Election 2008 The World is Watching

Video Dispatch

The Arab-American View: From a Comedic Perspective

BY Ahmed Shihab-Eldin and Yasmina HatemOctober 17, 2008


Ahmed Shihab-Eldin grew up in California, Kuwait, Egypt and Austria. Most recently he worked as a news producer for The New York Times and as a web producer for the PBS documentary series, Wide Angle. He graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, where he now teaches. This election story is part of a partnership between FRONTLINE/World and the National Minority Consortia. Additional reporting by Yasmina Hatem.

Born in New Jersey to a Palestinian father and Sicilian mother, Dean Obeidallah is a member of the "Axis of Evil" -- a group of comedians of Middle Eastern origin that humorously discuss subjects such as war, terrorism and suicide bombers.

Before 9/11, Obeidallah did not particularly identify as an Arab-American, but quickly found that his comedy routines became an outlet to entertain and confront stereotypes about Arab-Americans as well as to explore a part of himself that had instantly come under scrutiny. He got his start in comedy when he was still a practicing lawyer, winning a funniest lawyer competition. Soon after, he left his job and began performing at venues across the country. Eventually, Obeidallah co-founded the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival, a highly acclaimed showcase of Arab-American comics, playwrights, and filmmakers.

He recently returned from a tour of the Middle East, where, he says, Arab residents follow U.S. politics more avidly than the average American. "In some cases they have lived through the policies. They have suffered through it. It's not this abstract thing," he said. "I'm sure the refugees from Iraq who are living in Jordan now know about our foreign policy."

In this video dispatch, reported by FRONTLINE/World fellow Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, with additional reporting by Yasmina Hatem, the funny and finicky Obeidallah speaks candidly about how his Arab identity affects his comedy routines and riffs on the way the word "Muslim" has become a derogatory term in this Presidential election.

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Great piece! It just goes to show that racism is based on fear which is based on ignorance. It used to be the Japanese, Russians and Jews--now it's in "vogue" to hate (read: fear) Arabs or Muslims. There are 1.2 Billion Muslims in the world and probably less than a few thousand terrorists. There are bad white, black AND brown people on earth. Most Muslims are not even Arabs, and almost every Arab on earth has nothing to do with terror. Let's love our Arab brothers and sisters--better yet, sll of our brothers and sisters.

London, UK
You Go Boy. Good Luck and Please do Come and visit London for a show, you have got huge followers.

Loved this special. I have been a strong Frontline fan for a long time. Comedian Dean Obeidallah is great - I look forward to more specials like this one!