Not everyone LOLing at state senator’s Facebook humor
• State Sen. Dave Syverson said it’s a ‘lesson learned’ after Facebook post about ‘Mohammed from Iran’ generates controversy
By Brandon Reid
According to state Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34), a post he made to his Facebook page at 12:08 a.m., July 5, was just an attempt at humor. However, the senator now says his attempt at humor is being used against him politically, and it’s a lesson learned in how political correctness “has gotten out of control.”
Syverson’s Facebook post, which he has since removed, read:
“Father Daughter Talk …My daughter just walked into the room and said, ‘Dad, cancel my allowance, rent my room out, throw all my clothes out, take my TV, iPhone, IPod, and my laptop.
“‘Please take all of my jewelry. Then sell my car, take my house key. And then write me out of your will.
“Well, she didn’t put it quite like that……… she actually said.. ‘Dad this is my new boyfriend, Mohammed from Iran.’”
While Syverson has a daughter who was recently engaged, the post is a version of a joke that has been circulating for years. Syverson said he cannot remember from where he obtained the joke.
“I can’t remember,” Syverson said. “It’s been out there for a long time. People send things to me on Facebook and in e-mails.”
Asked to comment on the post, Syverson said: “If it really offended anyone, certainly I’m sorry for that. But it certainly was never meant to be anything but a joke. Anyone that is a father of a daughter knows and tells jokes about the potential boys that they may be dating.
“It’s interesting we didn’t hear any outcry when Obama made the joke at the press dinner when the Jonas Brothers were there, and he said ‘Sasha and Malia are fans of the Jonas boys, but don’t get any ideas. I have two words for you: predator drones. You’ll never see it coming.’ Well, obviously, is he really planning on using predator drones? The fact that a lot of the innocent people are dying in Muslim countries because of predator drones … did the president really mean it that way, or was he just telling a joke?
“So, it was never meant to be any more than that,” Syverson said. “Anyone who knows my history knows that I would be the last person in this community that would be ever accused of having those kinds of views. For someone to make that comment who doesn’t even know me or take it that way, obviously, it’s unfortunate. I think most people who read it and look at it never took it with any kind of negative connotation.
“If you listen to the comedy channel or any of those late-night shows, you have Muslim comedians who are on there making comments that are really questionable,” Syverson continued. “Their response is they do it because humor is a great way to break down the barriers. So, people feel more comfortable about talking about issues.”
Asked to name one such Muslim comedian, Syverson said: “Just Google any Muslim comedians. You can go to their websites and read about it and see those jokes. And again, I doubt they’re doing that to be attacking their own people. It’s just like when you have Irish comedians or Italian comedians telling jokes about their families.”
Imam Shpendim Nadzaku of the Muslim Association of Greater Rockford said he would wait to read Syverson’s comments before responding to the Facebook post.
The Rock River Times received a handful of e-mails critical of Syverson’s post over the past weekend. For example, Ashley Ray-Harris wrote: “Not only is this ‘joke’ horribly offensive and shocking coming from a politician, but it was also found on this white supremacist website, http://www.stormfront.org/forum/t778577/.
“It is offensive to those of the Muslim faith that he represents and is a horrible representation of those who live in his district,” Ray-Harris added.
The joke was posted to the “Lounge” section of the website of white supremacist group stormfront.org Feb. 8, 2011. When asked about his thoughts of including a joke on his Facebook page that also appeared on a white supremacist website, Syverson said, “I’ve never even heard of that site.
“I have no idea,” Syverson continued. “If you repeat a joke from someone, do you have any idea where that joke originated from? I have no idea. That’s such an old joke that’s been around for so long. To try to imply that somehow that’s where it started from and that’s where I got it from is somehow insulting. The person who brought it up is concerning because, obviously, that person spent some time on that site. I’ve never even heard of that site.
“I’ve got a Ford Escape van,” Syverson added. “I would guess that there are Fords that they are selling on those websites. The idea that a joke that has been around for 50 years that’s told thousands of times across the country, that’s in how many joke books across the country … that just shows the politics of it. They’re trying to make it a political issue. Which, again, goes to the whole problem of political correctness.
