On National Geographic’s latest six-episode series title “America Inside Out,” revered journalist Katie Couric is embarking on a journey to dig deep into the roots of this country and its many issues, including the #MeToo movement and the divisive subject of Confederate monuments. She travels to different places in the country to speak with those at the forefront of these revolutions. ““It’s been a tremendous amount of work but really gratifying to get out of my bubble and travel around the country, to talk to people and encourage conversation rather than an instantaneous reaction,” she told Variety.
Last week’s episode, titled “The Muslim Next Door,” is a significant outing in which she talks to actor and comedian Aasif Mandvi, journalist Wajahat Ali, Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad among others for their take on living life as a Muslim in today’s politically charged America. The episode is extremely emotional, especially when she talks to the family of the victims of 2015’s Chapel Hill shooting, in which three Muslims were gunned down in their own apartment. The episode is also extremely hopeful, as evidenced in her conversations with Imam Mohamed Abu Taleb of the Islamic Association of Raleigh.
Here are the momentous takeaways from the episode, which is available to stream on National Geographic’s website and YouTube channel.
On growing up in America as a Muslim
“I never really thought of myself as being different from anybody. I was just a brown kid from England, I had a British accent, and I just thought it was a better way to get girls,” Mandvi jokes, before getting serious. “There was a feeling that I’m somehow not American.”
While walking around the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C., Mandvi and Couric discuss his childhood days before venturing into the topic of 9/11. He makes it clear that since that dreadful day, Muslim basically became a dirty word. He also talks about how the hatred, prejudice, bigotry is at its height right now but at the same time, people in this country are empowered and speaking up. He gives it straight: “That’s the America I know.”
On eating delicious food, obviously
“Sitting in a Pakistani Kabob House so close to The White House, I thought about the many people who moved here for freedom, especially for the freedom of religion.”
Couric has this thought as she sits down in one of D.C.’s famous kabob place, Ravi’s Kabob House with Mandvi and John Esposito, the Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. Over charred meat, gulab jamun, and Kashmiri chai, the three discuss Sharia Law and ISIS among other things.
On the harrowing reality of hate crimes in this country
“Despite everything they’ve been through, this Muslim community is still fighting.”
A large chunk of this episode is focused in Chapel Hill and Raleigh in North Carolina. Couric talks to the families of married couple Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha, and the latter’s sister Razan Abu-Salha, the three victims of a tragic shooting. They were shot dead in their house by neighbor Craig Stephen Hicks, who was described as anti-religious and often got into fights over parking spaces with them. Barakat’s brother Farris, his ex-roommate Imad Ahmed, and parents of Abu-Salha sisters are all in the episode, talking about grieving and missing their loved ones. Zainab Baloch, who was best friends with the victims, is also in the episode. She was running for a councilor seat in Raleigh when they filmed.
On holding on to faith in testing times
“I couldn’t explore what it’s like being Muslim in America without exploring their place of worship.”
Couric visits the Islamic Association of Raleigh. She meets the Imam of the mosque, Mohamed AbuTaleb, who talks to her about the Quran. She meets some of the children who are studying in the school there and asks them what it’s like to be Muslim in America today. Their response? “It’s hard.” We also see a rather surprising exchange between the Imam and two protesters who were outside the mosque, opposing the Muslim religion.
On the convenient definition of terrorism
“Let it be a white dude, not because I have anything against white dudes but because we know if it’s a Muslim, all of Islam and anyone who represents it is under interrogation.”
Writer and reporter Wajahat Ali is honest in his conversation with Couric while eating at Burgers by Honest Chops in New York City. They focus on how politicians and leaders today are bigoted in their views. When a Nazi sympathizer mowed down a woman in Charlottesville, President Trump’s response was that ‘there were very fine people on both sides.’ When a similar incident happened three months later in Times Square but the driver was Muslim, Trump called him an animal and demanded increased punishment. A white terror suspect is a lone wolf, a disturbed individual. If the suspect is Muslim, we immediately begin talks of radical Islamic terrorism. So, why does this happen so frequently?
According to Ali, “it’s been programmed, subtly and unsubtly, for decades. The story of Islam and American Muslims has been told by others who have framed us as terrorists and villains. If you’re an average American watching “Homeland,” you’d be terrified.” News coverage also distorts the views of Muslims. A white terror suspect is a lone wolf,
On working together to spread awareness
One short segment of the episode is about Dr. Ayaz Virji, his wife Musarat, and their children. The family lives in Dawson, Minnesota, the only Muslims to live there and they were welcomed with open arms. Yet, 60% of this rural county voted for Trump, leaving the Virji’s feeling betrayed. Today, he travels with Pastor Mandy across the country [from a church in their town] and Dr. Virji travels across the state to spread awareness about Islam, Christianity, and how everyone can come together.
On wearing hijabs as a modern Muslim woman
In this all-encompassing episode, Couric sits down with four women - Amani Al-Khatahbeh, the founder and editor of magazine MuslimGirl, Ibtihaj Muhammed, a bronze medal winner at the 2016 Olympics, Mona, a hip-hop artist who sings about racism and violence against women, and fashion blogger Nadia, who chooses to not wear a hijab. They discuss the cultural and personal significance of wearing or not wearing the headscarf and the response they get as progressive Muslim women in America.
On taking back control of the narrative
“American-Muslims are writing their own scripts, telling their own stories, and creating a new narrative about what it means to be American, Muslim, and proud.”
Couric ends this episode by citing various TV shows which are wonderfully highlighting the Muslim community, whether its “Greys Anatomy,” “Quantico,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Queer Eye,” and how actors like Kumail Nanjiani, Hasan Minhaj, and Aziz Ansari are using their platform to bring us innovative and eye-opening stories.
Watch the episode in its entirety:
Image source: National Geographic