Slim Khezri is an artist and entrepreneur in California. A former Michael Jackson impersonator, he runs DoubaJen Records, an independent record and publishing company. He has acted in numerous films and music videos, including a film on the Armenian Genocide, an Amnesty ad on gay rights, and the music video below that chronicles the life a would-be suicide bomber.
I was the first person in my immediate family who came to the United States, and first to be born outside of Tunisia. My son was the first, to be born in the United States.
My family’s origins lie in Tunisia, going back at least six generations. My father immigrated to Switzerland, returned home to marry my mother, and then relocated to Germany. I was born and raised in Germany, but then moved to Tunisia for six years when I was 9. When I look back to great nostalgic times, I often think of the times in Germany rather than the ones in Tunisia. But I don’t regret the time I had there with my extended family, who made me who I am and taught me a great deal about myself. Thanks to that experience I appreciate the many points of view between the West and the Middle East.
17 years ago, I moved to the U.S. America is the kind of country that you either LOVE or really HATE. Some of my friends came and were disappointed, as they always tried to compare it to movies. I was realistic, and having lived in Germany and Tunisia prepared me that reality might be different. For me it was love at first sight, when I walked out the LAX airport doors. I knew right then that I’m going to grow old here. However I was a little surprised at how many Americans are a bit ignorant towards what goes on around the world outside the US.
My first jobs in LA were modeling and small bit parts in films. I had the classic struggling actor’s empty apartment, old black & white TV, mattress on the floor, and lots of ramen noodles. Look at me now – houses, family, cars, my own companies – all from scratch, from zero. I’ve come a LONG way, living the dream… the American dream. Lots of hard work, patience, focus, passion can get you anywhere. In Germany I felt that many are focused on what one can’t do, here in America I find that many are focused on what one can do. Just that mindset makes a great deal of a difference. Positive, optimistic, uplifting.
America to me is more than just a spot on the map, it’s an idea I admire, an amazing and unique one. Some Americans don’t understand it or realize how lucky they are.
I personally have never faced any racism, nor religious prejudice at any time or in country I’ve been to. I’ve seen it though, but never experienced it personally. I never had any trouble with American authorities. I’ve came in and out of the country many many times over the past 17 years. I do think it is a matter of attitude and how you present yourself. I don’t have a problem either if stopped by police and questioned. I have nothing to hide and would always treat the situation with respect. Works well for me.
I brought with me to America a few traditions from the old country – for example certain holidays I observe, certain foods I cook that my parents and my grandmother taught me. Over time I have given up a few things that I consider to be outdated traditions or superstitious religious things. I outgrew these time, not because of pressure from anybody. You go through soul searching. I’ve always had an open mind, and I am a very curious creature that can’t stop learning. My goal is to learn about life by living it, not by trying to figure out a cryptic plan a ‘creator’ has in store for me.
I had a very rich upbringing – not in terms of money, but culturally speaking. Growing up between two different cultures and multiple languages, Europe (Germany) and Africa (Tunisia), going through nine schools in both countries, and having all of the traditions and cultures at my disposal.
I was born into Sunni Muslim family. Though we were not religious by any means, we spoke Arabic at home, did not eat pork, and observed the holidays like Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr, and Eid Al-Adha. But no one prayed, nor did we frequent mosques. I’d say we’re moderate, secular Muslims. Our traditions at home when I was growing up, were culturally very Tunisian, based on Islam, yet we were brought up with an open mind, tolerance and respect towards other cultures.
For example, on Islamic holidays, we would have a big dinner feast with loved ones instead of spending the day at the mosque and praying. We would invite and cook for people. Nothing beats food. Food makes people happy.
Now when I think about what has happened today to the image of Islam, I think of cultural icons like Michael Jackson, Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. They are all tainted, tarnished, their reputation ruined. No matter how brilliant, amazing, and unique these artists were with their superb core message, creativity, and depth – today few people care about that greatness. Tremendous damage has been done, allegedly by them or to them.
In addition, you have the media news cycle fueling the problem with sensationalized reporting. The impact of the few terrorists and their savage acts speaks louder than anything. Even if one would try to explain that there are innocent people in this, that there are only a few bad apples who want to destroy… it’s too late: a judgmental society has already made up its mind.
Muslims leaders – especially influential imams from around the world, including from Saudi Arabia – must publicly come out to condemn ALL terror groups around the world (from ISIS to Boko Haram to Al Qaeda to Hamas). If Muslims claim they follow a religion of peace, then stand up and explain that to the world reasonably. Islam must reform, enter a renaissance age, and come back shining. Otherwise it has been a waste.
I feel that parts of the Muslim community can be bigoted. When Israel bombs Gaza or some cartoonist makes a silly Muhammad drawing, you see Muslims around the world go berserk, with some ready to kill. But you hear crickets when Raif Badawi gets whipped in Saudi Arabia or when 3,000 girls in Nigeria get kidnapped by Boko Haram. What does that say about this “community”? Personally I think it sends a message that “they” look out for their own. You don’t see many Muslims around the world donating to Haiti, Japan, and Chile after earthquakes and tsunamis.
This is a problem with Islam’s followers, rather than Islam as a religion: outdated traditions, superstitions, conservative Salafists and Wahabists, close-minded ignorant folk. A mental renaissance has to happen, A collective awakening. Islam has become such a political tool that it no longer serves a spiritual purpose. We need more rational voices from within to stand up against the radical disease: reformists, contemporary scholars, who are open to the world.
I stand for reason, empathy, and kindness – and as a humanist I base my views on evidence. Humanists don’t believe in ghouls, deities, and vague fairy tales. Humanists use empathy to decide on a best course of action. Empathy has been a basis for morality throughout human history, and it inspires respect for other’s rights and basic human dignity. So I try to be kind and to promote kindness and the spread of happiness. Because we’ve only got one world – this one life – and we have to make it count.