The world of professional wrestling, which in the US ceased being a “sport” long ago in favor of entertaining the masses with soap opera-like story lines and theatrical fake violence, has long depended on “heels” (i.e. villains) to rile up the crowds. And there’s nothing like a Muslim or Arab villain to stoke nationalistic fervor in times of trouble. Like the Iron Sheik, Abdullah the Butcher, and the Original Sheik before, wrestling giant WWE couldn’t resist bringing two Muslim wrestlers to the SmackDown! arena, just as things in Iraq were getting depressing.
The official story line surrounding Muhammad Hassan (real name: Mark Copani, born in Jordan to an Arab mother and Italian father) and Shawn Daivari (born in Tehran; yells in Farsi at the crowd) sounded promising: they were upset at anti-Muslim prejudice and racial profiling following the attacks of 9/11 and wanted to get even with the bigots.
However, WWE pushed the stereotypes too far, adding a Muslim fanatic/terrorist angle at the last minute (including references to suicide bombing, beheading, etc.) that unfortunately coincided with the London terror attacks. “The character deals with a very sensitive issue,” said Siwar Bandar, a spokeswoman for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “However, he does so in a context that is violent, that is turning his back on America.” With Arab and Muslim groups complaining about the stereotypes, as well as others who chafed at the terrorist imagery, the characters were pulled last week.
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.