Emirati in New York
While many spent October 30 running around getting their Halloween costumes together, an estimated 200,000 or more people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC, for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's "Rally To Restore Sanity". Four million viewers watched the gathering online.
While it started out as a spoof of Glenn Beck's "Rally To Restore Honour," the rally became more real than parody. Along with musical acts, it consisted of the two Comedy Central anchors doing segments that put Stewart's rationalism in stark contrast with Colbert's ironic right-wing bravado. Although the comedic content wasn't as biting as fans of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report expect, I was moved by Stewart's words.
He began his lengthy monologue by saying, "These are dark times, but they're not the end times." His main point was that the media is a broken institution. He explained that the rally's target was the scathing level of discourse in Washington, and the echoes that are transmitted to us via cable television's 24-hour news cycle. He argued that all the Republican-versus-Democrat rancour we're shown doesn't reflect the reality; despite different backgrounds, people in America still find ways to work together.
My mother always had qualms with the way news was presented. "It's always death and war," she observed. While it's important that we know that such things are happening, there are also positive things going on that we could hear about to balance all the negativity.
Stewart's words hit home as I realized how long it's been since I stopped watching television news regularly. In the US, most newscasts seem to be mindless fear machines, ridiculously sensationalising all stories. It's hard as an Arab Muslim to sit through anything on Fox News and not feel insulted and angered.
Thus when Stewart condemned small-mindedness, generalisations and smugness, I realized how severely I had been affected by the crossfire on American news. For example, it's easy for me to expect conservatism from a Republican. But Stewart surprised me by making a case for the "other side". He urged the crowd to stop writing off members of the Tea Party as racists. Instead, he suggested that they be seen as people whose perspectives were formed by real concerns and hurts and hopes. After all, you shouldn't simply dismiss an opposing viewpoint; you should try to understand what led to that viewpoint.
While I was in the Emirates this summer, a message was being forwarded via text about the "Burn a Quran Day" that the pastor in Florida wanted to hold. While the outrage was understandable, the facts weren't all correct and the extent of the problem and the influence this man supposedly had on Americans were blown out of proportion.
Just as someone in Abu Dhabi could easily have thought Americans had lost their minds and were out to torch the holy book of Islam, so could someone in the US Midwest, who might have never met a Muslim or an Arab, see a clip of radicals in the Middle East burning an American flag and leap to a similar generalisation.
Fear, fuelled by an amplified media, overrides rationality.
A sign from the Washington rally had the Fox News logo on one side with the words "This is my comedy channel", while the other side had the Comedy Central logo and the words "This is my news channel".
We have come to a point where our comedians make more sense than our politicians. Perhaps what we need is a little more comedy and a little less fear in a big step towards sanity.