Penn Student Dressed as Terrorist for Halloween - Is it Offensive?

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In summary: Personally, I would not dress this way. I think it is a bit insensitive to portray suicide bombers as something funny or ridiculous. Facing those things which make us feel uncomfortable, can be a healthy experience. If I am offended it is because of something internal, being stimulated by something external. I can either control the internal, and get beyond my discomfort, or allow my preconceived prejudices to control my feelings and actions. One path leads to discovery and understanding, while the other leads to ignorance and...anger.
  • #1
russ_watters
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This probably didn't make national news, but I was wondering what you guys thought of it:
IT WAS the Halloween costume heard 'round the world, or at least the World Wide Web.

When Saad Saadi ventured out into the West Philadelphia night last Tuesday, he could have been dressed up as just about anyone - a pirate, a president, even a friendly clown.

But Saadi, a senior engineering student at the University of Pennsylvania, decided to attend school president Amy Gutmann's holiday bash dressed as a suicide bomber - complete with a toy gun, prayer book and phony explosives taped to his chest.

Saadi, who is of Syrian descent, even posed for a picture with Penn's president. Gutmann, decked out in a tiara as Glinda the Good Witch, smiled as she stood next to a straight-face Saadi.

The photo started out as a quirky item on facebook.com - until conservative bloggers got a hold of it and moved it with viral speed.

Additional photos soon surfaced showing Saadi performing mock executions, prompting a firestorm of negative backlash that led to both Gutmann and Saadi expressing regret over the images.
http://www.philly.com/mld/dailynews/news/local/15927826.htm?source=rss&channel=dailynews_local

Picture here: http://www.nbc10.com/education/10237236/detail.html#

It doesn't bother me that the President of Penn got her picture taken with him - it was a party and I believe that she legitimately didn't realize what he was dressed as. But c'mon - a Syrian dressing as a terrorist for Halloween? If I were a Syrian, there'd be nothing I'd find more personally offensive than to be associated with terrorism, but he's embracing his own negative stereotype. I believe that the guy is just a dumb college student, but jeez - that's really stupid.

Or am I overreacting...?
 
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  • #2
:smile: :smile: :smile:

Russ, where'd your sense of humor go?
 
  • #3
I agree with Russ (Uh, oh :rolleyes: :biggrin: ). I think dressing as a terrorist is rather poor taste, as are mock executions. It's like dressing as a Gestapo agent, or Hitler, or other horrible person. Certainly it is a personal thing, but I would not care for such a costume. Certainly those who have lost a family member to a suicide bombing, or execution (beheading), or in a concentration camp may not share the sense of humor.
 
  • #4
But isn't the usual practice to dress up as something scary, and maybe stupid? We've had monsters and witches, now it's the age of terrorists. ;)
 
  • #5
Russ is absolutely right.

It didn't make the national news! (AFAIK)

It was in very poor taste (rather like dressing as an S.S. trooper during WW2!), but it's just a stupid colege punk.
 
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  • #6
russ_watters said:
If I were a Syrian, there'd be nothing I'd find more personally offensive than to be associated with terrorism, but he's embracing his own negative stereotype.
I thought the idea was more that you were poking fun at the character than "embracing" or glorifying them in any manner. Surely, a person dressed as an axe-murderer or pirate is not expressing solidarity with them and embracing their methods?
 
  • #7
russ_watters said:
But c'mon - a Syrian dressing as a terrorist for Halloween?
I'm not Syrian, but I'll bet the whole "terrorist" stereotype seems really silly to them. It doesn't surprise me at all that they would want to poke fun at it. It would be considerably more disturbing to me if an American did it.
 
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  • #8
SpaceTiger said:
I'm not Syrian, but I'll bet the whole "terrorist" stereotype seems really silly to them and it doesn't surprise me at all that they would want to poke fun at it. It would be considerably more disturbing to me if an American did it.
I think you are right on point here.

Look at all the ethnic comedians who exaggerate their stereotypes for laughs.

