FUNNY MUSLIMS. When Newsweek ran a cover titled Muslim Rage in September 2012, featuring throngs of

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1 FUNNY MUSLIMS When Newsweek ran a cover titled Muslim Rage in September 2012, featuring throngs of screaming, bearded Muslims, Muslims on Twitter were quick to co-opt the headline and turn it into a satirical hashtag: I m having such a good hair day. No one even knows. #MuslimRage When you realize that if you have a 5 o clock shadow it can be deemed a security threat. #MuslimRage When you have no hijab to go with your cute outfit you just bought #MuslimRage #waitwut These Tweets use humor to highlight the racism of the Newsweek cover, but they also set up a contrast between those radical Muslims, who act as ideal tragic scapegoats, and the moderate Muslims who are capable of joking and thus fitting into U.S. society. In this paper, I argue that U.S. Muslims are choosing to comically frame themselves through style to demonstrate citizenship by performing ideal Muslimhood. I examine the comedic style of Muslim-American comedian Azhar Usman to examine how his routines demonstrate Burke s comic framing, and how this helps reinforce U.S. exceptionalism. The term moderate Muslim is dangerous and insulting as it is used to condone good behavior and thus discipline Muslims. The moderate Muslim must continuously denounce terrorism while keeping himself completely transparent, and open to attack, and passive. In 2015, an armed anti-muslim mob outside a Phoenix mosque was welcomed in by the congregation to teach them about the peacefulness of the religion. Let that sink in. Muslims in the U.S. must perform citizenship; it is not accorded to them. Such performances bolster U.S.

2 exceptionalism, as the nation can now claim to produce the best Muslims in the world; and Muslims who fail to perform appropriate citizenship draw the wrath of State security. Thus, U.S. Muslims have adopted the moderate Muslim rhetoric for self-preservation. Kenneth Burke s theories of scapegoating and comic framing are central to understanding the machinations of the moderate Muslim trope. Burke argues that tragic scapegoating arises from the impulse to punish sinners, while the comic impulse is to correct them. The Orientalized Muslim Other is an ideal scapegoat, a negative vessel containing the sins of sexism, antimodernity, and violence all of which are reflections of America s own sins, of course. The Muslim vessel is then destroyed, either discursively, militarily, or judicially, thus completing the tragic scapegoating process. Not much fun it s clear why no Muslims are signing up for that. However, Muslims in the U.S. are now actively trying to mediate how they are framed, and deploy the moderate Muslim narrative to do so. They attempt to reframe themselves comically rather than tragically, and thus forward the idea that they can be corrected and reintegrated into society. Comic framing differs from tragic scapegoating because it involves mocking people s faults, and asks us to picture people as not vicious but as mistaken, and encourages correcting and reorienting those individuals back into the community, which is a massive improvement over tragic scapegoating. Thus, U.S. Muslims use the moderate Muslim specter to comically frame themselves to escape tragic scapegoating, and they manage this through style. A great deal of anti-muslim sentiment is rooted in imagery and style, i.e. hatred of images of Muslims and Arabs. Good citizens are encouraged to say something if they see something for public safety, a call that is fundamentally rooted in style and visibility. And so the moderate is one who divests himself of the style associated with the Orientalized Other: the beard, the robes, the accented voice. He

