Saturday, August 28, 2010


Have you noticed lately that Indians are suddenly cool? I'm not talking about Native American people who we once called Indians in those pre-p.c days of gauche; those "Indians" have been cool since the 60's. I'm talking about people with ancestry from India. Suddenly, Indians are popping up on television and in movies. The movie, Slumdog Millionaire, was a huge hit, and the West finally recognized Bollywood as a legitimate source of fine movies. One of the big networks this fall is running a show about a group of Indians at an outsourcing company. And there's that chap who sells fiber bars in the TV commercial. He sort of epitomizes the common view of Indians as smart, modest, psychologically balanced. They seem to have their shit together, evincing a kind of Zen savoir faire.

Sometimes, though, the portrayal of Indians borders on comic caricature. Have you seen the two geeks on that Internet commercial? I wonder what Indians think when they see that commercial as well as other media depictions of them as nerds. I think most of them probably laugh along with the joke, as they seem to be an ethnic group with a high degree of self-confidence. After all, immigrant Indians have to a significant degree fostered US's technological dominance, so they have a lot to be proud of. (All the more reason to be furious at the dimwits in Congress who won't increase the visa quota for foreign workers, which has been stuck at 65,000 for ten years, thanks mostly to union goon opposition.)

The media can get away with caricaturing Indians because they are not placed under the unofficial classification of "protected group," as are, for example, blacks and gays. What do you think the reaction would be if Nike, say, ran a TV spot depicting blacks as dumb jocks, which stereotype has as much of a kernel of truth as the depiction of Indians as super-smart geeks. Can you imagine the uproar such an ad would cause? But, thankfully, we have not heard a peep from any Indian "advocacy groups," if any actually exist, or some Indian version of Al Sharpton.

But this discussion about Indians in America betrays a subliminal presupposition and prejudice, raising the question as to why we assume that all these characters are Indian. Why could they not be Pakistani, a group that once was part of India, that for the most part looks and speaks English like Indians? The main difference between Indians and Pakistanis is that Indians are mostly Hindu and Pakistanis are mostly Muslim. Our media never portrays Muslims in a positive or light-hearted way. Not only have we not placed Muslims in the "protected group" bracket, we've pretty much declared open season on them.

Take, the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy for example. First of all, this development is not a mosque but more like a YMCA with a prayer room. Anyway, no one would have problem if a church or synagogue were built there; so the problem is not that a religious facility is being built on what most Americans regard as hallowed ground. The problem is that Muslims sponsor this project, and Muslims are a group that many feel it's ok to discriminate against, despite our Constitution and the tenet of religious freedom, which our nation holds as sacred.

Whenever someone mentions that not all Muslims are terrorists, the retort is typically that all terrorists are Muslims. Assuming that statement is true, which it's not, what is the logic there? It's a non-sequitur. The fact is that probably 99% plus of Muslims are not terrorists and do not support terrorism. More Muslims have been killed by Islamic terrorists the past few years than by "infidels." Consequently, I don't think terrorists' popularity rating in the Muslim world is very high. As far as Muslims in America go, the percentage supporting terrorism and violence against other religions is probably infinitesimally small. So why are we condemning a whole religion for the actions of a few? Did the fact the Christian Serbs massacred tens of thousand of Muslim Bosnians mean that all Christians are mass murderers?

The few times that I have seen the developers of this project speak, they seem to be moderate Muslims who have engaged both Christians and Jews in their community and disavow any ties to Iran, Al Queda, Hamas. I blame them for not being Muslim but for being politically tone deaf and PR klutzes. They should have positioned this project as effort to reach out to non-Muslims and show the world that American Muslims stand in solidarity with those who lost love ones on 9/11 (which number included many Muslims). From what I can tell, I believe that was the primary motivating force behind this development, but the developers have done a terrible job conveying that.

All the while that this brouhaha has been percolating, the message to the world of Islam is that the US is inherently hostile to the religion, despite the fact that 6 million or so Muslims live here and are in many cases thriving. This whole contretemps has been a PR disaster not only for the project developers but also for the USA's image to the 1.5 billion Muslims across the globe.

So we love Indians and hate Muslims. Both sentiments are based on stereotypes and reflect America's sometimes schizoid relationship with its immigrant population.

Let them build the damn community center, mosque, whatever it is and let's move on to something more important, like Barak being a closet Muslim.

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