‘Ramy’ star and producer on the aftermath of 9/11, Arab-American Muslims and a real bite in “strawberries”


Editor’s Note: This article arose out of a conversation between Ramy Youssef and producer Maytha Albassen and is one of a series of Deadline stories related to the 20th anniversary of September 11th.

It’s a pretty sunny fall afternoon, and we see Farouk Hassan, the father of an Egyptian-Muslim family based in Rutherford, NJ, fixing a wall hanger of an American flag, an aerial welcome mat for neighbors alarmed. In the fourth Emmy nominated episode of the first season oF by Hulu Ramy, Farouk (played by Amr Waked) explains to his family, “The way they look at us. Things are different.

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To many Arab-American Muslims, our September 12th strongly resembled this spell of protection. Before we had the chance to mourn, locate our missing loved ones, fight a local, national and global nightmare, we were forced to perform risk assessment diagnostics and adopt these contingency plans immediately. . The flag, a common spectacle for cheerleaders in a looming war, has become our violent repellent. The construction of this episode offers ideas and questions that we hope can be revisited to navigate this moment.

As a long-time creative think-tank partner before being a producer and writer on the show, I sent Ramy shocking articles on the conversion of Egyptian wheat fields (mainly used for home consumption of food from base like bread to feed the nation in the 1960s) of strawberries, mangoes and citrus fruits for international export as part of the structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund which made loans on terms favorable to Western markets.

Maytha Albassen and Ramy Youssef - Credit: Courtesy of Maytha Alhassen;  PA

Maytha Albassen and Ramy Youssef – Credit: Courtesy of Maytha Alhassen; PA

Courtesy of Maytha Alhassen; PA

It was a few years before the pickup of Ramy, but it stuck strongly in Ramy’s consciousness, and why the Season 1 episode engaging 9/11 from the perspective of an Arab-American Muslim child on the verge of adolescence is anchored in these articles and entitled “Strawberries”.

If you expect us at this point to make sure that we are the “good Muslims” who will relieve the guilt of the United States for waging a decades-long war on families, basic needs, social, political, economic institutions. and cultural, and the land; this is not the right article for you today.

You see, this kind of global financialization of the “Big Ag” ensured that, for example, Americans could buy strawberries “out of season,” like in December, while locals in Egypt were prohibited from consuming strawberries. And that buffered convenience, year-round access to strawberries in the West, has had devastating effects on Egyptian livelihoods.

As part of the IMF loan agreement, austerity measures such as cuts in government subsidies for staple foods and public services were instituted. The cost of bread has risen dramatically, as has inflation, while jobs and wages have stagnated, contributing to the collapse of the middle, working and peasant classes. The effects of these neoliberal agendas became one of the many impulses of Egypt’s “January 25 revolution” in 2011 – you see why we ended our first season in 2019 with a two-part game in post-uprising Egypt. .

We recently spoke to reflect on our thoughts on whether this episode should be on our national record with 20 years after 9/11.

What did we build after September 11?

As Kabul comes undone in front of our global witness, continuing to displace Afghans, the Taliban regime is anchored by the total absorption of state institutions and land, we are undeniably faced with a sobering 20-year retrospective. . To paraphrase historian Robin DG Kelley (“What must we build out of the ashes of a nightmare?”), We built a nightmare out of the ashes of a nightmare covering the buried bones of even more nightmares. In many ways, we have all become trapped as the “Muslim” has become a timely scapegoat for the erosion of our civil liberties.

In this context, it is therefore entirely appropriate that a prepubescent Ramy Hassan from Ramy met Osama Bin Laden shortly after the September 11 attacks in a Jersey kitchen in a nightmarish sequence (Ramy youssef taken from his post-9/11 nightmares that the OBL disturbingly frequented – even the sordid coloring of the footage is based on these memories of the sleep realm). Ramy, dumbfounded that the world’s most wanted person was sitting across from him dipping crimson red strawberries into a mountain of whipped cream. OBL invokes the Egyptian-strawberry “free trade” tale to explain his criticism of the United States to a child

Although Ramy is ultimately repelled by OBL’s violent fanatic methods (leaving a half-eaten strawberry on the table), the “strawberries” serve as a metaphor for the invisibility of a suffering that American convenience demands and from which she thrives. .

Raising an American flag in front of our homes and workplaces was our first line of defense against a patriotism rooted in revenge.

Some of us chose Home Time Goods magazine, like young Ramy does in the episode “Strawberries” and the American Flag, because that is how being a “Good Muslim American” was defined for us. Any other reaction, including criticism of our drumbeat for war, surveillance and torture, has been described as “Bad American Muslim” behavior. This is the suffocating / imprisoning paradigm that the Bush administration has constructed with the threat: “You are with us, or against us.” Another slogan that robbed us of crucial critical thinking, “Why do they hate us?” “, Obscured the real questions we should have asked ourselves:” Why did this happen? “And” How to prevent more suffering / how to break cycles of violence? “

As people thaw frozen December strawberries to mix in keto-powered smoothies, we wanted to direct viewers to who the “they” are in this “why do they hate us? Refrain popularized in 2001. These “they” are ordinary people who are even more entangled in a global food crisis created by our global supply chains and economic systems (which have also accelerated climate change). This is just a small fragment that represents the general feeling that American cultural life, even outside of military bases, arms sales, and private contractors, is actively waging war on the world every day. A Greek tragedy which is wrongly qualified as “freedom” (to consume).

For the two people who practice and do not practice Islam, we were told that “Strawberries” was one of the first times they saw themselves as Arab-American Muslims or witnessed the experience of Muslims. Arab-Americans of September 11.

In 20 years of film and television production, how could that be? In addition to a military-industrial complex that the great freedom theorists have begged us to question, we must unbox and disabuse ourselves of a film military-industrial complex that did not begin with September 11.

“Strawberries” wasn’t only one of the first times the United States saw 9/11 in the eyes of Arab-American Muslims, it was also one of the few times we weren’t a trope. terrorist in an orientalist and anti-Muslim terrorist genre highly commercialized on war. .

We have to face how the malicious supply chains for hypercapitalist looting protected by a US military subsidized by our taxes and fueled by the compromised lifestyle choices of our teens produce a ‘convenience’ system where strawberries can be. purchased in winter (remember that soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001, 2,455, outnumber subcontractors, 3,917 – this number should tell us something).

Our episode asks viewers to sit down with this review, to be used as a guiding question to replace “why do they hate us?” With: are the “strawberries in December” worth it all, are they worth the world being undone?

Art may not offer us explicit cause-and-effect change, but it can help us process, critique axioms, probe paradoxes, and alter the narratives and cultural imaginaries that make political realities possible. . When we commit to rewrite the narrative trajectory of our nation at war, nationally and globally, we will be the worthy heirs of a destiny, of a freedom, beyond a collective night terror from which we are not ourselves. not yet awake.

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