3 must make his American citizenship visible through style. I remember telling a bearded Pakistani-American friend that reading a book called The God Complex on the Amtrak might get him some suspicious looks. However, he pointed out that when he travelled with his guitar, the musical instrument put a different spin on [his] beard. His guitar, combined with his beard, stylized him differently; where once his brown skin and beard may have been read as his substance, his guitar and facial hair now presented him as a possible hipster. What could be read as a racial beard is re-presented as a trend. Given the pressures to conform, U.S. Muslims have devised ways to use the restrictive moderate Muslim rhetoric to facilitate comic framing, particularly visible in the stand-up comedy of high-profile Muslim comedian Azhar Usman Usman clearly employs the moderate Muslim narrative; he actively applies the moderate Muslim rhetoric to emphasize scene, create perspective by incongruity, and consequently reorient the non-muslim viewer. As a result, this facilitates comic framing and escapes tragic scapegoating. First of all, much of Usman s humor derives from the incongruity of his appearance and his speech. He is a burly, swarthy, heavily bearded the very image of the feared Muslim terrorist But Usman wastes no time making a joke about his appearance, saying that he is aware the audience has never seen someone who looks like [him] smile before, before smiling broadly and posing. Usman directly confronts the angry Arab stereotype and reorients the audience: here is a man who, admittedly, looks quite terrifying, but appears amenable and can possibly be reintegrated into society. Next, Usman introduces us to two characters: Radical Imam Sheikh Abdul, and Uncle Letmesplainyou. These characters embody all the stereotypical traits of the hated Muslim fundamentalists. The Radical Imam is both petty and provincial, spewing hate speech against non-muslims while complaining about the parking situation around the mosque. Meanwhile, the

4 Uncle character brags about the growth of the Muslim community every opportunity he gets. Both these characters act as a foil to the moderate Muslim; Usman performs tragic scapegoating of his very own within his routine: the Imam and the Uncle represent everything that moderate Muslims detest. Usman pours these undesirable Muslim traits into these two characters, which makes it easier to see Usman and those like him as moderates. Usman s comedy also offers perspective by incongruity and emphasizes scene over actors to facilitate comic framing. In a particularly deft set-up, Usman compares the Muslim festival of Eid to Christmas and Halloween, highlighting how the relative austerity of Eid cannot compete with the consumerism of the other two holidays: [W]hen you re a little kid and you don t get to celebrate Christmas, c mon that sucks. And truthfully people, we have to educate America. Okay we have holidays, Eid, and no offense to my Muslim brothers and sisters, but if you re a Muslim in America, Eid sucks. That s right, we can t compete man! Christmas, everybody s going crazy. Halloween, they re giving away free candy! We tell our kids You re gonna fast for a month. Then I m gonna take you to an empty parking garage to pray. Come on let s go, Eid Mubarak. Get in the car, let s go. Eid Mubarak, that s a holiday. And if anybody asks, yes, Eid is the word die spelled backwards. Come on, get in the car Usman creates perspective by incongruity when he frames Eid as a sort of subdued Christmas, implying that Eid can be remedied with a little candy and consumerism. Finally, Usman contrasts moderate Muslims, who he argues should run for office, with narrow-minded Muslims. He says:

5 We re not a very politically active community, we re not a politically organized community [but there s] always that one guy at the conference, real passionate right, (assumes South Asian accent) We need more Muslim politicians! We need more Muslims in the media! Arey bhai we need more Muslim policy-makers! (regular voice) What about you uncle, you have three sons, what do they do? (resumes South Asian accent) Masha Allah, they re all doctors. I m so proud of them, even though one of them had to go to the Caribbean Here, Usman again enacts a moderate Muslim as well as the narrow minded Uncle who serves as a foil. He engages components of style a change in accent, posture, and gesture to make the distinction clear. Usman performs these radical Muslim figures throughout his routine, and they form useful (tragic) scapegoats who are sacrificed in order to rescue the moderates. Usman is one case study in how U.S. Muslims are applying the moderate Muslim rhetoric to escape tragic scapegoating and achieve a degree of inclusion in the citizenry. At this point, I find myself returning to a tired old quote by Rousseau: freedom is the power to choose the chains that bind us. This curiously mirrors the thought of U.S. Muslims attempting to choose how they are corrected. They are using the moderate Muslim rhetoric as their instrument to do so, which is unmistakably a set of chains that binds Muslims in a particular way. And such comic framing is by no means restricted to Muslims in the U.S.; for instance, African-Americans must engage in similar respectability politics to escape tragic scapegoating. Therefore, the moderate Muslim, like the exceptional Negro, is part of a larger marginalizing rhetoric that forces its victims to internalize hierarchies of power for their own survival.

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