BOB GARFIELD: If an entertainment show from the ruins of war seems counter-intuitive, so may the following concept: a website poking fun at the Muslim-American experience. Whether through cultural bias or simply the realities of Islam's struggles with itself, we just expect to see Muslims cracking jokes about their Muslimness. But then along came Islamica News, an American website that does just that. Mirza Baig is one of its founders, and he joins me now. Mirza, welcome to On the Media.
MIRZA BAIG: Thank you for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: I'm looking at a story in the most recent issue, at least as we speak, and it's headlined Man Blames Everything on Jews--
MIRZA BAIG: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: -- and it's datelined Israel, Indiana, and it says "Witnesses stood in awe this morning when a 47 year old Egyptian man by the name of Habib Yawari lunged into a verbal assault at an area gas station." (Quote) "The damn thing wouldn't take my credit card," explained Yawari. They wanted to make me late. I know it. It's all because of the Jews. [LAUGHTER]
MIRZA BAIG: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: And it's funny, but thee's also sort of an eerie undercurrent to it, because of obvious widespread anti-semitism, especially vocal among Muslim militants. Do you get to a point where the more sensitive the subject matter, the easier it is to be funny, or is there stuff you just stay away from?
MIRZA BAIG: There are a lot of areas we simply don't invade. We don't make fun of Islam in any way. We don't make fun of the Prophet in any way, because that goes against our beliefs and our lifestyles. But this article in particular, it, it focuses on a very important point. I think it's no surprise that the Arab community and the Jewish community have their tensions, and this simply showcases one very elementary facet of that.
BOB GARFIELD: What kind of reaction have you gotten from your readers to Islamica News?
MIRZA BAIG: It's all over the place. It really depends. If I can just read one of the letters that we got back, it starts out saying "[As'salamu'alaikum], peace be upon you. Excuse me, brother, sister or whatever you are. Have you lost your mind? I mean do you realize that you are actually making fun of Islam on the website? Are you really Muslim or what?" But at the same time, we get a lot of positive feedback. I got feedback from someone of the Jewish faith that loved the style of Islamica News. It was a huge relief for them to finally see this side of Muslims.
BOB GARFIELD: When you get the negative responses from people who question your faith, do you get a little nervous? You know, I'm thinking of Salman Rushdie and the fatwah declared on him after Satanic Verses was published. Are you concerned that some imam or ayatollah is going to take it upon himself to declare you an infidel?
MIRZA BAIG: I don't think the style of satire is anything new to the Muslim world. I mean if you go in the Middle East there's much satire in, in the publications there and the journals there. Salman Rushdie's publication was blasphemy. It was something that the Muslim world looked at as defaming their Prophet. With Islamica News, it is nothing - if, if anything it aids the Muslim community by addressing issues head-on. We can laugh at ourselves about some of the idiotic things that we do; not on a religious level, but just simply on an individual level and a community level.
BOB GARFIELD: Here's a headline that it seems to me you are running at some risk of making someone angry, and it is "Imam Farts, But Keeps Going."
MIRZA BAIG: Again, with -- it's -- nothing is personal with, with the articles, and it's just one of those quickie things which gets, which gets a quick laugh. I don't think we got too elaborate without that at, at all. We didn't assign any names to it. It's not like it happened in real life. It wasn't anything -sacrilege or anything like it. It simply was just one of those funny circumstances that have happened to take place at your local mosque.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, does the fact that I keep asking you questions about fatwahs suggest that I am just, have just bought into all of the nasty stereotypes about Islam, or is this something that you, as a Muslim humorist simply have to pay more attention to?
MIRZA BAIG: I think, I think it might be a bit of both, and Islamica News kind of breaks that shackle, it breaks that mold. It kind of shows you that face of the Muslim where the Muslims can be American and they can be funny, and they can be Muslim. You know, just in the past few years we've seen a lot of initiatives among Muslims to kind of fill those non-traditional roles. You've got Muslims in the media, in politics, in government. You've got Muslims in so many other arenas, which you didn't see ten years ago. I remember the movie True Lies where Muslims were depicted as terrorists. It was where Arnold Schwarzenegger basically fights all these Arab guys. I don't know if my disappointment came from the fact that these terrorists were Arab and they were being depicted that way, or was it the fact that they had Hispanics playing the roles of Muslims, and now, you know, there are those Muslim actors there, and we can all rest comfortably that those terrorists are being depicted [LAUGHTER] like genuine Arabs and Muslims. So--
BOB GARFIELD: Thank God that when we're being stereotyped unfairly, it can be with our own people.
MIRZA BAIG: -- at least it's genuine. [LAUGHTER] We kept it real.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Mirza, thank you very much.
MIRZA BAIG: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Mirza Baig is a co-founder of Islamica L. P., publishers of Islamica News. [THEME MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was directed by Katya Rogers and produced by Janeen Price, Megan Ryan and Tony Field, and edited-- by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. We had help from Anne Kosseff and Mike Vuolo and editing help from Sharon Ball. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Arun Rath is our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and get free transcripts and MP3 downloads at onthemedia.org and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is On the Media, from NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.