Senator Rand Paul: The president tries to gloss over who’s attacking and killing Christians. The media describes the killings as “sectarian.” But the truth is a worldwide war on Christians is being waged by a fanatical element of Islam.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Is there a war on Christianity? Is there a war on Islam? Should there be a war on a religion or between religions? Is the U.S. government funding overseas dictators that both end up supporting radical Islam and creating resentment toward America by people who live in those countries? Does the U.S. military intervention and policing of the Middle Eastern countries both empower and embolden radical Islam and terrorism? What about American principles and what about American values? Here to discuss is Dean Obeidallah. He is a comedian and a former attorney. He’s been featured on Comedy Central’s “Axis of Evil” tour. Dean has also co-directed and co-produced the recently released award-winning Comedy Documentary called, “The Muslims are coming.” Dean also writes for The Daily Beast and CNN. And Dean, I want to thank you for coming on today and spending some time with us.
Dean Obeidallah: Sure, thanks for inviting me on. I appreciate it.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Let’s go ahead and talk about your personal experience living in the United States as an American and a Muslim after 9/11.
Dean Obeidallah: Well, in the short…and I live in New York City and I was probably…likely about a mile from the World Trade Center when it went down, and I was actually in the street watching it collapse, so it wasn’t this theoretical thing that happened across the country for me, it was something very immediate. I mean, I saw people running in the streets crying. And I saw police cars covered in debris, and you know, the city basically shut down, and it became a very tense time. At the time, we didn’t know who had committed this terrorist attack. But you know, there was certainly concerns among people in the Muslim American community that it could be someone who was Muslim or Arab involved. Once it became clear that it was bin Laden/al Qaieda, you know there was a varied response from most people. Some really were curious about Muslims and had questions about us, which was great; I’m always happy to answer questions. And little by little, it turned into more accusations and broad-based accusations. And people — either political figures even religious leaders using/demonizing Muslims for political gain to get people to rally them up as a wedge issue for support. So over time it evolved, and it goes through cycles. Sometimes, its big periods of time there’s no issue. Then there’s the Ground Zero mosque in Manhattan, again, where I live, which was neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero. It was about five or six blocks away, and it was an Islamic cultural center. But in any event, that raised a big issue of Muslims and people again demonizing Muslims. So it goes thru phases. Overall, most people are open-minded, frankly. But you do have people, unfortunately, who do use the issue for ill.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Well now some would suggest that we should have a humble foreign policy like George Bush did in 2000. That all changed after 9/11. There are people that believe that Islam or Muslims as a religion means what has been portrayed as radical Islam across the board. We, you and I met; you’ve written an article about Rand Paul. I countered that to try to bring a different perspective on that. His explanation of this is that there’s a war on Christians, so explain your position about what you see happening here.
Dean Obeidallah: Sure. I mean, Rand Paul gave a speech, basically saying that there is a war on Christianity by radical Islam. And to me — and you’re saying it to a Christian audience and it’s part of the-already gearing up for the 2016 presidential election – to me, I was disappointed by Rand Paul’s speech on that. I might not agree with him on a lot of issues, but I do agree with him on some issues. And he’s someone that I do respect. So for him to term radical Islam as a war on Christianity, because he’s speaking to a Christian audience upset me, because one it was factually wrong, and I know he understands it’s wrong, because as I cite in my article for The Daily Beast, in the last five years, radical terrorists — Muslim terrorists — their victims have been 85-90% Muslims. So, it’s not a war on Christianity. They are slaughtering Muslims nine times as many Christians — almost ten times as many Christians they are slaughtering — Muslims, err Christians. The radical Muslims, to them, it’s a war on humanity. They are slaughtering people left and right. They don’t care what your religion is. You have to adhere to their specific view of what their faith is — whatever their faith is. I don’t even know if they’re Muslim, frankly. To me, they worship power and violence, and they have an agenda that’s political not religious. They’re not trying to spread Islam. They’re trying to spread their power. And they’re going to kill people, like other governments and people in the past in our history have done where they’re trying to achieve a goal and they’re using a military to do that. In this case, even a very small military, so they’re a doing it with a hands-on violence or small bombs; or in the case of 9/11, obviously bigger. So to me, that was the upsetting thing. If Rand Paul were to say it’s a war on Christianity, when I have to believe he knows the State Department knows, which I cite in my article. And that’s what I was troubled by. His terming there’s a war on Christianity, not him talking about there are radical people who claim to be Muslims who are killing people in the name of Islam in their own minds. I’m with him on that. There are. There’s no doubt — I’m Muslim, I can clearly tell you. There are radical, crazy people out there. I can give you a percentage, you know, he gave a percentage, too, which is almost made up. It’s not a real number. That’s also disheartening when you hear him say, well, it could be up to 100 million. No one knows it’s a 100 million radical terrorists/Muslims out there. That doesn’t make any sense. It’s a teeny, teeny exception to Islam, but it’s really the framing of it to a Christian group — to scare them more, to me…especially… and it’s a conservative Christian group — a very right-wing group — Family-Research Council’s audience, which is horrifically anti-gay to the point where the southern part of your listeners call that organization a hate group when it comes to gay people. So to give it…he did not need to…he does not need to do that to get the support of mainstream Christians, to be frank.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: From my perspective, and when I countered your article, it was really to highlight more of a strategy to try to introduce the ideas of a non-interventionist foreign policy to a group that has been very close-minded to that. They followed the Bush doctrine and then Obama came into office, and really continued it and expanded the war into other countries and toppling dictators and wanting to go into Syria and funding the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, de-facto, through the new dictator there. And these people have to be guided, you know, speaking their language, drawing them in and inserting a different mindset: a different strategy — a strategy of peace, and that’s what I was getting from it that he was trying to compel them to consider a peaceful strategy and joining with Islamic people in the Middle East, respecting the history of the Middle East and encouraging the Middle East to deal with this themselves — to police themselves.
