WASHINGTON, April 23, 2014 — Over the past few weeks, the trend of creating fan videos to musician Pharell’s “Happy” music video has become increasingly common, including one such effort this week in Washington DC. The motivation for the DC fan video is not for the usual purpose of music or entertainment, instead it is an attempt by some Muslims to gain acceptance in American society through a dance performance. This video is a type of sequel video to a similar enactment called “Happy British Muslims.”
A participant in the video, Jamal Malik, is quoted by the Washington Post as saying “If non-Muslims see it, I think it will be something to them to see that Muslims are not terrorists.” The quote belies the sense that Muslims can only be perceived as welcome neighbors or peaceful individuals, if they engage in particular shows for other communities.
Critics decry the performances as unnecessary. The Washington Post says “[Some] felt [the Muslim “Happy” performance] was humiliating and unnecessary to prove that members of the planet’s second-largest religion are, in fact, happy.”
Assed Baig, a prominent journalist with the Huffington Post in the UK, was extremely critical of the video, saying on his Twitter account:
— AssedBaig (@AssedBaig) April 16, 2014
Haseeb Rizvi, a graphics designer from England, spoke of the British “Happy” Muslim video that sparked the trend “Do British Muslims need to make a video of themselves singing and dancing, to show non-Muslims people they are happy, and by extension normal and ‘just like everyone else’?
“I feel it is a great sign of weakness if anything… Rather, than pandering to pop culture’s superficial understanding of what happiness is, we as Muslims should use our positive energy on spreading real happiness which actually lies within us, inner peace if you will.”
The issue of American Muslims attempting to “prove” themselves to other communities has long been debated in the United States. Historical civil rights leader, Malcolm Shabazz, or “Malcolm X,” is noted to have said “We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” Shabazz’s quote is applicable to the video performance in DC and seemingly relates to the motivations of the performers in the video, who are attempting to influence attitudes about Muslims in a particular way.
Some have called the performances in the video the equivalent of a Muslim “shuck and jive,” criticizing the videos of engaging in the performances solely to please non-Muslim audiences.
According to linguist Barbara Ann Kipfer, the phrase “shuck and jive” is a slang term in reference to when “slaves sang and shouted gleefully during corn-shucking season.” Kipfer says the conduct was directed at authority figures feared by the slaves, stating “this behavior… became a part of [their] protective and evasive behavior.”
Accordingly, the notion of self-worth plays a major role in the criticisms of the Muslim “Happy” video. Blogger Jessica Valenti says “Wanting to be liked means being a supporting character in your own life, using the cues of the actors around you to determine your next line rather than your own script. It means that your self-worth will always be tied to what someone else thinks about you, forever out of your control.”
The American Psychological Association quotes the research of Jennifer Crocker, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, in saying “People who base their own self-worth on what others think and not on their value as human beings might pay a mental and physical price.”
Many studies have focused on the psychological state of various communities, in an effort to determine the most well-adjusted or ‘happy’ communities. In a paper presented in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, researchers analyzed the ‘happiness’ of Muslim refugees.”
“We collected information about religiosity, war-related trauma, religious-spiritual coping, optimism, and hope from 138 refugees [from Kosovo and Bosnia] recently resettled in Michigan and Washington states.
“[Our] model demonstrated that optimism was positively related to positive religious coping, which in turn was associated with increased religiosity and higher education.”
Members of the Muslim community, however, experience any one of a multitude of emotions, including happiness, sadness, and everything in between.
A commenter on Haseeb Rizvi’s blog writes “No single person needs to prove their happiness to others,” indirectly saying that no small band of individuals has the right to represent the Muslim world.