This week, a birthday card is making headlines for its provocative messaging. A member of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) discovered the card, which features a doll on the cover donning the hijab, in a Chicago store. The card reads, "Pull string for message if you dare!" "She'll love you to death!" and "She'll blow your brains out!" on the cover. Inside, the card reads, "Hope your birthday is a blow out!"
The card plays into the stereotypical portrayal of the Muslim as nothing more than a self-detonating ticking time bomb.
Not funny, if only because this is such a hackneyed trope.
At the surface, many may see no problem with this offensive, insensitive attempt at humor. I mean, come on, don't Muslims have a sense of humor? Bill Maher once said, "Muslims still take their religion too seriously, whereas we have the good sense to blow it off." So why are Muslim always complaining about cartoons and birthday cards? Isn't all fair in comedy and war?
The case of terrorist doll as the caricature of a Muslim embodies and perpetuates the proliferation of racist stereotypes in American culture. Is there is a place for racism under the guise of parody in American culture today?
But why is the lampoon of the Muslim terrorist an acceptable one? The parody of the Muslim presents a unique scenario: While satire of African Americans, Latinos or Jews is seen as racist, "Muslim" is not a race, and therefore parody of Muslims does not fall under the purview of racist discourse.
Phew. So we're good, right?
Wrong. It seems like the realm of the sacred is no longer sacred. Mocking or deriding race, gender and sexual orientation are all unacceptable in our society. Countless comedians have been branded as racist, misogynistic or homophobic, and as a result their careers have gone the way of the dinosaurs. There are certain things we will not tolerate; but Islamophobia is one of the things we will.
What is particularly problematic about the greeting card in question is that it employs the symbolism of childhood -- dolls, carefree play, love and innocent amusement -- and entangles and pollutes it with political innuendo. The doll featured on the cover of the card, an actual doll designed and sold by Desi Doll Company, wears a headscarf, the visual flag alerting the viewer that this doll is Muslim. An item created to give Muslim children a toy they can identify with has been manipulated to sully this identity and isolate them even further.
As young American Muslims grow up in a culture that finds no harm in making light of their religious, and often, primary identity, they cannot help but lose part of their self confidence and sense of worth. If you too carry a cue that may point to your religious identity, whether it is your headscarf or your name, you may be forced to bear the burden of all aggressors who professed your faith. Not only is this a dangerous thing for how others perceive you, but more importantly, it affects how you perceive yourself. And as prominent American Imam Zaid Shakir once said, "The worst form of hatred is self hatred."
A young Muslim can develop the attitude that he deserves to be bullied, harassed, profiled and suspected because there are individuals who identify with his faith who commit heinous acts. It's not that he may say this outright, but it is implied by his actions and reactions. It is like someone who is abused needing to constantly be reminded that they do not deserve abuse. No one does. Muslims say this over and over, but do not truly internalize it: We have nothing to be ashamed of.
Islamophobic discourse can breed self-hating, apologetic American Muslims, or it can lead to the very opposite, producing awkward individuals detached from the society they live in, but have feel like they have no place in.
When it comes to parody, there are certain things that remain off limits in American culture. This past February, on E!'s Fashion Police, Joan Rivers praised the dress model Heidi Klum wore to an Academy Awards party, saying, "The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens." Rivers was skewered in the media, and rightfully so, for refusing to apologize for this remark. The Anti-Defamation League denounced Rivers, calling her comment "vulgar and hideous." Rivers, who is Jewish, defended the remark as a method of inciting controversy and discussion.
There are certain things that are funny. Genocide and suicide bombings are not one of them.
Such loaded remarks and stereotypes not only disrespect the dead, but also perpetuate the estrangement and alienation of those groups being stereotyped.
Parody loses its humor when the joke affects the self image of the one being parodied. The greeting card in question does not mock the essence of Islam; it has no qualms with the precepts of the Muslim faith. Rather, this card mocks the Muslim as an individual. In this sense, the joke is not about what I believe, the joke is about me.
So no, it's not just about cards, cartoons and comedians. It's about much more.