Muslim Actor Riz Ahmed: “Is This Going to be the Year When They Round Us Up?” (Part 1)

At a “diversity leadership event,” the actor Riz Ahmed opened up about his fears of anti-Muslim prejudice: “it’s really scary to be a Muslim right now.”  

Ahmed is opening up about his experiences with discrimination — including a time when he says Homeland Security blocked him from boarding a plane on his way to a “Star Wars” convention in Chicago.

Ahmed, who is of Pakistani descent, said that due to his race he’s typically stopped and searched at airports. He said airport security guards have swabbed him for explosives, then requested selfies or start rapping his lyrics.

It is not “due to his race” that Riz Ahmed was stopped and searched at airports, but due, rather, to his faith. Hindus, of the same “race” as Ahmed, were not stopped and searched in the same way. Since there is a worldwide scourge of Islamic terrorism, with more than 35,400 attacks by Muslim terrorists since 9/11 alone, it makes sense for Homeland Security to stop and subject to more thorough searches those passengers who, like Riz Ahmed, bear identifiably Muslim names. It was not the color of his skin that made him an object of interest, but his Muslim identity, revealed in the name “Ahmed.” A white Muslim, or a Uighur, would have been subject to the same intensive search; race had nothing to do with it. But Riz Ahmed has a vested interest in attributing more thorough  searching of Muslims to “racism,” for that is the charge designed to shut down all critical thought; “racism” is in today’s world the primal sin, and its invocation is meant to, and often does, put paid to any islamocritical remarks.

“The Night Of” actor made the comments during diversity leadership event Amplify in California hosted by the CAA Foundation and the Ford Foundation, per the Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

USA TODAY has reached out to Ahmed’s reps and the Department of Homeland Security for comment.

He also talked about the importance of improving Muslim representation.

What did Riz Ahmed mean when he discussed the importance of “improving Muslim representation”? Did he mean he wanted to see more Muslim actors? Wanted more Muslims at all levels in Hollywood, from gaffer to studio head? Wanted more Muslim actors in roles having nothing to do with terrorism? Since 9/11, and all the subsequent attacks by Muslim terrorists in this country, Hollywood has flung its doors wide open to Muslim actors, who have never had so many opportunities for work. Naturally they play various roles: first, as the terrorists themselves; second, as the Good Muslims who work undercover for the government as double-agents, keeping tabs on “extremists” in their communities. If anything, Hollywood exaggerates the numbers and significance of the Good Muslims, and is silent on the activities of CAIR in persuading Muslims not to collaborate with the FBI. Where did Hollywood, where did Americans, get this crazy idea that Muslims have an unusual connection to terrorism? Could it have been the attacks by Muslim terrorists around the country during the last 18 years? Possibly those attacks by Muslims in New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles, Fort Hood, Little Rock, Chattanooga, Orlando, San Bernardino, and a dozen other places, have established that  link between Muslims and terrorism. Hollywood scripts that are based on the news naturally have work for Muslim actors, playing both terrorists and the loyal American Muslim foilers of terrorists. Muslim terror attacks in this country were more than  enough to persuade Hollywood to create endless dramas with terrorist plots, but if they had not been, there were all those other attacks by Muslims in Europe, in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Nice, Toulouse, Tours, Montauban,  London, Manchester, Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Malmö, Helsinki, Turku, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Beslan — and those attacks would surely have put paid to any doubts about the central role of Islamic terrorists in creating anxiety throughout much of the civilized world. Hollywood has been weaving terrorism narratives — movies, television series — nonstop since 9/11. It can hardly have done otherwise.

While onstage with comedian Hasan Minhaj, Ahmed pointed to him and said “He can win a Peabody; I can win an Emmy; Ibtihaj Muhammad can go to the Olympics, but some of these obstacles are systemic and we can’t really face them alone, we need your help. I’m basically here to ask for your help, because it’s really scary to be a Muslim right now, super scary. I’ve often wondered, is this going to be the year when they round us up, if this is going to be the year they put Trump’s registry into action. If this is going to be the year they ship us all off.”