BTW-San Francisco values can be expressed in a single word.

That word is Tolerance
 
  • #9
Astronuc said:
I agree with Russ (Uh, oh :rolleyes: :biggrin: ). I think dressing as a terrorist is rather poor taste, as are mock executions. It's like dressing as a Gestapo agent, or Hitler, or other horrible person. Certainly it is a personal thing, but I would not care for such a costume. Certainly those who have lost a family member to a suicide bombing, or execution (beheading), or in a concentration camp may not share the sense of humor.

You have a good point.

Personally I would not dress this way.

Facing those things which make us feel uncomfortable, can be a healthy experience. If I am offended it is because of something internal, being stimulated by something external. I can either control the internal, and get beyond my discomfort, or allow my preconceived prejudices to control my feelings and actions. One path leads to discovery and understanding, while the other leads to ignorance and frustration.
 
  • #10
Here is a http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2738937119417791259&q=%22saad+saadi%22+-%22amateur+fight+club%22 from the Saad
Saadi's website.

I think..
LURCH said:
just a stupid colege punk.

is an accurate description.

edit- BTW - He appologizes on his website.
 
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  • #11
Look at all the ethnic comedians who exaggerate their stereotypes for laughs.
It is one thing to make fun of oneself or one's group, although that latter may not be appreciated by some, but it quite another to make fun of another group, especially if that other group has been targeted for unkind acts, or worse.

Also, certainly people have different sensitivities. In a complex society, should not one give thought to how one's actions might offend or hurt another. Why would one go out of one's way to be insensitive or otherwise cause hurt or suffering upon another?

I'm all for a kinder and gentler world - to borrow from George (the Older) Bush. Thoughtfulness and consideration.
 
  • #12
Astronuc said:
It is one thing to make fun of oneself or one's group, although that latter may not be appreciated by some, but it quite another to make fun of another group, especially if that other group has been targeted for unkind acts, or worse.

Perhaps I'm missing something here, but isn't this student making fun of the stereotypes of his own group?
 
  • #13
SpaceTiger said:
Perhaps I'm missing something here, but isn't this student making fun of the stereotypes of his own group?
You mean 'terrorists', or Syrians or Arabs or Muslims? I don't know what group he is claiming to satirize. I think most Syrians, Arabs or Muslims would be offended. And I think those whose family has suffered from terrorism would find it hurtful.
 
  • #14
Astronuc said:
You mean 'terrorists', or Syrians or Arabs or Muslims?

I mean the stereotypes aimed at anyone who looks like they might come from the Middle East, including Syrians. "Terrorist" is the stereotype, not the group.


I think most Syrians, Arabs or Muslims would be offended.

I'm not so sure. There's an Iranian in my department who regularly cracks jokes about being a terrorist.

I think the mock executions were going a bit overboard, but let's not forget that this was a Halloween costume. My favorite quote from the first article:

Philadelphia Daily News said:
"Images of suicide bombers evoke feelings of fear, terror and horror," said Barry Morrison, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League. "We can't see how anybody could gain any type of entertainment value or anything from such a symbol.

:smile:
 
  • #15
SpaceTiger said:
I'm not Syrian, but I'll bet the whole "terrorist" stereotype seems really silly to them. It doesn't surprise me at all that they would want to poke fun at it. It would be considerably more disturbing to me if an American did it.
By definition, a Syrian who comes to America is likely pro-american, but polls taken in Syria show an extrordinarily high fraction of the country supports, or at least, sympathizes with the terrorists.

I'm having trouble finding stats for Syria, but here's a poll that has stats for Jordan and Lebanon: http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=248

And because of that dichotomy, I'd think a Syrian who is so far outside the mainstream of his country would recognize it as a problem and not use it in that way.

To me, this is roughly equivalent to if a white Southern redneck dressed up as a Klansman at a costume party. Would you consider that acceptable? To me, it makes a difference how real the problem is and racism is still too real to use in that way. Terrorism goes into the same category to me.
 
