justifiably, if one has watched his comedy, the vulgarity is forthright, demeaning in some ways. He’s no Richard Pryor or Katt Williams. But Aziz can catch the conservative off guard with some scathing monologue sure to create some anger. Well, so what? Would we be happier with stoic solemn gentlemen who discuss Muslim problems with Americans on television through comprehensive religious opinions conveyed through a lukewarm monotone voice? Or do we want someone zany who understands the communicative nuances of people and can provide remediation, calm, logic and most importantly laughter to a nation that is filled with Islamaphobic paranoia? Our gut relies on scholars to bail us out when things go sour. But scholars are meant to preach, not work the room. They don’t live in the perplexing and dangerous media vacuum. One could refute handing the reigns to a celebrity as a desperate move to appease and that a Muslim convert perhaps could do a better job. It’s possible. Yet, in a society filled with 24X7 infatuation of big names and the far too exaggerated assumptions in which mediums such as Instagram and Twitter can make them much more intimate with their fans, a celebrity status is more than just the pre-requisite. It’s a condition in which Pavlov would be proud of ringing the bell.
Based on what we know of Aziz Ansari, the last thing he wants is to wear the crown of appointed spokesmen for a religion which he gave back to his parents. He’s got no legitimate ties to Islam and probably would want to avoid any affiliation to faith-based patriotism which tends to drown you in deep waters especially in Hollywood. But his sardonic remarks to Murdoch demonstrated he’s not willing to look the other way when blatant insults are hurled at people who tend to be the scapegoat on anything which explodes. For Aziz to accept such responsibility would be hard although he’s more than aware of how Islam operates and could probably do simple arithmetic in front of Muslim bashers to convince them the two assailants in the Charlie Hebdo attack couldn’t have gotten their orders from one billion followers much less sympathy for their stupidity.
Maybe one day, the chosen one, our very own Jedi will come—the complete package of an American Muslim who engages with this country both from a newsworthy and entertainment perspective, ala Jon Stewart (RIP from The Daily Show). He or she can shower the country with remarkable control and virtuosity, charming them with truth while dismantling the lies and prejudice. Aziz Ansari, as comical and cartoonish as he may look and sound, is the perfect blend of representation without the bravado and stuffiness which stereotype many Islamic figureheads. Yes, we know. He’s an atheist! But he’s tolerant and presumably has a soft spot for Islam. So give him the badge of honor with a microphone and let him speak. The next Muslim hate crime is right around the corner and we need to be ready with some star power. And if Aziz doesn’t work out, we can always ask Jon Stewart. He needs a job anyways.