Among the fascinating phenomena of America’s most prominent Muslim activist organizations is how they decide which Muslims to lift up and which to ignore. Compare two recent comedy specials. One, Dave Chappelle’s newest Netflix special “Sticks & Stones,” which is generating intense reactions given its choice of material — including abortion, #MeToo, Transgenderism, “the alphabet people” (referring to the expanding acronym LGBTQIA+), and the implications of the “cancel culture,” which seeks to silence all who do not adhere to the “woke” doctrines of political correctness.
Thinking about this hilariously offensive special brought to mind another recent comedy special that challenged different cultural taboos: Millennial Ramy Youssef’s “Feelings,” released on HBO on June 29.
Both comedians are American Muslims, a fact often forgotten about Chappelle — perhaps since he is a convert who generally shuns public discussion of his faith. But Youssef, the son of Egyptian immigrants, emphasizes Muslimness as central to his comedy, TV show, and identity.
In fact, Islamist organization the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) — a group co-founded by Hassan Hathout, who described himself as a “close disciple” of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and whose current director Salam al-Marayati suggested Israel as a suspect of the 9/11 attacks — and its “Hollywood bureau chief” Sue Obeidi are eager to promote Youssef. On the contracy, MPAC does not generally even acknowledge the successes of Muslims not in line with its Islamist ideology.
One of the differences between Chappelle’s and Youssef’s styles of comedy is that the latter is more clearly playing essentially himself. And while his ideas may provoke some shocks, they do not do so in the same way as Chappelle’s over-the-top fictional character — a character who intentionally pushes ideological buttons. At times, Youssef goes fairly deep into faith, sexuality, and 9/11. While there are some exaggerations, it’s clear he’s providing what the title suggests: His “feelings.”
[SPOILER WARNING for Youssef’s HBO special and his Hulu show “Ramy”]
Youssef devotes significant time in both his special and fictional show to advancing a bizarre subject: Cousin marriage and why it should be acceptable. Youssef gets not one but two chances at the same time on prominent, hip, corporate television and this is where he places all of his chips? Obeidi and MPAC go through all this trouble to lift him up, only for the big ask of America to more readily permit … cousin marriage?
From minutes 48 – 51, Youssef asks, “You ever have that cousin growing up you kind of have a vibe with?” Then telling a story of his cousin’s wedding in Egypt and jealousy toward her husband, he asks, “Have I been in love with my cousin this whole time? … It’s only weird if you don’t have a hot cousin. If you think it’s weird, you just have an ugly family. I’m sorry … Why can’t we be with our cousins?”
He then asks the audience for, “like, a real reason?” Captain Obvious in the audience brings up genetics. “That’s propaganda … I looked into it … The rate doubles … It goes from 1.4 to 2.8% chance that something could happen.” Then he pauses for effect and says, “Like, when did 2.8% ever stop you from doing f***ing anything?” People applaud.
In fact, Youssef vastly understates the potential negative impact of cousin marriages, as demonstrated by recent cases in the U.K: While British Pakistanis make up 3% of all births, their children accounted for 30% of genetic illnesses due to cousin marriage, and in 2017 the London neighborhood of Redbridge released a startling report that 19% of the child deaths in its borough were from cousin couples — 9% of whom were Pakistani.
Next, Youssef baits his P.C.-incubated audience: “It’s just so disappointing because I’m in this crowd of people who are like ‘woke’ or whatever, but you’re not. Like … I saw some of you when I was saying some s*** … I’m sharing a sexual feeling and you shut down … I’ll stand up for the gay community, the trans community … And I’m like yeah, I get that, cause I don’t identify as being her cousin. Gender’s a construct, so is family, like all this is just … it’s what we say it is.”
Funny? That’s not playing a character, it’s a comedian setting aside several minutes in his HBO comedy special to earnestly argue for cousin marriage on the grounds that opposing it is racist.
There is a huge difference between Chapelle, who pokes fun at hot-button controversies to generate laughs, and Youssef, who uses his jokes in a clumsy effort to shoehorn the culture of Islamist society, grafting it onto the intersectionalist arguments that people have come to expect — even when it doesn’t actually fit. The fights for gay marriage and transgender acceptance are somehow comparable to doubling one’s chances of having children with birth defects?
MPAC wants a Muslim (actually Islamist) comedian, not a comedian who happens to be a Muslim. This is significant because it further illustrates MPAC’s Islamist purpose. MPAC doesn’t want to suggest that American Muslims are just like other Americans, with similar issues. Rather, they want to keep American Muslims apart and to force Islamist sentiment down all Americans’ throats.
While it may seem counterintuitive that MPAC would promote Muslims with extreme views rather than all-American Muslim success stories, this is actually a feature and not a bug for organizations with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. This movement is committed to Islamist values and culture overcoming American and Western values. Pushing the ideological boundaries of respectability is the goal and any tools at hand, whether it be LGBTQ sympathies, postmodernism, or the stand-up comedy traditions of provocation are fair game.