Is This Conan O’Brien Joke ‘Racist’?

The Qur’an says Muslim men may take up to four wives. Muhammad, Islam’s prophet, had nine.

Is it Islamophobic — nay, racist — to tell a joke based on those incontrovertible facts?

It seems so. Conan O’Brien got pilloried when he (or, more likely, one of his staffers) tweeted this the other day:

The reaction was swift: “So fucking gross and racist. Good job guys,” responded a seething Twitter user (one of many who’ll probably be surprised when someone clues them in to the fact that Islam is a religion, not a race). Tweeted another: “Real classy bigotry, Conan OBrien. Did you enjoy having a laugh at the expense of the marginalized?”

Two hours later, O’Brien’s tweet was gone.

The U.K. Freethinker reports that

Angry respondees not only pointed out to O’Brien that his comment was “prejudiced towards Muslims” but also that the character being introduced by Marvel is a teenage girl from Jersey City, not a housewife from Saudi Arabia. In other words, there’s more than one type of Muslim woman.

Conan O’Brien deleted the offending tweet but so far has not apologized.

Nor should he. If the newest Marvel superhero had been a Mormon, and O’Brien had made the exact same quip, I very much doubt that there’d have been a backlash. (Say what you will about Mormons, but they can take a joke.) In fact, I’ll bet that many of the same people who were upset by the Muslim-polygamy rib-tickler would have laughed right along if O’Brien had cracked wise about Mormon polygynists.

Muslims and their humorless advocates have no business claiming special treatment for Allah’s tribe. Like many other groups, atheists included, they’ll occasionally come in for a good ribbing. They should learn to like it.

The alternative is that we’ll oblige them, stop making jokes, and instead begin talking in great earnestness about what Islam’s hardcore extremist followers are up to. We’ll discuss honor killings, Sharia outrages, religiously inspired death and destruction perpetrated on atheists and Christians and fellow Muslims, the Qur’an’s love affair with violence, and a host of other topics that Muslims and their Twitter friends will probably like quite a bit less than the occasional one-liner by a famous comedian. 

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.


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