Aasif Mandvi Takes on Trump: He Voices "the Worst Part of Us as a Country"

Aasif Mandvi - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Aasif Mandvi - Getty - H 2016

Aasif Mandvi, comic actor and former 'Daily Show' correspondent, takes on Trump and the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has dominated his campaign: "This is like Christmas for ISIS."

Aasif Mandvi is a former correspondent for Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. These days he’s most often on Twitter, or drumming up ideas for Halal in the Family, a series available on YouTube or Funny or Die that aims to “challenge stereotypes and misinformation about Muslims and communities associated with Muslims.” It's being developed as an animated series for TBS. He's also developing a series for Showtime with a lead character who is an American Muslim. 

Mandvi spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the recent speech by Khzir Khan at the Democratic National Convention, Donald Trump and the perilous state of the union’s politics.

This election feels like a parody from The Daily Show, but worse, scarier.
I feel like I wish I was still on The Daily Show. This election is kind of the most absurdist version of what you’d think would potentially happen. It just starts to feel like many people are feeling real fear and trepidation around what is going to happen. It’s shaping up to be the most important election of our lifetime. It really does feel like the America we know, especially as immigrants, the America my parents came to, under a Trump presidency, those things disappear. The things we believe in, the things that make this country great, the diversity, the multiplicity of what this country is. What he’s managed to do is galvanize this voice of fear that is mostly based in white men. A majority of his voters are angry white men, and often not college educated. There’s this idea that somehow the America that white people have benefited from is slipping away, and a fear that immigrants are taking over. First a black president, then a female president. This is outrageous!

Will Khzir Khan’s speech be a turning point for Trump? 
I hope so. It would be such a beautiful irony that a Muslim immigrant would be the person who would trump Trump. That would be just poetic justice. But I fear that his supporters don’t actually care. When he comes out and says [Ghazala Khan] didn’t speak because she wasn’t allowed to, I think there are a lot of people who thought that as well. He’s voicing something that is the worst part of us as a country. Look, we shouldn’t mince words here: His attitude toward them was racist. To diminish what they were saying plays into the worst fears and the stereotypes that a lot of Americans have about Muslims.

He isn’t backing down.
He’s doubling down on the perception that ‘These people are not like us, they don’t let their wives talk, they’re not civilized like us.’ A lot of people out there actually agree with him, and think that what he’s saying is the truth. It’s like your drunk uncle at a party. Yeah sure, OK, but you don’t want him to be president. Ultimately a lot of what he says plays into this racist fear, and it’s coming out without any kind of censorship. He’s given a platform for all of this. That’s what’s so frightening. ISIS is just waiting for Trump to be president. They’re so excited. He’s stirring those feelings in people here that is the same thing that fundamentalists are stirring in people on the other side of the world. ISIS is like "Please waterboard more people, it makes our job so much easier." He gives ISIS and the terrorists every justification to say, "See, everything we’ve been saying is true, that America is about arrogance, violence and ignorance. Now they’re showing their true colors!" This is like Christmas for ISIS. And they don’t even celebrate Christmas!

You were raised Muslim. And now? 
I was born in India, moved to the U.K. when I turned one. And then we moved to Florida when I was in high school. We weren’t a very conservative family. My mother was more practicing. I grew up pretty liberal. We weren’t going to the mosque every Friday, but we’d go on big holy nights.

Many Americans identify with a religious faith in a largely cultural sense. A different standard seems to apply to Muslims. Why?
If you can get people afraid of Muslims, you don’t have to talk about real issues. Seventy percent of Americans are killed by other Americans with guns, not by foreign terrorists. And we’re not keeping white men with guns out of the country. We’re keeping Syrian refugees out of the country. It’s easy to say, well, it’s the Muslims, it’s their religion and we don’t understand it. Whenever violence occurs and it’s a brown guy or a Muslim guy, it becomes about terrorism, but when it’s a white guy, it’s just a crazy guy who had bad parenting.

Have you experienced Islamaphobia?
I haven’t, but then I’m a huge TV star, so…everybody at TSA have all seen The Internship and they’re huge fans. Have my family dealt with it?  In small ways, yes: I was railing against the Iraq war, and my mother was nervous about who was listening to us. That was a moment in my American journey, like, that could happen? If Trump becomes president, those conversations will seem quaint.

What does it feel like to be a Muslim American these days?
There’s that old adage of breakdowns lead to breakthroughs. I grew up as a Muslim, but I’ve been in more bars than mosques in my life. I feel like there’s a moment in the history of this country, and American Muslims do need to speak out. It’s a privilege in a way to be an American Muslim speaking in whatever way I can at this time in history, when it’s so crucial.

Many people have pointed out that Muslims have to be uber-patriotic to qualify as Americans, that the burden of proof of their innocence is on them.
There is a kind of "good Muslim, bad Muslim" dynamic that exists. As opposed to just if you’re an American. There are many Muslims in the world who don’t necessarily agree with American foreign policy and what it’s doing in the world, but that doesn’t mean they’re part of ISIS, it just means that philosophically and politically they disagree. When you’re dropping bombs on children in Pakistan, there are going to be a lot of Muslims who say I don’t agree. There’s that idea that somehow if you’re good, you have to agree with America, it becomes binary. And it’s not binary.

What would you say to Trump if you could corner him in a room?
I don’t know. I keep having this conversation with Trump supporters. I run into Trump supporters at parties, or on Facebook, and they’re not operating from a place of logic. I say: "You understand that 70 percent of what he says is a lie. It’s just not true." They don’t care. He’s an outlet for rage and anger. I used to think it’s about reason. It’s not. It’s a purely emotional reaction. Fear is not a rational emotion. You can’t take away somebody’s fear by saying statistics show…they’re just afraid. This is how dictators come to power. Hitler. Mussolini. By exploiting the collective insanity.

Do you see any way to bridge it?
There’s a very Buddhist part of me that says maybe this is America’s time to experience the demagogue and see how that feels. Those people who are now supporting him, like the Germans in 1937, will ultimately realize that the whole thing is a lie. We’ve had a great run for 240 years. There’s a part of me that resigns itself to the universe. I will fight Trump with every ounce of whatever I have, but if that’s what wins, then there’s a collective insanity that has taken over.

Would you stay in the country if he wins?
I will because it’s my country. I have a British passport but that place seems just as fucking nuts as this place. I wish I had held on to my Indian passport. If he wins, then revolution begins. It’s the job of the citizenry to rise up, speak up, the artists, activists, to speak out against it. Maybe this thing with [Khzir Khan]…maybe between now and November Trump jumps the shark. More than ever, people need to get out and make their voices heard.

People complain that moderate Muslims don’t make themselves heard enough.
Moderate Muslims are speaking out all the time. I just don’t think people are listening. I don’t think people want to hear it. It’s a cockfight.  But who goes there? Who puts the mic in their face? No one. What Khan did was to have a giant platform and a national platform to be able to say that.

As a comedian, how do you deal with it?
Mostly Twitter for me. I talk to people constantly about how dividing this Trump thing is. This conversation…I’ve lost friends over it.

You have?
Well, Facebook friends.