Lost in the Muslim World

A new film confuses 'Muslim' with 'Arab'

Jews are a very funny people. In fact, as a Palestinian comedian, I have learned from the Jewish people that those who suffer a lot use humor as a means of survival.


But, Jews may not always be smart.


American actor and comedian Albert Brooks, who is best known for many Hollywood comedies including “Lost in America,” just completed a new movie called “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.”


There was a lot of soul searching after Sept. 11 by Hollywood executives who pondered why many Muslims and Arabs hated America.


All they have to do is re-watch their own movies, which are filled with anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes and hatred. But that would be too easy, I guess.


Brooks and I share the same belief that humor is an important part of whatever the answer to that dilemma may be. Not the answer, but part of the answer. That’s why I launched my standup career after Sept. 11, too.


The only difference, of course, is I understand the Muslim World and recognize it is really two separate worlds divided by Arab Muslims and non-Arab Muslims.


Brooks made his movie in India, because to Brooks and others like him in Hollywood, stereotypes are more important in scripts than facts. In his defense, India does have Muslims! But so does Chile and Antarctica.


Brooks is missing the nuances of the problem. And the end result may be a funny film that fails to achieve its stated goal.


Confusing 'Muslim' with 'Arab'


The non-Arab Muslim World where Brooks is exploring has its issues. But it’s the Arab Muslim World where most of the trauma we face in today’s world really begins.


It’s a mistake made often in Hollywood.


Just last week, ABC TV launched a new drama called “Commander-in-Chief.” In it, actress Geena Davis plays the first American woman to become president of the United States. Everyone is against her, including members of her own family.


I guess women have as difficult a time in the West as they do in the “Muslim World.”


The big issue in “Commander-in-Chief” is that the government in Nigeria has announced plans to kill a woman who had sex out of wedlock, something that happens often not just in the Arab and Muslim worlds but in many Third World communities, too.


Davis is told by everyone that the “Muslim World” will not accept a woman President and therefore, she will not be able to save the Muslim Woman she has said she wants to save.


Really? Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, have all had women as heads of state.


It’s not that the “Muslim World” won’t accept a woman head of state. They will. It’s that the “Arab Muslim World” will not accept a woman head of state. They have never have, a fact that can only come through education, not stereotypes.


It’s in the “Arab Muslim World” where the causes of terrorism are agitated the most and where the planning for terrorist attacks has surfaced. Although some of the terrorists are non-Arab – they were Pakistani in London – Islamic extremism is not driven by Islam but by Arab fanaticism.


'Brooks way off the mark'


Brooks says that just putting the two words together “Muslim” and “comedy” is a statement in and of itself. But that’s just naïve. His movie may be funny but it is way off the mark.


The fact is there is lots of humor in the Muslim and in the Arab World, too, for that matter. But people like Brooks and others really are not interested in finding it.


Hollywood has never recognized it so why should I expect Albert Brooks to recognize it either?

Even in America, the media and many pro-Israel groups are reaching out to faux Arab comedians who are Muslim but not Arab. They are Iranian, Pakistani and even Indian. It seems any Muslim will do when you need to put on a nice face, but the Muslims that you have the most trouble with are pushed aside.


The idea of using humor to help change the mind-set of a people hijacked by extremists only works when you actually reach out to the right people.


India hasn’t had a problem with Israel since its creation. Brooks should have ventured into Palestine to find the face of Arab humor. He’d be surprised to see it’s already there and growing.

Sadly, many Jews (and Arabs) are like Brooks.


They reach out to non-Arab Muslims hoping the relationships will result end the conflict. It won’t.

If you want to use humor to confront the demons, make sure you’ve invited the right demons to your comedy show. That’s why I perform standup comedy for Arab and Jewish audiences, instead of for audiences in Bangladesh.


Someone needs to get Albert Brooks a better World Atlas.


Ray Hanania writes exclusively for on issues that are serious, satirical and humorous. He can be reached at


פרסום ראשון: 10.03.05, 12:01
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