“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
—Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride
Robin Williams was funny.
Say what you will about some of his politics, but the guy was funny. Yes, Jumanji was pretty much a stinker, and yes, his manic tendency to race off-script down random rabbit trails could make him hard to watch in an interview sometimes. But that simply showed us that for all his comic genius, he was all-too-human. His was a rare entertaining talent, and he will be sorely missed.
One thing I’ve never heard him accused of, however, is being a racist.
Apparently—I had to read this in a news report, because I don’t watch narcissistic award shows—Billy Crystal did a tribute piece at the Emmys in which he featured some clips of Williams doing stand-up. In one of the clips, Williams—in his trademark ad-lib style—borrowed a scarf from an audience member, wrapped it around his head like a niqab (the article refers to it as a hijab, but Williams uses it to cover his whole face, which I understand is a niqab) and said in falsetto, “Welcome to Iran. Please help me.”
And the Twittersphere went nuts, complaining that the bit was racist, that the show was racist for using it, or that it was insulting to Williams’ memory to make him look like a racist.
Basically, it was racist.
I suppose I should expect this kind of lack of thought from people who not only sit down to watch the Emmys, but then feel compelled to get on Twitter to comment about the show. But let’s take a look at this.
First, the bit had nothing to do with race. Nothing. “Racism” is the practice of racial discrimination; that is, drawing distinctions or being demeaning towards a group of people based on their race. Williams was doing neither.
The niqab or hijab is not associated with any particular race, but with the religious/political doctrine called “Islam.” In particular it is associated with the fundamentalist variety of Islam focused on sharia law. That has nothing to do with race. The Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Egypt are largely Arab, but those in Iran—the subject of Williams’ ad-lib—are not. They’re Persian. Women in all three places can be found behind head/face covering. Ditto Turkey, where the Muslims are neither Arab nor Persian, but, well Turks. In the Sudan, they’re black. In the Russian Caucasus, it comes as no surprise that the Caucasians are white. In Thailand they’re Thai, and in Indonesia they’re Indonesian. In all of these places the sort of head covering Williams was mimicking ranges from common to required by law (as in Iran), and it’s all due to the ideas of Islam, which is not a race.
Repeat after me, class: It’s not about race.
Second, Williams was not mocking or demeaning the niqab/hijab or Muslims. He was drawing attention to serious human rights issues that plague women under Islamic rule. Now, apologists will tell you that the head cover is a symbol of chastity and modesty, but particularly in those places where its use is mandatory—as in required not by religious observance, but by national law, and enforced by modesty police (I kid you not)—it is also symbolic of the oppression that in many ways treats women as second-class, if not semi-slaves, and this was Williams’ point.
I touched on this in the last post, but consider that in fundamentalist Islamic societies, women cannot serve as witnesses in the prosecution of a man (or men) she accuses of raping her; only men are competent to testify, and she’d better come up with four of them who agree with her. Otherwise, not only does the accused go free, but her accusation is now an admission of adultery, for which she may be executed, sometimes by stoning or beating.
Speaking of beating, under sharia, wife-beating is expressly condoned, the rationale being that the woman is to be subservient and obedient to her husband, who is her master. Further on marital relations, the husband is allowed to take up to four wives, any of whom he may divorce—leaving her penniless and un-marryable—simply by saying “I divorce you” three times; vice-versa is not true for the wife in either case. By the way, Islam also condones pedophilia; Mohammed—who is to be imitated in every way as the perfect model of human behavior—married one of his wives, Aisha, when she was six, and consummated the marriage when she was nine. More recently, a Saudi cleric issued a fatwa in 2011 permitting marriage to girls as young as one.
If you’re a woman, not only must you wear that head cover, but many places you can’t go outside, even in broad daylight, without a male relative as an escort. Nor are you permitted to drive a car. Some places you can’t even go to school; that’s what the charming gentlemen of Boko Haram have been trying to enforce by kidnapping hundreds of girls in Nigeria. And while we’re at it, although not really part of Islamic doctrine as such, we ought to take brief notice of the practice of “honor killings” and acid attacks prevalent in Islamic societies—usually committed by a close male relative—when Muslim girls refuse arranged marriages or simply become too Westernized.
This is what Robin Williams was trying to highlight when he donned the niqab, took on the character of an Iranian woman, and pled “Help me.”
Is that what you call “racism”?
That question highlights a much broader issue in that this loaded pejorative “racism” is thrown around so lightly these days it has ceased to have any meaning beyond “I don’t like what you did/said/thought.” Particularly for the Progressive Left—and I’ll bet you dollars-to-donuts 100% of those who took the trouble to Tweet about an Emmys piece are big-time Leftys—“racism” has become the automatic charge for everything with which they disagree.
Don’t want U.S. judges applying foreign law to Americans in American courts? You’re a racist.
Support requiring voters have sufficient I.D. to prove they are who they say they are (you know, the same thing most states require for you to collect welfare)? You’re a racist.
Support tighter border security to prevent ISIS—or whatever they call themselves this week—from slipping in to start bombing American cities or spreading Ebola? Guess what: you’re a big, fat racist.
Advocate eliminating the welfare regime that has destroyed the black family and trapped millions in an endless cycle of dependency and poverty? Well, that’s because you’re a racist.
Think it’s a good idea to have school vouchers that not only force competition, but give impoverished black parents a means to send their kids somewhere other than the rat/gang/drug-infested hell-hole that is their local public school? That makes you not only a racist, but anti-teacher, to boot.
Think affirmative action, alternative ethnic curricula, reduced admission standards, and modified grading scales treat minorities as inherently inferior and incapable, and set them up for failure by artificially inserting them into schools and jobs for which they would not otherwise qualify? Then your name is Dr. Thomas Sowell, and you’re a racist even though you’re black.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King fought against real racism: fire hoses and police dogs, separate lunch counters, back-of-the-bus, and lynching. He dreamed of a day when people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. Today’s Progressive Left has hijacked and weaponized that movement, and perverted Dr. King’s dream into a world where people are judged not by the content of their ideas, but by how their ideas can be misrepresented and then demonized as “racism” without further debate.
And that’s not funny.