Dean Obeidallah: Well, that sentiment would be great. And I wish that could be happen, and it would be a great place as a starting point. I think the reality, though, is that people always say that all Muslims have to somehow police themselves. It’s very difficult; it’s like calling on Americans to police drug dealers or other criminals within your community. There’s very little interaction you really have with these people. They are living in their own world. You only see them when a horrific crime has committed or they succeeded doing something horrible. You know, the average Muslim is a potential target of these people, and that’s why I go back to the point that between 85-92% of all victims of Islamic terrorists have been Muslims. Believe me, they are the ones suffering. They want this to end; they would love this to end, because they are the ones nine out of 10 times being killed by this. So, you know, for us to sit here in the West and say, “All Muslims have to police your own.” It’s easy to say, but you’re talking in certain places, where there’s no government that’s doing anything; there’s almost no government or there’s a government, and perhaps they’re in cahoots with it, perhaps they’re not, but it’s not one of their priorities to crack down on a hand full of people or a teeny percentage of people to committing violent acts. But and each country thru the region — and I’ve been across the Middle East actually as a comedian, performing in Egypt and Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and the West Bank and Dubai. Each country across the region is different. They’re dramatically different, especially when you go from the area like Egypt thru Dubai. I mean, they’re not even…there’s no connection whatsoever; you can say all Arabs are Muslims. But in reality, the societies are so… vastly different. It’s not monolithic, and I don’t think it does a service for us a lot of times in the West to look…use terms like the Muslim world and the Arab world. Its shorthand, I get it. We have to — but for a true understanding, it’s really understanding in each specific country. What’s going on in Tunisia is different than in Egypt, even though there are Muslim…almost Islamists people in Tunisia and there was a Muslim brotherhood leadership in Egypt; but when you get away from there, Lebanon is vastly different, and that’s the neighbor right there, you know, so it’s…Jordan, I’ve been to so many times — completely different and that’s a Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, which means the ruler, King Abdullah, is a descendant of the prophet Muhammad. So, and that’s very, I mean, there’s 10 percent of Christians, they have churches; people wear crosses openly; there’s not an issue, whatsoever — zero issue whatsoever with Christians there. So, that’s what I’m getting at, like I think sometimes our understanding is painted by our own media, which is lazy or they are using shorthand, because they don’t want to focus on foreign policy. But, for you know, the people who like Rand Paul or you know, people who like, you know, your radio show and what you write about, try to; I encourage everyone, read more — I’m not bad mouthing mainstream media, I’m saying read more about each country. It’s very unique in each place, so it’s very hard to have a simple solution for the entire problem. Each country’s different.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Now, what is the goal of “The Muslims are coming?” What was the purpose of creating this documentary?
Dean Obeidallah: It’s a warning; it’s a warning to right-wing Christians that we are coming to take over the country and impose Islamic law.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Oh I see. (Laughs) Okay.
Dean Obeidallah: It’s completely our warning.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Right.
Dean Obeidallah: No, it’s a comedy documentary, and it’s a play on the ‘60s title, “The Russians are coming,” which then was a comedy about the fear people of Russians taking over America, and ours is – it was a comedy documentary; we went to the South; we went to Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, northern Florida. We went to the West; Arizona and Utah, and performed all free comedy shows — all the Muslim American comedians. And the reason we did it for free is — one we wanted to ensure that we lost money, which we did, which was remarkable; and secondly, we wanted to reach out to people. We wanted to reach out to Americans of different faiths, beyond our community, making it as easy as people. We did a lot of street actions. We set up “Ask a Muslim” table in Lawrence, Georgia; no, Lawrenceville, Georgia, I think.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: That’s where I live. (Laughs)
Dean Obeidallah: Yeah, right — that’s where you live?
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Yeah. (Laughs)
Dean Obeidallah: That’s we did it on the street, right there… where the fountain is…by, there’s an Italian restaurant next to it…I can’t remember the name of it. And there’s a shooting range down the street. We went there and shot guns and everything. And we did a lot of things where we met people and talked to them and answered the most difficult questions they had about Muslims. We encouraged them to ask the questions that are on their mind and not be judgmental — not think we’re going to judge them, because I think one of the greatest ways of dissipating any kind of misconceptions people have is answering the questions head-on, even the tough ones. Give me the toughest one you have. I beg people: Give me the toughest one, you know, do you think we’re all terrorists? No, they’d say. And then we’d get thru: But what are your concerns, do you think we’re going to impose Islamic law? No one thought that. I was like, what are you kidding me, you’re like three million people in the country? We’re like, I know, but some politicians will tell you that. They’d go, we know, but we don’t listen to them. But others had concerns about why don’t they hear Muslims denounce terrorism enough? And we talked that at length — a lot of places across the whole region we went to — the South and the West. So the goal was to really use comedy to combat misconceptions — not demonize people — it wasn’t a Borat-type film. We didn’t go down to make fun of Southerners or Western people. We’re in this together. We’re all Americans. We’re of different faiths. You know, we value this nation. We value the freedoms of this nation. And freedom of religion is one of the most important ones to me. And you know, when you harass and demonize people — that’s impinging on their freedom of religion. Because freedom of religion is not just enough to sit in your house and pray, it’s people live your life freely — have the same rights — not be discriminated against when you’re apply for a job or for building a place of worship. So I think all of us have to fight against any kind of bigotry where people are trying to take away our fundamental freedom as Americans. That should unite us. It shouldn’t be left or right. Unfortunately, it is a little bit partisan on the far-right.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Well, Dean Obeidallah, thank you for spending some time with us today on Rare.
Dean Obeidallah: Thanks. Thanks for having me on, Kurt.