The name of photojournalist Aymann Ismail’s new video series for Slate is not a mere nod to Edward Albee’s classic play. Ismail is Muslim-American, and the answer to the series title, “Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail?” is, a lot of Americans.
“Usually when I talk about Islam, people ask me if I force my wife to cover herself, or, they’ll ask me about Sharia law. You know, the stuff they see on TV,” says Ismail in the promo. “I realize it comes down to one thing: fear. So I’m going to confront every one of those fears, one by one, in every corner of the country. I’m going inside the homes of alt-right propagandists and far-right legislators. I’m going to challenge my own community at home. Let’s take fear seriously.”
In the written intro to the first episodes, Ismail described a particular incident during the Republican National Convention:
I didn’t plan to do anything at the Republican National Convention last summer beyond shooting some photos. I was there as a photojournalist. But just after landing in Cleveland, as I waited in line to get in, a man in full Thomas Jefferson costume approached me and asked: “Are you Muslim?” I told him yes. He told me Islam was evil.
I’m used to this: People openly stared when I photographed the new World Trade Center being built on assignment in Manhattan.
One of the ways Ismail hopes to diffuse some of that fear is by demystifying Muslim practices and traditions, like Ramadan, and openly exploring and addressing stereotypes about Muslims, like homophobia in the Muslim community. Another is through the mere act of having a conversation. It even worked in Cleveland, where he writes, “when I talked to people—really talked to them—I could tell meeting a real Muslim face to face made some kind of impact.”
Check out the first episodes below.