Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bones, Season 5, Episode 4-Good Portrayal of Muslim in Workforce

I had reviewed quite negatively the 2nd episode of Bones in 2005, but I actually have some good things to say about the latest episode, The Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Season 5, Episode 4. Actor Pej Vehdat plays the minor character Arastoo Vaziri, a lab intern at the Smithsonian. Prior to this episode, his cheesy foreign accent and the writing which constantly highlighted his being Muslim irritated me.
In this episode, in a fit of anger when his boss Dr. Camille Sorayan wonders whether he can sift through remains which include pig bones and whether he should take a break to do his ritual prayer, Arastoo drops his affected accent and tells her to just let him do his job. Later in the episode, he reveals that affecting a foreign accent allows him to avoid questions from his mostly nonreligious colleagues about his religion. In other words, scientists would accept that a "fresh off the boat" Third Worlder would cling to archaic religious beliefs but they would be less tolerant of a religious scientist who grew up in the United States. The episode ends with a rather honest conversation about Arastoo's religious beliefs and practices.

Now while the episode was not perfect, I think it highlighted well the following workplace issues:

1. Muslims can function well in workplaces provided some simple accommodations are made. And by the way, these accommodations are mandated by law. So allow Muslims 10 minutes away from the factory line to do their ritual prayers. Or give them 10 minutes away from the support line. Let them take an extra hour for Friday congregational prayers and work an extra hour some other time. And there are plenty of Muslims doing science.
2. Some scientists do exhibit a bias against religious co-workers. See some of the reaction to the documentary Blast!.
3. Non-Muslims should simply ask their Muslim co-workers questions rather than make assumptions or act weird. Now don't do this in the interview and hiring process. That's illegal. Obviously, if you ask a question and don't like what you hear, then be man or woman enough to adjust and respect another person's opinion.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has published guides to Islamic religious practices for the employer, the health care worker, the prison administrator, the school administrator and the law enforcement official.

So kudos to the writers of this episode.