Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail is produced by videographer and producer Aymann Ismail for Slate to untangle common misconceptions about Muslim Americans. Son of Muslim Egyptian immigrants, Ismail’s interest in the project came from his own experience of being stared at and treated as if he was evil all throughout his life. Once, he was arrested for taking pictures from the top of a bridge. The law enforcers told him that they would deport him back to Egypt, despite the fact that he was born in New Jersey.
“To grow up a Muslim means to grow up being feared,” he said in the opening sequence.
In seven episodes, he covers a wide range of issues, from Islam and homosexuality, hijab, jokes and blasphemy, and ex-Muslims. He points out how the far-right groups often build the narratives of the scary Muslims in order to legitimize their own ideology as well as to obtain political gains.
In the episode on homosexuality for example, he observed that in the last US presidential election, then candidate Trump often flew the rainbow flag to express support for the LGBT people. But in wooing gay voters, Trump put forward the narrative of the persecution and execution of the LGBT people in Islamic countries. He then promised to protect the LGBT people from the “scary” Muslims. Similarly, in the ex-Muslims episode, he pointed out that the existence of a group of people who left Islam is often used by the “alt-right” media to legitimize their rabid Islamophobia.
Ismail interviewed his own mother and sister in the episode on hijab. Their interviews show how different generations understand hijab and articulate its importance in their lives differently. His sisters pointed out that discussions about hijab should neither be about forcing women to wear it nor forbidding them from wearing it at all.
Ismail also talked to Muslim comedians to tackle common assumptions that Muslims can’t joke or take joke about Islam without screaming blasphemy. He aims to show that not all Muslims consider those who mock Islam punishable by death and should meet the faith of those slain in the Charlie Hebdo massacre. At a Comic Strip Live community in New York, he met Muslim comedians who freely make jokes about their own religion. In this space, the audience, who, like the comedians, are offspring of Muslim immigrants, laugh at jokes ranging from sex deprivation during the Ramadhan month, honor killings, polygamy.
Watch the complete series of Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail here.