This week, actor Riz Ahmed, a Muslim who has starred in Rogue One, spoke to Parliament in Britain. There, he explained that if television didn’t stop casting so many white people in prominent parts, young Muslim men would join ISIS.
If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism. In the mind of the ISIS recruit, he’s the next James Bond, right? Have you seen some of those ISIS propaganda videos, they are cut like action movies? Where is the counter narrative? Where are we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories, that they valued?....People are looking for the message that they belong, that they are part of something, that they are seen and heard and that despite, or perhaps because of, their experience, they are valued. They want to feel represented. In that task we have failed. If we don’t step up and tell a representative story…we are going to start losing British teenagers to the story that the next chapter in their lives is written with ISIS in Syria.
So, how did Ahmed become an actor? People he knew pushed him to follow his dream. His mother, he said, would shout “ASIAN!” every time an Asian actor appeared on television. “I really want you to understand how much that meant to someone who doesn’t see themselves reflected back in culture. It’s a message that you matter.”
This is asinine in every conceivable way.
First off, it’s rather Islamophobic to assume that Muslim youths who don’t see a Muslim James Bond will up and join ISIS. I didn’t see a lot of Orthodox Jews on television growing up. Somehow, I didn’t end up a member of the Neturei Karta. But this is the sort of patronizing nonsense in which the left routinely engages regarding Muslims and other supposed “victim groups” – that if they don’t see enough people “like them” in positions of power, they’ll go bad.
There’s no proof that lack of self esteem springing from failure of the dominant culture to feature your own culture leads to violence and terrorism. Instead, there’s a simple solution to Muslim parents who want to keep their children from joining ISIS: teach children not to value murder and terrorism, and don’t expose them to influences who do.
There is a broader point to be made here, too: the left consistently suggests that everyone is looking for cultural role models in order to live a good life. That’s foolishness, too. Hillary Clinton preached this in 2016: if she were elected, little girls everywhere would believe they could be president. Barack Obama preached it in 2008: if he was elected, little black children would believe they could be president. Is there any evidence whatsoever that the lives of black children were markedly changed by President Obama’s mere accession to the office?
Self-esteem isn’t the key to avoiding bad behavior. Virtue is. And we should all be able to root for virtuous heroes, no matter their color or background. To segment such heroes off into race, gender, and religion means to water down virtue into polarizing multicultural politics. I spent my youth dressing up as John Adams every Purim because I loved the movie 1776. Adams was not an Orthodox Jew. He was a hero. He was my cultural hero.
I didn’t need a guy wearing a yarmulke on television to teach me how to be a hero. I had my cultural heroes.
I also had my family. I had my dad – a real hero wearing a yarmulke – in my life every day. I had my mom, working as an Orthodox Jew in Hollywood, to model behavior. Those who look to culture for inspiration will be disappointed if they look for someone “just like them” in every way. They should instead look for virtue wherever they can find it.