I’m a bit of a fan of Aziz Ansari. He plays Darryl, the young nerd on Bob’s Burgers. (Yes, Bob’s Burgers is such a great show that it features two nerds without it being a “thing.”) And this weekend in The New York Times, Ansari wrote a thoughtful and touching opinion piece, Why Trump Makes Me Scared for My Family. It starts with him recollecting how he texted his Muslim mother not to “go anywhere near a mosque” right after the Orlando mass shooting. It’s good advice. But it’s also extremely sad that we live in a country where it is good advice.
Go and read the article, it is well worth your time. I want to focus on one tiny part of the article. Ansari describes an incident after 9/11. In it, someone shouted at him from a car, “Terrorist!” He said that maybe he was being an inconsiderate pedestrian. But “I’m not sure that warranted being compared to the perpetrators of one of the most awful incidents in human history.” Now we can get into a discussion of exactly how big that list is. Or what counts as an “incident.” But I wouldn’t say that 9/11 was one of the most awful incidents in human history.
That isn’t to say that 9/11 wasn’t awful. It’s just that human history is filled with so many vile acts. You really have to dig to get down to 9/11 territory. Obviously, I could bring up the Holocaust. But forget about it. As you probably know, I don’t think the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was necessary. But even if you don’t believe that, it’s hard to justify bombing Nagasaki. And that killed roughly twenty times as many civilians as were killed on 9/11. But I don’t blame Aziz Ansari for this exaggeration. He would have been condemned if he had not pandered to America in this way. Anyway, I’m sure he didn’t think he was pandering.
I’m sure he didn’t mean it in this way, but Aziz Ansari’s description of 9/11 alone tells you everything that the rest of his article talks about explicitly. I’m a white guy. I have nothing to fear from noting that as a factual matter, 9/11 wasn’t some wound so horrible that it has rarely been seen on this earth. But as a man of Muslim heritage, Aziz Ansari’s act of 9/11 pandering is just as expected (and ultimately ignored) as Muslim groups loudly condemning every bad thing any Muslim ever does.
None of this should be taken as a criticism of Aziz Ansari or the Muslim community at large. I understand their attempts to show their unity with the society at large. And I’m certain that those attempts are so earnest that they aren’t even conscious. But this is a criticism of our society for treating Muslim Americans as though they are defined by their heritage. The only “good” thing you could say about it is that they aren’t alone. Muslims have a lot of company when it comes to being a mistreated minority group. In fact, that’s how I know that I’m white: because no one thinks that anything I do is typical of my kind. If my mugshot for murder was shown on the evening news, no one would think, “Well, what you expected from a white guy?!”
Aziz Ansari is right to be scared. And in a less direct, but still extremely important, way, we should all be scared. In his article, Aziz Ansari twice showed us why.