IL State Senator Syverson defends anti-Muslim humor

Watch WIFR’s story on Syverson HERE

Can’t you take a joke? That’s the elementary school sentiment Illinois State Senator, Dave Syverson, has been expressing since facing criticism for a recent anti-Muslim Facebook posting. On July 5th, Senator Syverson who has represented the 34th district in Rockford since 1993 wrote the following comments on his Facebook page:

“Father Daughter Talk…My daughter just walked in the room and said, ‘Dad, cancel my allowance, rent my room out, throw all my clothes out, take my TV, iPhone, iPod, and my laptop. Please take all my jewelry. Then sell my car, take my house key. And write me out of your will.’ Well, she didn’t put it like that…she actually said…‘Dad this is my new boyfriend, Mohammed from Iran.”

Nice one, Senator Syverson. A daughter’s relationship with a Muslim boyfriend should definitely be met with light-hearted comments about familial estrangement. Yet, that’s what some proponents, including Syverson are claiming—this was just a joke! Further, Syverson is not only claiming that he meant no harm, but that his words “are being twisted for political gain.”  Unfortunately for Syverson, it doesn’t take much twisting to see the blatant racism that colors his comments. But Syverson persists. Not only is he facing an unfounded attack from political adversaries, but he is a victim of a new sensation sweeping the country: political correctness. In an interview with local news outlet WIFR, Syverson contends “The political correctness issue has gotten out of control in this country where everything or anything you say can become political.” This common refrain about political correctness is the weapon of choice for those who want to freely engage in hate speech.

It is also ironic that a public official is bemoaning the politicization of his public statements. The reality is that his comments carry political weight for a number of reasons, not least of which because he is of course a public political figure. Additionally, these comments tap into a growing Islamophobia in the United States. In a country, where political officials such as Representative Peter King from New York can hold government hearings—though largely discredited—on an internal Islamic threat, discriminatory statements about Muslims feed into a political effort to marginalize and demonize this group of Americans. This supposedly humorous post also has a political impact because Syverson numbers Muslims amongst his constituents in Rockford, which has had a steadily growing Muslim population over the last 20 years. As a State Senator, he should be invested in representing his entire community, not alienating it. So a statement allegedly made in jest, absolutely is political.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this story is the equivocal claim that his comments have been met with both criticism and “laughter.” In fact, his ability to hide his racism behind the guise of humor and malign political correctness is true evidence of political privilege and power. So contrary to Syveron’s claims, his comments are both undeniably political and undeniably racist.