Omar Marzouk is an Australian based Egyptian Muslim who makes some rather brilliant speeches about Islam. This blog post is not about him. Instead it is about another person with the exact same name. The other Omar Marzouk is a Danish based Egyptian Muslim who does some rather brilliant stand-up comedy. Omar the comedian was born to Egyptian parents in Copenhagen in 1973, which is where he also lives with his Danish wife Christine Gjerulff.
Marzouk is one of those bridge-building-comedians, someone who thinks despite our cultural and ethnic differences we are all the same and can laugh at the same things when they presented in the right way. As he says, “I use my comedy to build bridges between cultures.” In his quest to do exactly that he has performed at the Comedy Club in New York, the Camel Comedy Club in Tel Aviv, and the Club Comedy Store in London.
Just a few years ago he had a bit of an identity crisis, where he no longer identified as being Danish due to increased Islamophobia and racism in his home country. It got to a stage where, when travelling abroad, he would tell people he was from Egypt rather than Denmark. Thankfully however, by the looks of things this is something he seems to have resolved within himself as he is still in Denmark and he is still performing stand up.
In 2014 Marzouk did a one hour show at the Copenhagen Jazz House, where he mentioned quite a few interesting things about our perceived fears. Links to this performance are presented below. It should be noted that English is his second language, so he does struggle a wee bit every now and then with his choice of words, but overall this is a really interesting stand up routine. As always I have transcribed some of my favourite parts of the routine and, again as always, some of these quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity, but their original intent hopefully still remains. Enjoy!
Arachnophobia is the biggest phobia there is, and yet most spiders are not dangerous. They’re like Muslims. It’s actually only a very small percentage of us that will kill you. It’s irrational to be scared of spiders, and Muslims, but yet we are. And fear is often irrational, we all have irrational fears.
Social fears and emotional fears are much stronger than physical fears. The only thing stronger than social fears and emotional fears are religious fears. If you are going to talk about fear you have to talk about religion. In my religion of Islam it is pretty simple: a true Muslim only fears God, we’re only supposed to fear God. And that’s why you’ve never seen a Muslim horror movie, because it wouldn’t work. You know the classic scene where the couple is lying in bed and the wife wakes up and says “Ali! Ali! I think there’s a three-headed alien monster in the basement.” Ali would wake up and say “So what? Are you more afraid of the three-headed alien monster than God? Go back to sleep.”
Horror movies don’t work in the Middle East. In Baghdad you don’t need a horror movie to feel terrified. You just walk outside.
I have drank alcohol. You know why I started drinking alcohol? I got so tired of my Danish friends calling me at three o’clock in the morning, because if you’re out drinking and you need a ride home, who do you call? And drunk people always shout. “OMAR! OMAR! WHERE ARE YOU?” And they have to tell you how pissed drunk they are. “I’m pissed drunk, man! Come pick me up. WHERE ARE YOU?!” “I’m standing right behind you dude, just put down the phone and I’ll drive you home.” I think that’s how most of us get into driving taxis. It kind of just dawns on you one night, “I should be making money off of this.”
Denmark is a small country of 5.5 million people. We’ve got democracy, welfare, and cable TV. We have nothing to fight for, nothing to be afraid of. We have free health care, we have free education, we have this system that secures the unemployed so almost nobody falls into economic despair. Most people in Denmark have nothing to fear at all, life is pretty secure and most people in Denmark are satisfied. So why start a revolution? Well, you see, that is the problem. If you feel satisfied all the time, you end up feeling nothing. I love Denmark, I think Denmark is an amazing country, but perhaps we’ve become too comfortable. Being too comfortable all the time is dangerous because you end up numb and feeling nothing. Being comfortable for a long period of time makes you emotionally numb…Being comfortable all the time isn’t a good thing. That’s why we like watching horror movies here in the rich, free, western world, because the feeling of being terrified for us is a luxury good. We have to invent stuff to feel fear, just so we can feel alive. Actually I think we’ve reached the point now where we’re starting to invent and imagine stuff that can scare us silly. Just read the front page of newspapers to know I’m right. They’re just trying to scare us now. Here’s an actual headline I saw a while ago, the headline said “Eggs can kill you!” You go “Really? Eggs are dangerous?” “Yes, we did some research and EGGS CAN KILL!” It’s so we all get that small shock every day when we open the fridge and go “Oh my God! One…two…three…there’s 12 of them. 12! And they’re brown! Must be a gang!”
In Denmark we don’t need a revolution against a dictator like Hosni Mubarak, we need a revolution against fear, and we have nothing to be afraid of. We’re just scared silly. That’s the revolution I want to start, a revolution against our silly fears.
Everybody is trying to sell you fear. Your bank and your insurance company are trying to sell you fear. Your doctor has a name and a diagnosis for your fears. The medical industry has pills for your fears. The beauty industry has Botox for your fears. The fashion industry has just the right clothes for your social fears. And are you afraid that your ass looks too big in those pants? Don’t worry because the food industry’s got a diet soft drink for your fears. And the tech industry knows that you’re afraid of missing out, but don’t worry because they have a brand new gadget for your fears. Even your local pet store has a watchdog for your fears. Your hardware store has a whole surveillance system for your fears. Your drug dealer has a joint for your fears. And your gun dealer…no matter how big your fear is, your gun dealer has just the right weapon that will take care of all of your fears. And somewhere out there there’s probably a comedian who wants to sell you a show all about your fears. EVERYBODY is trying to sell you fear!
