Golden Globe-Winner Ramy Youssef’s Muslim Family Sitcom More Tragedy than Comedy
For many viewers of this year’s Golden Globes, it appears that the extraordinary opening monologue from host Ricky Gervais was the high point of the evening. In no uncertain terms, he called out Hollywood stars directly to their faces for their self-righteousness political ramblings and overall moral confusion.
For a much smaller subset of viewers, the show possessed another moment to celebrate, however: Muslim comedian Ramy Youssef’s victory for Best Actor in a Television Series Musical or Comedy.
As reported in the previous article on Youssef’s HBO stand-up special, the problem with Yousef is not provocative jokes – plenty of great comedians know how to push an audience’s buttons – but rather that it is impossible not to come away with the feeling that Yousef isn’t really joking so much as laundering ideas through his humor, including his earnest advocacy of cousin marriage. This win will give Youssef a greater platform to promote his pseudo-comedic whitewashing of serious problems within fundamentalist Islam and the dysfunctions of Middle Eastern Arab culture.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR YOUSSEF’S SHOW INCOMING.
Ramy currently features 10 episodes on Hulu, each exploring the lives of twentysomething Ramy, his sister Dena, and his foreign-born parents Maysa and Farouk. The first episode sets the theme of Ramy’s internal conflict between the dictates of his religion and his sexual desires, which manifests throughout the show in sad and strange ways.
The second episode introduces Uncle Naseem who runs a jewelry store where Ramy goes to work. Dena opposes the idea, claiming Naseem “hates women” and “is, like, fully antisemitic.” Ramy’s parents defend him, his mother invoking Mel Gibson, and his father pulls out the tired trope of “Antisemitic? How is that even possible? We are Semitic.” When Naseem shows up for dinner he spews one conspiracy theory after another, again trivializing a serious problem, thoroughly documented in Daniel Pipes’s The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy.
Episode three continues down this path, featuring jokes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a stereotypically antisemitic depiction of Jews as inauthentic in their religion, spoiled, and money-obsessed.
The fourth episode jumps back in time to Ramy’s adolescence and the impact of 9/11. Here the show continues with Ramy’s awkward blending of the conflict between sex and Islam. It concludes with a cringey attempt at humor with a jokey Osama bin Laden confronting the young Ramy in a dream for lying to his friends about masturbating. That the biggest mass-murder in American history is played as fodder for jerk-off jokes is disturbing.
The fifth episode again depicts Ramy’s Jewish quasi-girlfriend in a pathetic light, unable to fast on Yom Kippur while Muslims fast all through Ramadan. Some Islamist anti-Saudi Arabian sentiments also emerge from Ramy’s antisemitic uncle who describes it as the “most corrupt country in the world.” A confused Ramy responds, “I thought that was Israel” to which Naseem answers, “They don’t know any better. Muslims should.”
Ramy’s sister Dena gets her own episode next but the focus remains the conflict between pious Islamic practice and raging hormones, beginning with their father Farouk traumatizing her as a child regarding sex before marriage. Later, as Dena is having a sexual dream, Naseem bursts in the room with other family members and threatens to kill her. Honor killings are apparently a joke too?
Episode 7 focuses on the mother, Maysa, and the extreme loneliness she experiences which inspires her to become a Lyft driver to make friends – this more mature dramatic episode offers a respite.
In the eighth episode the conflict between Ramy’s desires and his Islam comes to the attention of Farouk, who confronts his son for having an affair with a married Muslim woman. He concludes the talk with, “At least you’re not gay.” Left unsaid is that under Islamic law in many countries, both acts are criminal offenses.
For the final two episodes, Ramy travels to Egypt to visit family members and resolve his spiritual-sexual conflict. The series concludes with another earnest advocacy of cousin marriage as Ramy and his cousin begin kissing. As with the series’ other moral confusions, this too ignores the dark reality of the practice’s problem in the Muslim world, producing birth defects at an alarming rate.
Given that she has acted as a booster of Youssef and his Hulu show Ramy for some time now, Sue Obeidi, the Hollywood Bureau Director for Islamist influence group the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) unsurprisingly retweeted notice of his victory and proclaimed “So awesome!”
Is this cacophony what Obeidi and MPAC really want people to see as representative of American Muslims? Embracing an immature millennial’s onanism and antisemitism while papering over the Muslim world’s very real problems like brutal criminal punishments, consanguine marriage and wild conspiracy theorizing? Apparently so, as in July 2019 Obeidi described Ramy as “content that allows non-Muslims to see us as we are everyday.”
Gervais nailed Hollywood’s pathetic wokeness with his line: “If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?” And while it’s not quite that bad, Hollywood’s predictable affirmative action celebration of Hulu’s Ramy minimizes and plays for laughs the psychological and ideological sickness that perpetuates such groups.
David M. Swindle is the Southern California associate of the Counter-Islamist Grid and a fellow for Islamist Watch. He also works as the Director of Research for The Israel Group. Follow him on Twitter @DaveSwindle