AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Speaking of rage, a wave of comments began trending yesterday on Twitter, all including this title called hashtag: Muslim Rage. It was the unintended product of an effort by Newsweek to promote conversation on Twitter about its latest cover story. It's about the protests in the Middle East. The cover featured two bearded men in mid chant, fists in the air under the headline: Muslim Rage. And when Newsweek asked readers to tweet their thoughts, the response was a barrage of satire.
AMIR ALI: Eat, pray, pray, pray, pray love, hashtag Muslim Rage.
CORNISH: That's Amir Ali of Sydney, Australia, reading his tweet. And here's one from Fatima Fahkrahi(ph) of Portland, Oregon.
FATIMA FAHKRAHI: Not getting the cute airport security guy to give me a pat down for my, quote-unquote, "randomly selected search," hashtag Muslim Rage.
CORNISH: Tweets from all over the world with that hashtag spoke not of rage but mundane inconveniences and everyday ironies. We asked Egyptian-American writer Ashraf Khalil what motivated the stream of jokes. He covered the Egyptian revolution and the latest protest in Cairo and sent a few tweets of his own.
ASHRAF KHALIL: I think it was this unspoken communal desire to reclaim the initiative, not just from what was regarded as kind of a cynical and inflammatory cover from Newsweek, but also just from a terrible, terrible week. I mean, it had been a really disillusioning week, seeing the way that this movie was responded to in Muslim countries in the Middle East. Even if it was only a thousand people here and a thousand people there, seeing people take the bait so easily was depressing.
CORNISH: And you've tweeted some of your own Muslim Rage tweets. To quote one here, "knowing deep down in my heart that bacon, pork chops and barbecue ribs probably taste amazing, Muslim Rage." Did you have any favorites you saw in that stream?
KHALIL: Oh, there were so many. I swear, I like - literally, I lost, like, two hours of my life on this hashtag just following it and knowing - one of the beautiful things about Twitter is when you're in on something and it's just surging. Some of my favorites, there were some great hijab jokes. One of my early favorites was a woman who wrote: having a great hair day, but no one can tell, Muslim Rage.
And I think my all-time favorite, and this one rocketed around forever and ever, was: lose track of your son, Jihad, at the airport, can't yell out for him, Muslim Rage. And it was just so deadpan, because I know people whose name is Jihad. I mean, it's a reasonably common name in the Middle East. And that one made me laugh for five minutes, the idea that of, you know, you can't find your son Jihad, and the last thing you can do is yell out for him in the middle of a crowded airport. I loved that one.
CORNISH: Now, you're based in Cairo, and you've been covering the protests there for Time for over the past week. And you wrote this in one of your observations on September 11th. You wrote: The sheer rage on display was somewhat curious since half the protesters seemed to be busy explaining to the other half just what they were all so upset about.
So you've described what you've seen as rage. Do you find that this response on Twitter is something that is kind of an internal discussion that people are saying amongst themselves and that's ironic, or is it something that's also a message to the broader community to try and upend the stereotype on that Newsweek cover?
KHALIL: I think it was largely a diversion from the larger issue of this rage. I think many of us have seen this rage on display, so the rage is real. The question is real. So I don't know that the fun we all had with the Muslim rage hashtag really addressed or forwarded the debate any. It probably wasn't the point. So I think for a lot of people, it sort of restored their faith in the community, because, honestly, this should have been the response to this movie from the very start.
It should have been mocked and then ignored. You know, nobody ever should have gathered for a protest about this. And, as I saw, like, many of the protesters were vastly overestimating its importance and its reach. It was bait. And far too many people in the Muslim world took the bait. And that's a 10 or 20-year project to figure out.
CORNISH: Ashraf Khalil, thank you so much for speaking with us.
KHALIL: My pleasure.
CORNISH: Ashraf Khalil is a freelance journalist based in Cairo, and he's the author of a book about the revolution in Egypt called "Liberation Square." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.