I didn’t start doing stand-up comedy because I wanted to make money off of your fears. My business plan is jokes. My business plan is jokes for money, remember. But somehow after 9/11 I became famous in Denmark for telling jokes about terrorists. I became famous and I made a lot of money. I’m looking back at it now and maybe I was making money off of people’s fears. You can consider this show an apology.
Everybody is trying to sell you fear but the worst of them all is the news media and the politicians. The politicians have gone crazy with selling us fear here in the free Western societies. Politics used to be a contest of ideas and ideology. Not anymore. Today politics is a race of fear, whoever can make you the most scared wins. Vote for me because that guy is going to take your pension and your firstborn. No, no, you should vote for me because that guy is going to take away your free will and tax your soul. Politics is just a race of who can make us the most afraid. We’re not voting on which direction our society should take, we’re voting on who to be scared of. And it doesn’t really matter who wins an election anymore because nothing changes, because we don’t want change as a people. Change makes us uncomfortable. Too much change makes us scared and then we just become nationalistic or Republicans.
The war on terror has created so much fear of Muslims all over the Western world, all the way from the United States to Australia. Politicians are selling the voters fear of Muslims and immigrants. In this country of Denmark three elections have been won on creating fear of Muslims. It’s become so bad I think we Muslims are pretty close on taking over spiders as the number one phobia…It all started after 9/11. People became so afraid of Muslims that some people were talking about us as if we were vampires. “Don’t use garlic, it just attracts them!…Always carry a small piece of bacon in your pocket…If you have to run then run towards Mecca, it kind of confuses them…I’ve heard if you stab a Muslim in the heart with a knife made of bacon they turn to dust.”
Just before we invaded Iraq for the first time people in this country actually started questioning my loyalty to Denmark. And they would give me these weird questions like “Omar, imagine the Iraqi army was standing outside the borders of Denmark. Would you fight?” Honestly? No, I wouldn’t, because if the Iraqi army was outside the borders of Denmark then that means they’ve beaten every other army throughout Europe. We wouldn’t have a chance!
I have four brothers. My third brother is called Osama. Yeah. And Osama works as a flight mechanic. This is a true story. He works as a flight mechanic for Scandinavian Airlines. He doesn’t wear a name tag when he’s working…Nobody wants to be sitting in a plane seeing the pilot sticking his head out and going “Osama, did you fix the wings?”
I did a show in New York, which was weird. I was making fun of the whole war on terror…and a guy from the audience got so mad at me and in the middle of the show he just got up and said “Fuck you, man! Your country’s next!” I got scared and confused because I didn’t know if he meant Denmark or Egypt…Maybe he meant Ikea, I’m not sure. I’d love to see that on TV, George W Bush going “We know that the Ikeans have furniture of mass discomfort which can be assembled within 45 minutes…if you can read the instructions.”
Everybody was looking for Osama and finally they found him. In Pakistan. We Muslims knew he was in Pakistan all the time. We did. Denmark sent troops to Afghanistan. We knew he was in Pakistan. We sent troops to Afghanistan and I was sitting at home going “You’re getting warmer! You’re getting warmer!” But nobody listened! I knew he was in Pakistan because if there’s anybody that can make stuff disappear, it’s the Pakistanis. And I say this was the biggest respect for Pakistanis. Some of my closest friends are from Pakistan, I just haven’t seen them in many years.
They finally got Bin laden. I was glad when they shot Bin Laden because I thought maybe this fear of Muslims would decrease a bit. The only thing that pissed me off was when I saw Obama on TV telling the world that they have given Osama a traditional Muslim burial. They threw him in the sea! In the ocean! That’s not a tradition we Muslims have. We’re a desert people. Do you know how far we have to walk to get to the sea? We don’t throw anybody in the ocean.
The fear levels of Muslims actually dropped a bit after they shot Bin Laden. And actually at one point there was no fear of Muslims, because something special and terrible happened here in Scandinavia: Anders Breivik. Anders Breivik, a white Christian terrorist, killed 69 people on a deserted island. Scary shit! This was the biggest terror incident in Scandinavia and all Muslims were sitting at home going “Whew! That wasn’t us. That was not us. Habibi, we can go out tonight, it wasn’t us, it wasn’t us!”
Anders Breivik changed the face of fear, for a short while. It was the biggest terror attack in Scandinavia, a white Christian man…For a short period of time the face of fear changed. But not for long, because if you’re in the fear business you’re going to need a steady supply of fear. And nobody is as reliable as the Middle East when it comes to fear and terror. Bin Laden died but then…BAM! We got ISIS. ISIS scared the world silly with their beheadings. They don’t use airplanes, they use social media, which is a much more powerful weapon than airplanes because now fear is everywhere. On Facebook, on Twitter, on Tinder. And our media and our politicians are all too willing to sell us this fear. And maybe we need them to tell us who to be afraid of so we can feel safe. Because it’s only when you know in which direction to look for the danger do you then feel safe. But maybe we also end up looking the wrong way. My best example of this is the States. In the States there have been 35 school shootings. That’s not enough to ban semi-automatic weapons, but after 9/11 I can’t even bring a bottle of water on board a plane, for security reasons. I go “What are you afraid of? Are the pilots Gremlins? What are your actual fears?” I guess it’s easier to live with fear when you know who to fear, for then you can be happy. But it’s a false kind of happiness.