  • #16
Was it in poor taste? Sure.

Does that mean people don't do things that are in poor taste? Nope.

Does that make it reprehensible? Nope.

It's counterculture. At some point, some people, sooner than others, get sick of whatever is to be feared, reviled or derided in our world, and make a joke about it. Thus begins the process of normalization of traumatic events.
 
  • #17
SpaceTiger said:
Perhaps I'm missing something here, but isn't this student making fun of the stereotypes of his own group?
There is no such thing as different levels or flavours of racism (or racial sterotyping).

It is by definition the categorization of a person by his race, regardless of who is being categorized or who is doing the categorizing.

Thus, yes, he is still racially sterotyping.
 
  • #18
i laughed when i read the syrian part, i instantly thought "no, he couldn't have gone that far, that's just too much". personally i find it funny because there arn't problems with terrorism or racism where i live but i could see how an american soldier just finished a tour in iraq would instinctively try to give this guy a swirly
 
  • #19
DaveC426913 said:
There is no such thing as different levels or flavours of racism (or racial sterotyping).

I very strongly disagree with that statement. If I subconsciously single out a white person for conversation, do you find that equally reprehensible to my shouting racial slurs at a minority on the street?
It is by definition the categorization of a person by his race, regardless of who is being categorized or who is doing the categorizing.

Thus, yes, he is still racially sterotyping.

Obviously. A definition like that is pretty useless without social context, however.

Besides, I was responding to what Astronuc said, which suggested that this person wasn't stereotyping his own group.
 
  • #20
russ_watters said:
By definition, a Syrian who comes to America is likely pro-american, but polls taken in Syria show an extrordinarily high fraction of the country supports, or at least, sympathizes with the terrorists.

I'm having trouble finding stats for Syria, but here's a poll that has stats for Jordan and Lebanon: http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=248

And because of that dichotomy, I'd think a Syrian who is so far outside the mainstream of his country would recognize it as a problem and not use it in that way.

To me, this is roughly equivalent to if a white Southern redneck dressed up as a Klansman at a costume party. Would you consider that acceptable? To me, it makes a difference how real the problem is and racism is still too real to use in that way. Terrorism goes into the same category to me.
I agree with Russ. Dressing up as a terrorist is closer to dressing up as a Klansman than as a pirate, witch, or axe-murderer.

The second three are mostly fantasy today while racism and terrorism are way too current to be amusing.
 
  • #21
SpaceTiger said:
I very strongly disagree with that statement. If I subconsciously single out a white person for conversation, do you find that equally reprehensible to my shouting racial slurs at a minority on the street?
Sorry, what I'm getting at is that a Syrian racially sterotyping his own peoples is every bit as racist as an Amercian stereotyping a Syrian.

You don't "get a discount" for slurring your own people.
 
  • #22
DaveC426913 said:
Sorry, what I'm getting at is that a Syrian racially sterotyping his own peoples is every bit as racist as an Amercian stereotyping a Syrian.

You don't "get a discount" for slurring your own people.

Again, I think it depends on social context. When someone slurs their own group, it's usually understood to be ironic, in jest, or even sometimes as constructive criticism. I'm not one of those people who gets angry at ethnic comedians.

The only reason I find this whole incident a little upsetting is the lack of sensitivity for the victims of terrorism. However, I'm mostly upset at those folks that decided to make it such a public issue (i.e. the bloggers). Kids do stupid and offensive stuff all the time. Giving them worldwide exposure for it is completely unnecessary.
 
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  • #23
SpaceTiger is right that in reality people don't get as upset as often if it comes from their own group and Dave is right that legally/ethically, that doesn't matter, but IMO, neither of those is really relevant here.

This kid is not a stand-up comic and he is not a political cartoon. He has a straight-face in that picture, so at least some of the time he was simply "playing the part" of a terrorist - not charicatur-izing/satirizing them. Because of that...see my previous post.
 
