Sheik For A Week
Following the tragic events of September 11, the media rushed to report widespread instances of violence against Arab-Americans. As the days passed these reports abated, replaced by articles about the contributions and patriotism of Arab-Americans and Muslims.
But how reliable is the media in reporting such data, and do they reflect American attitudes?
If the media's performance is as poor in this quarter as in almost every other area, we must look elsewhere. How do we find truth? Stay tuned.
In the 1947 Academy Award Winning film, "Gentleman's Agreement," screenwriter Moss Hart and director Elia Kazan rocked the country with the movie's study of anti-Semitism in New York's corporate offices and in ritzy Darien, Connecticut.
Gregory Peck portrays the waspy Skylar Green, a writer assigned by "Smiths Weekly" to do a series on anti-Semitism. Green adopts the strategy of pretending he is Jewish writer, Phil Green, and rubs shoulders with the elite, seeking to determine the extent and depth of their anti-Semitism.
I recently rented and revisited "Gentleman's Agreement," concluding that the reason the film's characters despised Phil Green was not because he was Jewish but because he was totally humorless, inarticulate, and unbelievably boring.
In a similar vein — thirteen years after "Gentleman's Agreement" — brilliant white author John Howard Griffin uncovered racism in his book, "Black Like Me." Darkening his skin, Griffin disguised himself as a black man and toured the Deep South.
"Black Like Me" was published to wide acclaim in 1961, but some critics held that the book revealed more about the author than race relations in the old South.
On October 18 I received the following email directive from headquarters, LewRockwell.com:
Problem: We are not getting sufficient information on public attitudes toward Arab-Americans.
Although the value of "Gentleman's Agreement" and "Black Like Me" was questionable, we can learn from their failure.
Your mission: You will enter your community posing as Sheik Whoizze. Mix with the people.
Seek the truth.
Warning: If captured we will not pay any ransom for your return. In fact, LRC will deny any affiliation with you.
It had been years since my last assignment in the field. In 1998 I was the nude streaker at The Academy Award Ceremony. This experience made me the logical choice as Sheik For A Week.
My report follows: Sheik For a Week
Burt's wife: "Who are these women and what are they doing here?"
Burt: "I'm going to play my role all the way. These young women are going to be my other wives for ‘Sheik Week.'"
Burt's wife (aghast): " Good Heavens! Where did you find them?"
Burt: "From the Afghan War Relief Agency, of course. They're really nice, aren't they?"
Burt's wife: "Gregory Peck didn't bring any women home in the movie. Anyway, we don't have any room for them, and they don't even speak English. Aren't you carrying this too far?"
Burt: "It's clear you have been influenced by Israeli propaganda. I'm reminded of an Arab proverb: ‘May the feathers of one million partridges rest beneath your head, and give you dreams that lead to the tolerance and bliss found only in a peaceful oasis.'"
Burt's wife: "Lovely, but what has that got to do with anything?"
(Finding a Sheik Costume)
Unfortunately, it was near Halloween and costumes were almost impossible to locate. Only through a stroke of luck was I able to find the San Francisco equivalent of Omar the tentmaker. He assured me he would save the day.
Omar: "I'm going to save the day. You will need at least seven yards of billowing fabric."
Sheik Whoizze: "I want what Peter O'Toole wore in ‘Lawrence of Arabia'. It was a spotlessly white Arab/Harith robe that made him appear larger than life."
Omar: "Well, we can come close, but the only bolt of cloth I have is blushing pink."
Sheik Whoizze: "Blushing pink?"
Omar (with a wave of dismissal): "This is San Francisco. It'll work, it'll work."
I was ready for my first encounter with the people of San Francisco.
Now, fully costumed as the Sheik, I began my research in the Marina District, an upscale neighborhood within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. While walking along Chestnut Street I disregarded the rude, hard stares and those suspiciously sexist overtures.
Finally, a pleasant-looking middle-aged man tapped my shoulder.
Pleasant looking man: "Sheik, I represent a small group of Christian and Jewish men who want fairness and equity for Arabs and Muslims. We are embarrassed by the hostility shown to your people, and wish to protect you from angry bigotry. We insist on accompanying you on your way to the mosque."
Sheik Whoizze (using best imitation of Omar Sharif): "That's very nice of you and your group, but I'm not going to the mosque. I'm on my way to Safeway to pick up a live lamb."
Pleasant looking man: "You need not hide your devotion to your faith, Mullah. You can walk with pride to the mosque for the sundown services. We are happy to escort you."
Sheik Whoizze: "I really have to get to Safeway before someone else gets my live lamb."
Pleasant looking man (seizing the hem of Sheik Whoizze's pink robe):
"You're going to the mosque, and we're going to see that you get there safely."
After a bit of pushing and shoving, bruised, with my garment torn, I escaped this loving group of citizens and managed to get to Safeway.
Bart (Bay Area Rapid Transit) proved to be an excellent testing ground for learning about America's reaction to Arabs. All went smoothly until one lady, obviously distraught at having received her monthly oil bill that morning, tugged at my fake beard and pulled it off.
Angry lady (snarling): "How come they tell me on tv the price of oil is at record lows yet my fuel bill keeps going up? What do you have to say about that, Mr. Sheik?"
Sheik Whoizze: "Madam, my family has nothing to do with oil. We are in the camel-breeding business."
She was so angry it wasn't easy getting my beard back, but I'm convinced our exchange will lead her to a better understanding of Arabs.
I'm back home. Tired, robes torn, and famished, I was really looking forward to a magnificent meal blending Afghan and American cuisine.
Sheik Whoizze (hopefully): "Where's my dinner, dears?"
There were my four wives playing Mahjong. They had consumed my case of Chateau Lafite Rothschild and smoked my box of Cuban Monte Cristo cigars.
Sheik Whoizze (still hopeful): "What are we having for dinner?"
Afghan wife #3: "We made a reservation for Chinese."
Sheik Whoizze (disappointed and surprised): "How come you're speaking English?"
Afghan Wife #2: "We spent the day at Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's. Those sales ladies were so nice giving us lovely American clothes because of that plastic card of yours. Learning English that way is easy."
Stunned, ex-Sheik Whoizze staggers to the bathroom where he finds sixteen pairs of just washed Donna Karan pantyhose drying on the towel racks.
October 23, 2001
Copyright © 2001 LewRockwell.com