Aziz Ansari is not messing around. The comedian, whose Muslim parents emigrated from India to South Carolina before he was born, has written a strongly-worded op-ed for The New York Times, directed at the one presidential candidate who has suggested a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Here is how he described his primary message to Donald Trump when he shared the piece on Twitter Friday afternoon:
The op-ed begins with a conversation between Ansari and his mother, who will familiar to anyone who watched the comedian’s parents play themselves on his recent Netflix series Master of None. Ansari laments the fact that, after the mass shooting in Orlando, committed by a young Muslim-American man who said he was acting on behalf of ISIS, he felt the need to tell his mother to avoid visiting her local mosque.
“Today, with the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and others like him spewing hate speech, prejudice is reaching new levels,” Ansari writes. “It’s visceral, and scary, and it affects how people live, work and pray. It makes me afraid for my family. It also makes no sense.”
He goes on to explain that if the FBI is investigating around 1,000 “homegrown violent extremists” out of approximately 3.3 million Muslims living in the U.S., then the percentage of potential Muslim-Americans terrorists is essentially zero. Recalling a time before he was famous when someone shouted “terrorist!” at him as he was crossing the street in New York City, Ansari adds, “The vitriolic and hate-filled rhetoric coming from Mr. Trump isn’t so far off from cursing at strangers from a car window.”
Instead of banning Muslims, Ansari suggests an alternative approach: “Keep military-grade weaponry out of the hands of mentally unstable people, those with a history of violence, and those on F.B.I. watch lists,” action that filibusters and sit-ins in Congress this week failed to bring about.
Finally, Ansari, while cataloguing some of Trump’s other “xenophobic rhetoric” from over the past year, arrived at the candidate’s baseless claim that “thousands” of Muslims were celebrating on rooftops in New Jersey on 9/11. Given the fact that Trump reacted to the Orlando attack by tweeting that he appreciated the “congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” Ansari wondered if it wouldn’t be more accurate to say that he was the one “celebrating after an attack.”
The op-ed from Ansari, a comedian known more for jokes about online dating than presidential politics, comes just a few months after another prominent stand-up, Louis CK, wrote a long letter to fans that equated Trump with Adolf Hitler.
Yet, through his Twitter account and public appearances, as well as his Netflix show, Ansari has emerged as a powerful advocate for both Asian-Americans and Muslim-Americans.
He received widespread praise for one episode of Master of None titled “Indians on TV” that examined his character’s attempt to break free of the stereotypical portrayal of Indian-American men that has dominated pop culture for decades. The series as a whole went a long way in challenging the conventional wisdom about how people of Ansari’s background can and should be shown on television.
Before that, when Rupert Murdoch tweeted that all Muslims should be “held responsible” for “their growing jihadist cancer,” Ansari went on a Twitter rant against him that asked if Murdoch should in turn be “held responsible” for all the “evil shit” Christians do. In an appearance on David Letterman’s Late Show later that month, Ansari explained his motivations for challenging what he views as anti-Muslim hate speech.
“If you say something racist about black people or something, you immediately have to go set up this meeting with Al Sharpton,” he said. “The problem is, brown people don’t have a guy. I’m throwing my hat in the ring, I’m the brown Al Sharpton.”
He may have been joking at the time, but if Ansari keeps producing pieces like the one published by The New York Times on Friday, he just might get his wish. Though if he’s waiting for an apology from Trump, he shouldn’t hold his breath.