  • #24
russ_watters said:
By definition, a Syrian who comes to America is likely pro-american, but polls taken in Syria show an extrordinarily high fraction of the country supports, or at least, sympathizes with the terrorists.

Yes, because no doubt the polls asked: "Do you support the TERRORISTS"

come on man.. :rolleyes:And for the record I don't think he was slurring his own people by dressing up as the negative stereotype that marks him, he's slurring the STEREOTYPE and those who hold it.

Ever see the movie Crash? The scene near the beginning where the black guys get pissed off because the white woman is afraid they are going to rob her... and then they really do rob her. Similar (or at least related) concept.
 
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  • #25
russ_watters said:
Dave is right that legally/ethically, that doesn't matter, but IMO, neither of those is really relevant here.

Even ethically, I think it matters. I'm not going to put Carlos Mencia on the same ethical level as a Klansman.


To me, this is roughly equivalent to if a white Southern redneck dressed up as a Klansman at a costume party. Would you consider that acceptable? To me, it makes a difference how real the problem is and racism is still too real to use in that way. Terrorism goes into the same category to me.

There's a difference between offending people's sensibilities and actually threatening their safety. A southern redneck dressing up as a Klansman could very plausibly be one, intending to intimidate the blacks at the party or drum up support for his cause. I highly doubt that anyone actually believed this guy was a terrorist or was espousing those ideals, particularly at a place like UPenn.


This kid is not a stand-up comic and he is not a political cartoon. He has a straight-face in that picture, so at least some of the time he was simply "playing the part" of a terrorist - not charicatur-izing/satirizing them. Because of that...see my previous post.

I think of all Halloween costumes as being a form of satire, whether in character or not. If I came to a Halloween party dressed as Charles Manson, would you be scared for your safety?
 
  • #26
So let me get this straight: The Americans are offended. The Syrians are offended. And the rest of the middle east is offended.

Do you think the terrorists are offended?
 
  • #27
It would have been less of a problem if he dressed as a Smurf. :smile:

Maybe. :rolleyes:
 
  • #28
Smurf said:
So let me get this straight: The Americans are offended. The Syrians are offended. ...
Why are the Syrians offended? Are they offended because the Americans are offended?

This is really quite bizarre. If you really want to be offended by anything, type "Saad Saadi" into Google Video and watch any of the countless "Fight Club" videos on there. Looks to me like this kid has imbibed violence the old fashioned way - from the US high school system! Now that's repulsive, if you ask me!
 
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  • #29
slugcountry said:
Yes, because no doubt the polls asked: "Do you support the TERRORISTS"

come on man.. :rolleyes:
Did you read the poll questions?
And for the record I don't think he was slurring his own people by dressing up as the negative stereotype that marks him, he's slurring the STEREOTYPE and those who hold it.

Ever see the movie Crash? The scene near the beginning where the black guys get pissed off because the white woman is afraid they are going to rob her... and then they really do rob her. Similar (or at least related) concept.
I did see the movie... and don't you see that you just gave an example that proves the opposite of what you are intending? You're saying the guy in the costume isn't the sterotype he is wearing, but in the movie, they are the stereotype they are complaining about. That's exactly the problem! If you don't want to be stereotyped, don't be the stereotype!
 
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  • #30
SpaceTiger said:
Even ethically, I think it matters. I'm not going to put Carlos Mencia on the same ethical level as a Klansman.
I agree, I'm just saying I think you guys are talking about two different things and don't necessarily disagree with each other. Not to step on his toes, but I don't think he's saying a comedian can't satire his own people, only that being one of something doesn't mean you can't be wrongly discriminating against them. Ie, a black can be racist against blacks and a guy can feel sexually harassed by another guy. Legally, ethically, it doesn't matter who is committing the offense.
There's a difference between offending people's sensibilities and actually threatening their safety. A southern redneck dressing up as a Klansman could very plausibly be one, intending to intimidate the blacks at the party or drum up support for his cause. I highly doubt that anyone actually believed this guy was a terrorist or was espousing those ideals, particularly at a place like UPenn.
Well, yes, plausability is the point (edit: part of it, anyway - you don't go dressed as Hitler because of respect). How plausible do you need it to be for it to be wrong? Instead of a college, maybe the Syrian is a student at a flight school...? To me, it is always a little too plausible to act like a terrorist, based on the prevalance of the problem.

