Mennonites, Muslims and a Bad Internet Joke

Muslim and MennoniteWe are a joke on the internet.

A bad joke.

“I’m betting Mennonite.”

That’s the joke. I see it and variations of it in fits and bursts on Twitter, depending on the news.

It’s not just a bad internet joke like a pun’s a bad joke or like so-called “Dad jokes” are bad jokes.

It’s a joke that’s complicit in a bunch of things that I, as a Mennonite, don’t like. Some Mennonites won’t agree with me on this one. They’ll say I should just lighten up. Even if those same ones don’t like my jokes very much. That’s ok. We don’t need to have the same sense of humour.

This Mennonite joke appears with some regularity after a terrorist attack when people on the internet think that the perpetrator is Muslim. It’s apparently a funny joke, see, to say that they think that the attacker is Mennonite when they really think that a Muslim person was behind it.

It’s funny because Mennonite and Muslim both start with an “M.” You start to make the “M” sound for Muslim and then turn it into the unexpected “M” of Mennonite. Isn’t that funny?

That’s not the whole joke, of course.

No one making this joke actually thinks that the terrorists in question were practicing Mennonites, or even Mennonite by heritage. And they’re right that we haven’t yet had a self-identifying Mennonite commit an act of terrorism. Most Mennonites are pacifists by tradition and faith and so it should be implausible that we’d commit major acts of violence. Many Mennonites, in fact, take pride in our reputation for being a good, nonviolent and peaceable people.

Which does not, however, mean that we want to be used as the poster child of non-threatening goodness in the service of a message of Islamophobia.

That’s partly because many of us feel solidarity with the Muslims who live among us. For one thing, even if most of us aren’t personally descendants of those co-religionists of ours who were taken in by the Khan of Khiva in 1884, we still feel a dash of interfaith gratitude for Said-Muhammad Rahim-Khan and the Muslim population there who harboured some of our faith that even we had spurned. Our history is full of Mennonite groups breaking off from each other, leaving one place as immigrants and entering another as refugees, so it’s great when another people offers us asylum.

This is me saying thank-you to Muslims everywhere for that outstanding act of kindness.

And even without that precedent of peaceful co-existence, we are well enough accustomed to thinking of ourselves as a religious minority that we should be able to empathize with our Muslim neighbours. At various times, we have felt our neighbours’ judgment for our refusal to conform. And our ancestors – we never forget our martyred 16th-century ancestors – were, like Muslims in North America, understood to be a much larger threat than our numbers merited.

Admittedly, there’s a difference in scale.

I might moan and groan about Mennonites being mocked as unfashionable but I get that this level of persecution isn’t really at the same level as Muslim women being barred by law from dressing as they please. And Mennonite leaders aren’t usually called upon to condemn the actions of individual Mennonites who commit crimes in the same way that Muslim leaders are routinely expected to condemn acts of terror. (Of course, we have been known to disavow people who embarrass us even without being asked). You also have to look a fair bit harder to find people on the internet saying nasty things about Mennonites than you do to find people saying vile things about Muslims. There are some there but it’s not that hard to avoid them.

Scale shouldn’t matter for this, though. We have our long and somewhat inaccurate memory of religious persecution to rely on. We know it’s not easy being a religious minority.

Mind, there are also self-interested reasons to give the snake-eye to all those not-very-funny trolls taking our name in vain.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we also know deep in our hearts that we aren’t immune to social forces and, though we hope it never happens, it remains possible that some day one of our own sons or daughters might eschew our peace position and become a radical Christian terrorist. And then the name Mennonite would be dragged across the news media like it is whenever a Menno commits a crime like drug trafficking or murder or whatever.

Because whenever that happens,  you can hear Mennonites within a 10 mile radius of any Church or meeting house complaining loud and strong about the media. “I don’t see why they had to say he was a Mennonite,” can be heard rebounding off the walls of the fellowship halls and bouncing around the various Mennonite echo chambers on the internet for days after an embarrassing news story. That’s usually followed by assertions that the miscreant in question hadn’t been to Church in years and wasn’t baptized and didn’t even know how to play crokinole so they shouldn’t be considered a real Mennonite, and the media should know better.

Which is a pretty good reason to say no to anyone who wants the religious affiliation of criminals or terrorists bandied about. We know from experience that it sucks having your whole religious heritage being understood by the actions of a few. It isn’t us now. But it could be.

But in my mind, the worst thing about these so-called jokes is that they effectively eliminate any opportunities for humour about Mennonite terrorists that are actually about us, and not just a smokescreen for making jabs at another people. Because all those “Must be a Mennonite terrorist, ha ha” jokes have tainted any witticisms about our potlucks as acts of aggression or our habit of public hymn singing striking terror in the hearts of many. I can’t even speculate about someone getting radicalized by fringe Mennonite social control patterns and going off on a mass shunning spree without feeling like I’m aligning myself with the cruelest of bigots.

I blame and resent those internet trolls for this.

We’re coming up to Peace Sunday and Remembrance Day, that day when we all assert that to remember is to work for peace.  In the time I’ve taken to write this, there have been three mass shootings in the US and a truck attack on pedestrians. None of these directly involved Mennonites and only one had the name Mennonite appended in the bad jokes section of Twitter and online comments. The Mennonite response to terrorism and acts of mass violence is to pray and work for peace and reconciliation. There’s no peace in terror and violence and it’s no act of peacemaking that uses our name to cast aspersions on another faith group.

It’s also just not very funny.


A Mennonite Shooter

In the spirit of nonviolence, the only kind of shooting I can sanction is the kind that involves small glasses of alcohol. To make this truly Mennonite, you should either start with a homemade fruit liqueur or replace the vodka with dandelion wine.

shooter

  • 1/2 oz fruit-based liqueur (I used chokecherry)
  • 1/2 oz vodka

Pour the liqueur and then the vodka into a shot glass. The vodka will probably float on top of the denser vodka. It doesn’t matter. This is a drink to throw back, not sip.

I don’t recommend turning this into a Mennonite mass shooting by repeating shots three or more times. I do recognize it could happen and won’t disavow any Mennonites who do so. I just don’t particularly recommend it.

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