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Riz Ahmed Contextualizes Terrorism on The Tonight Show, Of All Places

Watch the rapper-actor perform a spoken word piece called "Sour Times"

Liam Mathews

Riz Ahmed, who's up for an Emmy this year for his performance on last summer's HBO limited series The Night Of, is also a rapper. He's also an activist pushing for better representations of Muslims in the media.

He demonstrated those latter two skills on his appearance on The Tonight Show on Monday, reciting a spoken-word version of his song "Sour Times," which is about how socioeconomic conditions are what lead young Muslim men to becoming radicalized.

In his intro, he explained that he wrote these lyrics a decade ago, and sadly they become more relevant every year.

"See, there's thousands of angry young men that are lost/Sidelined in the economy, a marginal cost/They think there's no point in putting ballots up in the box/They got no place in this system, and no faith in its cogs/They're easy targets, that be getting brainwashed by these knobs/Who say that spilling innocent blood is pleasing a god/Well, it sounds good when you don't see no justice or jobs," he said in the first verse.

The performance of this piece after what happened in Charlottesville this weekend -- when a radicalized young white nationalist committed an act of terrorism and drove a car into a crowd of protestors, killing one and injuring 19 -- is interesting. Islamic radicalism and American right-wing radicalism are very different, and the disenfranchisement that Ahmed talks about affecting Muslim men in England is not the same as it is for young white men in America. White men in America are still in power, they just feel their stranglehold on power slipping, and that's what they're reacting to. But the point Ahmed seems to be making is that though the circumstances are different, these men's feelings of disenfranchisement are the same, and manifests in the same violence. There have been two terror attacks in London this year where a vehicle was used as a weapon.

And Ahmed is forcing us to look at this homegrown radicalization and see that "the problem is modern and it's all local factors." We can't say "I don't understand how this can happen here," because we can, if we're honest with ourselves about the way our culture marginalizes some while prioritizing others (and by "others" I mean "white men.")

The strange part is that this poem was recited on The Tonight Show, the most apolitical talk show on TV. Jimmy Fallon seems to be trying to atone for putting a friendly face on Donald Trump by letting someone talk about the socioeconomic roots of terrorism. That's a John Oliver topic, not a Fallon one.

Things are so bad that even Jimmy Fallon is taking a side. Another guest on Monday's show was Hollywood's go-to leftist Susan Sarandon, who talked about systemic racism, and used his monologue to call Trump's delayed condemnation of the racists in Charlottesville "shameful."