Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Muslims Are Coming

In the years since September 11, 2001, Muslims have become the most feared minority in America.  It’s not unusual to hear politicians or commentators voice broad concerns about Muslims, using now-commonplace words rarely heard in the Clinton years, such as jihad, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Sharia Law.  There’s an abundance of American misinformation about Islam, and while countering that ignorance with humor might not be the first strategy you’d expect (especially given Islam’s reputation as a religion that takes itself too seriously), it makes sense.  Getting to know people has always been the best way to break misconceptions, and nothing brings people together like laughter.

The Muslims Are Coming follows a nationwide tour by a group of Muslim-American comedians led by Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah.  Hoping to combat Islamophobia through humor, these comedians visit some of the most conservative areas in the country, from rural Alabama to Salt Lake City.  Their stand-up routines elicit plenty of laughs, but the film’s real gems are the street interviews conducted before or after the stand-up performances.  The comedians visit with patrons at a gun show.  They man a street-side booth titled, “Ask a Muslim,” where people can ask them anything.  In Salt Lake City, they offer free hugs beneath a “Hug a Muslim” sign.  These social experiments yield interesting results.

In some cases, the comedians are met with open hostility, but those are the exceptions.  Some people need to feel things out first; one woman asks, “What did you think of 9/11?” prompting a later reflection by Negin Farsad: “How could there be more than one answer to that question?”  For the most part, people are friendly.  The Muslims encounter more uncertainty than hate, and as they leave each city, you see more than the minds of the townspeople changing; you see the Muslim comedians’ perception of America changing as well.

The stand-up routines and side interviews highlight Muslim diversity.  Some Muslims enjoy poking fun at themselves and some don’t.  Some devoutly practice more conservative forms of Islam, while others stand on the agnostic fringes.  Islam has that diversity in common with every major religion, but the many faces of Islam pose a challenge to those who would foster understanding, especially when mainstream media so frequently focus on the faith’s most extreme practitioners.  The Muslims Are Coming opens with a hilarious montage of fear mongering clips from Fox News and CNN, but it’s no wonder watching it why so many Americans are confused or afraid.

Negin Farsad’s unique position as a female Muslim comedian carries its own difficulties; a poignant scene comes when a group of Muslim women walk out during one of Farsad’s sexually explicit routines.  “I wish I had more support from certain corners of the Muslim community, but I just don’t.”  The Muslims Are Coming mixes thought-provoking insight with some hilarious moments, and interviews with journalists and comedians such as Jon Stewart, David Cross, Rachel Maddow, and Soledad O’Brien further explore how current perceptions of Islam developed.  Ultimately heartwarming, The Muslims Are Coming celebrates American diversity and tolerance, exposing encouraging sides of both America and Islam that viewers may not have seen before.  And it’s also really funny.

For the Parents:

MPAA: Unrated

The Muslims Are Coming features frequent profanity of all sorts, including sexually-explicit jokes and occasional examples of hate speech.

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