You Win, Bill Maher: Sayed Kashua Admits He's One of the Bad Guys

Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua
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An illustration by Amos Biderman depicting Bill Maher
Illustration by Amos Biderman.Credit: Illustration
Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua

I’m starting to get into trouble here, violating promises I made to myself before coming to the “Promised Land.” Political and media figures are starting to rile me. I’m developing anxieties over declarations that are often totally disconnected from reality – the kind made by some of the Republican presidential candidates – but that seem to go over well with “the people.”

Bill Maher was one of the first I started to loathe, because of his arrogance, ignorance and pseudo-intellectual guise. The murderous spree in Paris last Friday provided Maher with what he wanted by seemingly proving his long-standing opinions about the essential barbarism of Arabs and Muslims. Not all of them, he’s not saying all of them – indeed, his HBO show occasionally features a Muslim woman who’s written about a woman’s right to enjoy sex. In contrast to the barbarians (who are they, anyway? Was there ever such a people? Or does the word refer to every civilized person who is violent in essence, whose logic cannot be understood and whose violence has to be read as congenital?), you have this TV host who’s running a civilized panel discussion about how to fight “the bad guys” – by heaven, that’s the actual term they used.

“And what about the Arabs who are supposedly our allies?” the host asked, listing the Turks, Saudis, Jordanians and Qataris. “Why should we have to do their work?” he added, to a round of applause. “Why do we have to intervene?” he wondered, noting that those who are fighting Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) are the Iranians, our enemy. (“Our” meaning the nation sitting in front of the TV screen.) Let them kill each other, the liberal, enlightened moderator – who’s one of the good guys – concluded. It’s the best show in town – “All we have to do is buy popcorn.” And he’s right: Why should they get bloodied in a Middle Eastern clan feud in which they have no interests at all?

And no, I have no desire to pin the blame on colonialism, conspiracies and economic interests, however valid those allegations may be. To advance these interests, conspiracies and policies, you need fertile ground – the kind of wonderful soil that exists in the Middle East, even if its boundaries now stretch to France and Belgium.

I have only bottomless hatred for the concepts that go by the name of ISIS, Al-Qaida, Boko Haram and the devil knows what else. I have no idea who they are: My mental image of them is of a gang of murderers, criminals with a psychiatric background who look like and dress up like the bad guys in American movies. It sometimes seems that they’ve adopted a fashion line that was developed in Hollywood and not in the time of Mohammed.

I don’t know one Muslim, in Israel or here, who doesn’t despise this concept called Islamic State, who doesn’t wish for its eradication. And not out of concern for their own images as Muslims and Arabs in a foreign land, but because of what they have done to their immediate victims in Syria and Iraq, Shi’ites, Sunnis, Christians, Yazidis and all those who are not them. ISIS is a danger to what’s called the East, not the West.

Still, I couldn’t help but be overcome by sorrow, self-hatred and anger when I heard about the massacre in France. My first thought was: How the blazes do I cancel my labeling as a Muslim? How can I dump every definition that’s liable to connect me with those murderers?

I am a Muslim, and I categorize myself as such not because I was born a Muslim or because I believe in or observe any of the Islamic commandments. I am a Muslim because I am threatened as a Muslim and because I defend myself, in part, as a Muslim. Because I am filled with contempt when I hear Muslims, or former Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, speaking in the American media and purveying everything that the benighted folks want to hear about Islam. I am a Muslim infidel who is not considered a Muslim according to Islam. But I am a Muslim who feels attacked and threatened when the government of Israel goes after the Islamic Movement and outlaws its northern branch. I probably have nothing in common with the members of Islamic Movement; I am probably their enemy. But even so, I think that all the Arab movements should disqualify themselves if the Islamic Movement has been banned under the aegis of government aggression.

I am a Muslim because my children wanted to see “Back to the Future” a few days ago and I, recalling from my youth that it’s a good movie, was happy to order it and watch it with them. At the beginning of the film, the professor is killed by the “Libyans,” who are wearing ISIS-like garb and fire a submachine gun that’s attached to the roof of a van. They’re dressed in rags and mumble incoherently, but even so, my 4-year-old son – my youngest – asked me, “Dad, who are the Libyans? Are they Muslims, like you?”

I’m from the bad guys and nothing will change that. I’m from the bad guys, and I have no ambition to be one of the good guys if their categorization as such requires the approval of American politicians and the media. I don’t want to be one of the good guys if they, as Bernard-Henri Lévy puts it, are “the enlightened people whom we must encourage,” as opposed to the “Islamofascists.”

Again, another Western division into good people and bad people; once more, a division that is liable only to strengthen Islamic State and its ilk. It’s a division that might be interpreted in the Islamic world as meaning that anyone who doesn’t support extreme Islam definitely supports imperialist policy. Yet again, self-determination is squelched.

How delusional would a spokesperson from a non-superpower country sound if he said, “We must cultivate the enlightened people in the West,” adding that not everyone is like Bill Maher, Marco Rubio or Marine Le Pen – that there are others, and these people must not be allowed to stigmatize the West. And then he will say, “The question is, how much can the bombings there actually help, and how we can, despite everything, avoid harming innocent people?”