Heck, statistically, this kid is several orders of magnitude more likely to be a terrorist than a random southerner is to be a Klansmen.
I think of all Halloween costumes as being a form of satire, whether in character or not. If I came to a Halloween party dressed as Charles Manson, would you be scared for your safety?
No. As Bob said, there is very little plausibility in such a costume.

Maybe you do or don't consider this a reasonable parallel, but how about joking about being a terrorist when you get on an airplane? Its an instant arrest, even though the level of plausibility is pretty low.
 
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  • #31
russ_watters said:
Did you read the poll questions?
I did see the movie... and don't you see that you just gave an example that proves the opposite of what you are intending? You're saying the guy in the costume isn't the sterotype he is wearing, but in the movie, they are the stereotype they are complaining about. That's exactly the problem! If you don't want to be stereotyped, don't be the stereotype!

lol you missed the point of that part of the movie... it was a commentary on self fulfilling prophecy which is slightly related to the issue you brought up about the halloween costume (although very tangentially.. it just seemed like a good example to bring up)
 
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  • #32
russ_watters said:
Did you read the poll questions?

No, because I don't READ ARABIC.

Do you?

My point is that the word used was probably not terrorist, nor was it phrased as something like "Do you support the terrorists killing innocent civilians."

probably more like

"Is collateral damage acceptable in the cause of resistance fighters defending your freedom?" ... sound familiar?

Its a pretty well known fact that the desired polling results can be achieved through careful manipulation of the wording.

In the same article for instance, some 78% of France supports the banning of muslim head scarves ... (I'm sure it sounds very different in french, and not in those words)
 
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  • #33
More on this:
russ_watters said:
edit: part of it, anyway - you don't go dressed as Hitler because of respect.
Philly isn't far from New York and the type of rich capitalist who worked in the WTC is the type of person who might have kids at Penn. Would it be disrespectful to dress up as a terrorist if you knew there was a decent likelihood that someone in the party knew someone who died on 9/11?

Would it be disrespectful to dress as Hitler at a Jewish Frat's Holloween party (if you were not Jewish).
 
  • #34
slugcountry said:
lol you missed the point of that part of the movie... it was a commentary on self fulfilling prophecy which is slightly related to the issue you brought up about the halloween costume (although very tangentially.. it just seemed like a good example to bring up)
Self fulfilling prophecy how? The stereotyped makes the stereotype or the stereotype makes the stereotyped? Are you saying that stereotyping Syrians as terrorists will turn them into terrorists? I didn't miss that the carjacker thinks the stereotype forced him into a life of crime - that's what he argued. I think you missed the more reasonable other side of the coin (but his friend didn't).

This could lead to a debate about personal responsibility...
 
  • #35
slugcountry said:
No, because I don't READ ARABIC.

Do you?

P.S. my point is that the word used was probably not terrorist, nor was it phrased as something like "Do you support the terrorists killing innocent civilians."

probably more like

"Do you support the resistance fighters defending our freedom?"

Its a pretty well known fact that the desired polling results can be achieved through careful manipulation of the wording.

In the same article for instance, some 78% of France supports the banning of muslim head scarves ... (I'm sure it sounds very different in french, and not in those words)
The article contains direct translations of the questions (as direct as they can be). You seem to be saying that the people who did the study are flat-out lying about it. The Pew Research group is one of the most reputable in the world - you'll need to do better than just assuming they are lying because you don't like what they found.

If you don't want to accept facts at face value, there is going to be little to discuss.

And I'm guessing you didn't read about the controversy over Muslim head scarves in France when it was a big issue...
 
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