Fighting Islamophobia: Tackling stereotypes with a pinch of humour

Published: February 22, 2013
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Writer Wajahat Ali on being a spokesperson for Pakistanis, Muslims and Americans.

Writer Wajahat Ali on being a spokesperson for Pakistanis, Muslims and Americans.

KARACHI: A Muslim-American of Pakistani descent, 32 year-old Wajahat Ali, is well-aware of the unique position he enjoys due to his multi-faceted identity and wishes to counter negative stereotypes on both sides through cultural exchange and dialogue.

Born and raised in America, Ali is an attorney by profession but dons many hats. His flirtation with words began in 2009 with the writing of award-winning play, The Domestic Crusaders, one of the first major plays about the American-Muslim experience. The play was very well received and premiered at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC. He also wrote a report exposing right-wing elements that are responsible for fuelling the Islamophobia narrative in the US.

On a recent visit to Karachi, he conducted several dialogue sessions at The Second Floor café and MAD school about Islamophobia in America in an attempt to promote a better understanding between the two countries.

“Culture is the ultimate weapon that can be used to enter this market place of ideas and challenge these very toxic extremist narratives that have popped up in America and Pakistan,” he told The Express Tribune during an interview.

Ali claims that his career was the product of being a ‘lafanga’ and not knowing what to do in life.

“I knew I wanted to tell stories – stories that were by us [Muslim Pakistani Americans] for everyone [a global audience],” he said, recalling how a childhood passion transformed into a vocation and ultimately a mission.

The young writer admits that being a Muslim-Pakistani American in a post 9/11 world has not been easy. He has been questioned extensively on why Islam hates the West when he is in America and showered with questions about drone attacks and the Iraq invasion when he is in a Muslim country.

“I have somehow become the cultural ambassador of 1.5 billion Muslims and 200 million Pakistanis and 300 million Americans. My job is not to be an apologist or propagandist for either side, but to tell my own unique story.”

Ali felt that there was a dire need for people to realise that the foreign policy of a nation does not represent 300 million Americans, and the perverted actions of a few extremist Taliban does not represent the narrative of all Muslims.

Comparing his current visit to Pakistan to the earlier visits in the 80s and 90s, Ali said that he sensed unease and perpetual vigilance in the air. “Pakistanis are living through a present-traumatic stress disorder. People are trying to live normally amidst dysfunctional tragedies that would have derailed any other country completely.”

Ali has high hopes from his upcoming TV pilot that revolves around an American Muslim cop and a movie screenplay about an Arab-American scientist.  “It has nothing to do with extremism, no one is married to a terrorist, no one’s chacha is a terrorist…. the aim behind these projects is to show a slice of life that has not been shown in America before.”

Ali hopes to partner with Pakistani artists and writers to undertake similar ventures here. “I have never gone to any country with the arrogance of saying I am here, work with me. These things require an investment of time and effort and I have been trying to make that in Pakistan over the past year.”

He has, however, no plans of moving to Pakistan. “I am an American and I have as much right to America with this brown face and the Pakistani name as any European gora. I want to show America that there is richness and values in our tradition that we can give to them and vice versa.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Genius
    Feb 22, 2013 - 3:16AM

    Well done young man. Let us have more like you. We all certainly need more like you who use their God given brains along with God given “Wisdom”. Keep on doing your good work but just be a bit careful. After all it is in America where one would find people trying their best to make us believe the Jesus was a wicked man.

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  • Green Tiger
    Feb 22, 2013 - 3:46AM

    How can you fight stereo types when there`s always news like this.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21534048
    Birmingham men guilty of mass bomb plot

    Pakistan is in the news again.

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  • gp65
    Feb 22, 2013 - 4:45AM

    “I have somehow become the cultural ambassador of 1.5 billion Muslims”

    How arrogant is that. In what way do you represent the culture of Indonesian or Bangladeshi or Nigerian Muslims.Even Muslims in the southern part of India do not read, speak or write Urdu.Their food, dress, language. You know nothing about these. The Arabs too would laugh if you claimed that you represent their culture as would Iranians.

    “He has, however, no plans of moving to Pakistan. “I am an American and I have as much right to America with this brown face and the Pakistani name as any European gora.”*

    You can stereotype them as ‘gora’ but complain when they stereotype you?

    “On a recent visit to Karachi, he conducted several dialogue sessions at The Second Floor café and MAD school about Islamophobia in America in an attempt to promote a better understanding between the two countries”.

    Sorry how will talking to people in Karachi would likely make people even more anti-American than they currently are. How does it promote understanding between the 2 countries?

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  • Lala Gee
    Feb 22, 2013 - 6:12PM

    @gp65:

    Thank you for openly revealing your deep rooted malice for Pakistan and Muslims by taking on a person – by twisting his words or quoting them without context, which seems to be coming out of a hateful demented mind – who is honestly trying to dispel the false perceptions created in the west through continuous false propaganda, in which India (read Hindutva Brigade) has a huge part, against Pakistan, Muslims, and Islam (any un-moderated Indian newspaper website is a proof). No matter how hard you try to pretend being fair in your comments, here you couldn’t hide your malevolence after all,

    “How arrogant is that. In what way do you represent the culture of Indonesian or Bangladeshi or Nigerian Muslims.Even Muslims in the southern part of India do not read, speak or write Urdu.Their food, dress, language. You know nothing about these.

    Is that finally your acknowledgment of the validity of the ‘Two Nation Theory’, which you and your compatriots have been so vehemently refuting on these pages. If even a Muslim cannot talk for other Muslims due to differences of “food, dress, language” , how a Hindu sitting in Parliament can represent the Muslim minority of a vastly diverse country because of his lack of understanding of their religion, people, and their unique culture and traditions. More importantly, how a Hindu majority country can represents the aspirations of the Muslim minority correctly and effectively, if at all.? For example, Muslims all over the world sympathize with the Palestinians due to their sufferings in the Zionist Israeli state, while India maintains excellent defense, commercial, and diplomatic relations with Israel against the wishes of her Muslim minority. Similarly the question also arises, why the South and East Indian states should also not be independent countries as “Their food, dress, language”, as well as their race, is very different than the central North Indian majority, and could be represented more efficiently and effectively where their own people are the rulers than to fight for their rights in a country dominated by Hindi speaking Aryan race.

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  • Lala Gee
    Feb 22, 2013 - 6:13PM

    @Green Tiger:

    “How can you fight stereo types when there`s always news like this.
    Birmingham men guilty of mass bomb plot”

    Why shouldn’t they? When you kill millions of innocent Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria in pretentious wars, and when you kill thousands of innocents in Pakistan and elsewhere using drones, along with some alleged terrorists without giving them the due process, and still claim to be the champion of civil liberties, human rights, and what not, shouldn’t the others have the right to retaliate in kind. While you so vehemently justify the massacre of thousands of Sikhs and Muslims of India by the Hindus on the pretext of provocation and rightful retaliation, why you think Muslims do not have this right?

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  • shafi
    Feb 22, 2013 - 7:39PM

    Good mind and seems a creative and reforming solver to the Situation. That’s good and keep it up.

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