In the third episode of the Netflix series “Chelsea Does,” Chelsea Handler chose to focus on race. Interestingly, when she met with a group of representatives from different organizations representing various races (Asian, Hispanic, Black, etc), she also chose to meet with a representative from CAIR. CAIR stands for Council on American-Islamic Relations. What makes this so interesting is that Islam is not race.
To be fair, Handler also interviewed someone from the Anti-Defamation League, which has historically worked to protect Jewish rights. On the group’s website it reads: ‘“The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”’ She also went to Israel to interview former president Shimon Peres. However, Jews are not a race of people. They are an ethnic group with a common religion, Judaism, that members of the group may or may not believe in.
However, it makes some sense to include Jews in an episode on racism, because Jews are actually similar to a race of people. When Bernie Sanders says he is a proud Jew but not a religious one, everyone understands what he’s saying. His older brother Larry Sanders has point-blank stated of Bernie Sanders, “He is quite substantially not religious.” But that doesn’t take away from Bernie Sanders’s identification as a Jew, because his status as a Jew is an inherited one. The Jews are a cultural group that he was born into, and he chose not to take part in his ethnic group’s religion. That’s not too far off from being a member of a race of people.
Larry Sanders explained his and his brother’s identification as ethnic Jews when he told a reporter, “It wasn’t a question of, ‘Are we Jewish?’.” It was just as uncontested as saying you’re an American.” Most Americans are born American, and it’s an identity that is passed down the line (provided they don’t move out of the country). Sometimes people become Americans, just as some people become Jews, but there isn’t any kind of religious test attached to the identity. Regardless of his lack of religious beliefs, Bernie Sanders has never challenged whether or not he is really a Jew.
In this sense, Muslims are nothing like Jews. Muslims are not members of an ethnic group called Islam. Islam is a religion, and adherents of the religion are called Muslims. It is predicated on a belief (there is no god but God, and Mohammad is his messenger), so you can’t be a non-religious Muslim. You’re either a religious Muslim, or you’re not a Muslim at all. In this way, it’s closer to Christianity. You either believe or you don’t. If you don’t believe in it, then you are not a member of the religion.
Comedian Aasif Mandvi, a Muslim who appeared on the episode, explained his presence by bringing up race as well as Islam. Mandvi is from India, and he has brown skin. The fact that he is a South Asian man who practices Islam could be a perfect storm at an airport. Luckily, TSA agents don’t racially profile him as a radicalized Muslim, because they recognize him from TV.
Why CAIR chose to represent Islam as anything other than a religion remains a mystery. Islam is not a race or an ethnic group. The CAIR representative seemed out of place, and he would have been better substituted with someone from an organization representing Middle Easterners or South Asians (perhaps complaining about being racially profiled as a terrorist).