Here is Riz Ahmed, at the highest point of his career, having won an Emmy in 2017 as an Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series; he is deluged with offers for work, as are several of his fellow Muslim actors. But despite all this mounting fame and fortune, he wants his audience to feel sorry for him. He appeals to that audience for unspecified help against those who are making his life, he claims, so difficult and dangerous. But who are these sinister islamophobic bigots? What are their names? Just how have they managed to stymie the career of Riz Ahmed when that career is so obviously at its apogee? We need a little more information from Riz Ahmed before we drop a ready tear for his supposed plight.

Riz Ahmed is opening up about his constant battle with discrimination — including one such incident when Homeland Security blocked [him] from boarding a plane.

It is not “discrimination,” but commonsensical realism by Homeland Security when, and only “in one incident,” it blocked him from boarding a plane. In Ahmed’s telling, that was the whole story: he was a Muslim, and for that reason alone Homeland Security prevented him from boarding. But plenty of Muslims — many thousands — fly every day without incident in this country. There had to be something else about Ahmed’s behavior that led to his being prevented from boarding. I suspect he became angry, made a great fuss, at first refused to let himself be searched, claiming that he wouldn’t submit to a “racist” search. It was that kind of behavior, and not his merely being a Muslim, that would have led Homeland Security to have banned him from the flight.

Fellow Pakistani celebrity Tan France, of Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” has also spoken out against racism he’s faced as both a flight attendant and a regular traveler.

Once again the word “racism” appears, as false a charge coming from Tan France as it was when made by Riz Ahmed. Let’s reject it one more time: Islam is not a race but a faith, no matter how often Muslims insist otherwise. That faith, that set of beliefs, is very clear; it commands Muslims “to fight” and “to kill” and “to smite at the necks of,” and “to strike terror in the hearts of” the Unbelievers. See such Qur’anic verses as 2:191-193, 4:89, 8:12, 8:60, 9:5, 9:29, 47:4. Are non-Muslims wrong to be worried? Haven’t they seen, in the observable behavior of Muslims around the world, that Believers take to heart, and act on, those very verses and many others just like them? Haven’t those who have studied Islamic history seen similar aggressive behavior by Muslims toward non-Muslims, over the past 1,400 years of continuous Jihad?

What was particularly difficult for him [Tan France] was dealing with drunk passengers who could be racist.

Those “drunk passengers” whom Tan France encountered when he worked as a flight attendant may have been obstreperous and unpleasant; some may, in their drunken state, even have made anti-Islam or anti-Muslim remarks. But that still does not constitute, as Tan France thinks, a form of racism.

“This was a couple of years after 9/11, and they had no qualms about openly referring to my people as terrorists,” France wrote in his new memoir. “The flight would start off well enough, but by the end of the flight, it would be clear they weren’t so happy that I was the one serving them.”

He also talked in the book about trouble he’s encountered at the U.S. customs desk and has previously spoken out on social media accusing the TSA of labeling him a “security risk” because of his skin color.

In Tan France’s memoir, he makes a series of unproven charges meant to suggest the existence of “anti-Muslim racism.” As a flight attendant, he claims that some of the passengers, once they had had enough alcohol, “openly referred to my people as terrorists.” How exactly was this done? Did they say to him “you Muslims are all a bunch of terrorists”? Or “I’m surprised you’ve been hired as a  flight attendant. Aren’t you people a security risk”? Without knowing the details, we cannot judge the remarks he claims to have been subjected to, and of course, he may have made the whole business up, as we have ample evidence of Muslims claiming victimhood based on tales of attacks fueled by “anti-Muslim racism” that later turned out to have been fabricated. And it is most doubtful that the TSA would have labelled hm a “security risk” because of his skin color rather than because of his Muslim identity. The TSA members have been properly trained to identify those who might, as Muslims of any race, be security risks; that organization makes sure its members do not take skin color as a marker for the ideology of Islam.

Robert Spencer has previously reported  on how he has so often been subject to extra searches at airports, no doubt because he takes on board materials — books, papers, printouts from Internet websites — about Islam. He has never thought to complain; after all, these TSA searches are for the passengers’ own safety; they are a necessary inconvenience in this Age of Islamic Terror, nothing more. Riz Ahmed wants to have such searches regarded as manifestations of racism, an abomination that must end. But he knows as well as anyone that Islam is not a race. He is playing, as part of his own “victimhood” narrative, fast and loose with the lives of fellow passengers. He wants to make those searches of Muslim passengers less thorough. Does he really not recognize that paying more attention to Muslim passengers is amply justified by the recent record of Islamic terrorism?

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