Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s play Invasion, now on stage in Chicago, “challenges and deconstructs the racial profiling of Muslim and Arab men in the West.” The Chicago Sun-Times’ theater critic Hedy Weiss reviewed the play three days ago–and stood up for racial profiling.
“The global terror alerts dominating the news in recent days certainly do not help the arguments,” she began her review. And then:
[D]espite Khemiri’s passion, those still thinking of the horrific terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon might be tempted to ask: What practical alternative to profiling would you suggest?”
The Chicago Sun-Times later removed the block-quoted argument from the online version with this disclaimer:
A previous version of this review contained language about racial profiling that may have been perceived as expressing a political opinion.
Jamil Khoury, the artistic director of the Silk Road, declines the disclaimer. He wants to have the argument about “a racially paranoiac police state.” Khoury republished Weiss’s censored argument in PDF form and responded at length to her.
Note that in laying out the racism inherent in profiling, he bring in Weiss’s Jewishness and Jews’ experience of “collective guilt.”
In responding to Hedy’s review I am contesting neither her assessment of the play nor our production of it. I am contesting her support for racial profiling. … If anything, “the global terror alerts dominating the news in recent days” serve to bolster the play’s arguments, unless of course “Muslim” and “terror” are somehow synonymous. Hedy’s support for racial profiling… turns more explicit when she declares “But despite Khemiri’s passion, those still thinking of the horrific terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon might be tempted to ask: What practical alternative to profiling would you suggest?” Well, not profiling for starters. Unless we’re willing to swap everything that makes this country worth living in for some false sense of security in a racially paranoiac police state. So why then is Hedy Weiss voicing support for a long discredited practice inextricably linked to our nation’s history of racist violence? Night after night watching plays and that’s the conclusion she arrives at? The murder of Trayvon Martin wasn’t compelling enough?
…As a Jew, Hedy understands racial profiling. I believe she understands racial profiling exceedingly well. She knows what it means to be assigned collective guilt. She knows what ascribing collective blame leads to. She knows the dangers of defaming an entire community. Said knowledge informs Jewish consciousness and Jewish ethics. And Hedy knows all too well the power of words. She’s a writer. She knows how words shape attitudes and perceptions and policies. Why then is the chief theatre critic of the Chicago Sun-Times using her position of power to advocate injury and harm against vulnerable communities of fellow Americans? And why in God’s name is she allowed to get away with it?
Sure, Hedy has every right to her opinions, offensive as they may be. Just as I have every right to challenge her opinions and shed light on their very dangerous implications. Apparently even her own editor agrees (in part). …As Hedy’s politics in the review are abundantly clear, I must dispute the [editor’s assertion that her statement] “may have been perceived as expressing a political opinion” disclaimer. And while I appreciate her editor making this change, it is woefully insufficient and downright offensive to Sun-Times readers, particularly readers from communities that are, or have been, racially profiled! A more appropriate response from the Chicago Sun-Times would be a formal apology to Chicago’s Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities, and a disavowal of Hedy’s Islamophobic and anti-Arab views.
Consider the first three paragraphs of Hedy’s review in which we are inundated with “terror alerts,” “U.S State Department,” “worldwide alert,” “planned attacks,” “al-Qaeda,” “horrific terrorist attacks,” and “Boston Marathon.” I believe the lack of subtlety here is deliberate, it is calculated. Hedy’s appealing to racial animus, to white nativism. She’s playing to base fears of Muslims and Arabs. She’s reminding me of Ann Coulter. She then follows it up with a few paragraphs praising the production, the direction and the performances, and concludes with “Polished, to be sure. But I still don’t buy it.” Her editor has since changed that last line to read: “But I still don’t buy the play’s arguments.” Ostensibly, that’s an improvement. Just to be clear, racial profiling is not a “tool” of law enforcement. It is not a “method” of collecting intelligence. It is not a “policy option” or an “instrument” of national security. Oh no. Racial profiling is a pernicious form of racism. Its intent is to humiliate, dehumanize and intimidate entire communities. The objective of racial profiling is to keep suspect classes “in their place.” It is state-sanctioned violence designed to make “the public” feel “safe.” Racial profiling operates under one overriding assumption: white people are innocent, law abiding citizens; people of color are suspect and criminal.
Update: This piece identified the Sun-Times as the Tribune originally.