This YouTube Comedian Wants to Break Down Your Muslim Stereotypes
Muslim YouTuber Humza Arshad uses humor to stop kids from being radicalized in the UK.
Image via YouTube
The first episode of Humza Arshad's digital comedy series Diary of a Badman, in which he brings up all the issues that British Pakistanis face (parents trying to marry them off, being forced to eat daal for a week) aired in September 2010. "'Cringe' is definitely the word," Arshad laughed, remembering his first YouTube video. "I got 5,000 views in 24 hours.Then it went to 60,000, then hundreds of thousands. It was crazy. I'd like to say it was a struggle and it was hard but it wasn't. Thank god for YouTube," he told VICE Impact.
"Then the Metropolitan Police approached me. They knew that young Muslims kids were watching my videos and they wanted to stop young kids from being radicalized," he explained. "At first, I didn't know how to take that because I was thinking, 'It might affect my street cred'. But then I realized I didn't really have much in the first place. Plus they were going to pay me."
The video that followed, 'I am a Muslim not a terrorist,' became a hit, and led to a stand-up comedy tour that took him to hundreds of schools across the UK.
"I show non-Muslims that Muslims are just normal people, and that they shouldn't just believe what they hear and see in the media, and that's it's really a minute percentage of Muslims doing these bad things."
A couple years later, and with more than 82 million (and counting) views, Arshad has been recognized for his work and named one of YouTube's Creators for Change. Announced in September 2016, Creators for Change is a global initiative dedicated to amplifying the internet's young creators that are using their channels to front social change videos and using their voices to promote messages of tolerance and empathy.
On September 15, 2017, an improvised explosive device partially exploded in the London underground during morning rush hour, wounding 30. ISIS claimed responsibility. On June 19, 2017, a man named Darren Osborne, allegedly shouting that he wanted to "kill all Muslims," drove a van into a crowd of worshippers outside the Finsbury Park Mosque and the Muslim Welfare House in London, killing one and wounding 10 others. Weeks earlier, two men struck several people with a van on London Bridge. The men then fled the van and attacked pedestrians with knives. The attackers killed eight people and wounded 48 before police shot and killed them. On May 22, 2017, 22-year-old Salman Abedi killed at least 22 people and wounded 59 in a suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena where US pop singer Ariana Grande had been performing. ISIS claimed responsibility for both the London Bridge and Manchester attacks.
How does Arshad go about tackling the above?
"My videos are genuine, not propaganda. I don't want to be a puppet. When I was working with the police, I made it very clear that I wanted it to be my own material that I knew the kids would be able to relate to. A lot of white middle-class people coming up with the storyline, saying 'We need to say this and that' wouldn't have worked," Arshad explained.
And his "genuine" videos really do have an impact. "At the time [of his video 'I am a Muslim, not a Terrorist'], in the UK, there was a big problem of girls going over to Syria to become jihadi brides. I saw how many families were being destroyed because of this. Just six months ago, I went back to Scotland Yard who gave me, I wouldn't say an award, it's a cheap piece of paper but I took it, in recognition of all my work that I did with schools. They told me that the number of girls from the UK going over to become jihadi brides had fallen to practically zero.
He continued: "I'm not saying that was all because of me, nothing like that, but if that year and a half I put in, just supporting young girls to stay safe contributed to a percentage of that, then yeah I've done my job."
"I realized it would be important for me to spread the message of the importance of sticking together as a community, being safe and not reacting through violence and anger and what not."
But not everyone agrees with his work. "Basically I read one comment, and it said 'Oh my god Humza, you sold out!' Bruv if I sold out, I wouldn't be making YouTube videos anymore, I'd be in Tahiti, with Megan Fox," Arshad explained in a follow-up video. Do these kinds of comments and hate he receives dissuade him to stop?
"Yeah, it definitely does feel overwhelming, but with anti-extremism, a lot of Muslims in this industry shy away from it and I don't blame them because it's something that is dangerous territory and it does feel overwhelming," he said. "But I think it's really important, so I do it. And we all benefit. When I go to these schools I don't just teach kids how to be safe, and not be mislead, I show non-Muslims that Muslims are just normal people, and that they shouldn't just believe what they hear and see in the media, and that's it's really a minute percentage of Muslims doing these bad things. It's good to challenge the Islamophobic Muslim stereotypes."
There were a recorded 110 hate crimes directed at Mosques and Islamic Centres between March and July of 2017. The same period last year saw 47 attacks. This is no surprise to Arshad.
"A lot of Muslims are sharing with me, through the comment sections, just how much hate they receive. And I realized it would be important for me to spread the message of the importance of sticking together as a community, being safe and not reacting through violence and anger and what not," he said. "But a lot Muslims are feeling vulnerable, with everyone pointing the finger at them. Racism is rising and a lot of us are victims of hate speech."
What drives him to put himself out there on YouTube, as a Muslim, to speak openly about these topics? "In some ways you do feel vulnerable but I just feel so blessed and privileged to have fans out there that love my stuff and that I've been put in a position where I can make a difference," he explained. "When I became the ambassador for Youtube's Creators for Change campaign, that for me, was pretty cool. It's a big deal to see that YouTube, the platform I love, is allowing not just me, but other creators to stand up and speak on things that I feel are important and need to be addressed. I can use it to change a life or two."
Besides being an ambassador for YouTube and churning out videos for his ongoing Diary of a Badman series , Arshad also has a BBC series called 'Coconut' , about a "full Right-wing Pakistani guy who loves Katie Hopkins, Donald Trump and is a Brexit supporter".
YouTube has partnered with VICE Impact to promote the Creators for Change program. This article was written independently by the VICE Impact editorial staff and was not paid for by YouTube.