“I’ve not seen anything that they’ve done to criticize Obama for making comments about any of those jokes, too,” Syverson continued. “We have so many more important major issues affecting our community that this is an unfortunate distraction. It’s a lesson learned. If that’s what people want to make sure is that everything is carefully worded, and you don’t ever cross the line or joke with individuals from any other race, color or creed, I just don’t know how that makes for a better a country.”
When asked to elaborate on a comment he made to WIFR that “the political correctness issue has gotten out of control in this country,” Syverson said: “I think everyone is so afraid of talking about issues or talking about groups that they end up just avoiding the issue because they’re afraid of what they’re going to say and how it’s going to be taken. We have politicians now that have their lawyers and their press staff write every single thing that they say down in hopes that somebody won’t try to spin it and take it wrong.
“After Obama made the comment about Special Olympics, he went back to making sure that everything he does is on teleprompters and written by somebody else, so not one thing can be taken wrongly,” Syverson said. “And so, what happens now is we just have an awful lot of avoidance because people are afraid to meet with groups because they don’t know if they misused a term or if they ask a question in a certain way someone will turn around and spin and use it politically.
“And both parties do it,” Syverson continued. “When [David] Letterman made the joke about Sarah Palin’s daughter, was he really doing that out of spite and hatred for her daughter, or was he just telling a joke? But look how that became such a big issue for a long period of time. And so, the concern is people are afraid to even talk about those issues.
“I’ve worked with most groups from a charitable standpoint,” Syverson said. “Like we’ve had African-Americans and Hispanics living with us in our home. My daughter is engaged to an African-American man. Anyone who knows me knows it’s about improving relationships and finding ways to break down those walls, and if you can’t laugh sometimes, then that’s unfortunate.”
Asked why he removed the joke from his Facebook page, Syverson said, “I took it down because the fact that some are trying to use this as something political … it takes the focus off of some of the huge issues we’re dealing with.” He cited the current battle in U.S. Congress over the debt cap as one such issue.
Regarding political correctness, Syverson continued: “You can destroy a Bible and you’re told ‘Just be tolerant.’ But if [you disrespect] the Quran, then there’s a whole different set of consequences. You can talk about Scandinavians or Germans or Italians and make jokes, but if you talk about certain other races, then somehow it’s inappropriate and wrong. You end up having more stress, and then people start saying, ‘I don’t know how to actively communicate in what is politically correct,’ so they don’t. You see more of that becoming a problem.
“If I had used Sven from Sweden, would there have been an outcry of that?” Syverson asked. “You can put in anything. And my guess is that joke has been used for years and years, and people just keep filling in the blank depending on the group that they’re talking about at their office party.
“If it’s done by a person who has a history of being anti-Semite, for example, and they’re telling an off-color comment in that way, then you can look at the history and that kind of person can question that,” Syverson said. “Look at the roast that they do in Rockford … of local leaders and the things that they say. Do they really mean them? It’s just disappointing that people are taking this thing further. Obviously, it’s election season, so they take anything that you say and try to make it more than it is.”
Asked why he posted the joke to his Facebook page, Syverson said: “If you read my Facebook, it’s to show that I’m a regular person, not a stuffed-shirt career politician. And so, we try to lighten up things between what’s going on. And so we put a lot of things on there. And, obviously, my daughter is engaged right now, so people talk about those things and joke about those things.”
A brief visit to Syverson’s Facebook page July 12 showed posts ranging from birthday wishes to famous quotes to comments about political issues.
With regard to his comment about not being a career politician, Syverson will have been in office for 20 years when his current term expires. He will be running for re-election in the newly-created 35th District after Democrats drew him out of his 34th District in May. State Sen. Christine Johnson (R-Shabbona), a five-term DeKalb County treasurer, will be his opponent in the primary.
The new 35th District will include northern and eastern Winnebago County, Boone County, most of DeKalb County and western Kane County.
Asked if he considered changing any part of the joke to make it more personal, Syverson said: “Clearly from that standpoint, people would look at that in a different tone. We’re at war with Iran. It has nothing to do with the Muslim issue or the Muslim community. When you come up with Iran, people would look at it and say, ‘Who is the last country that you would think about?’ We’re at war with that country. … Nothing was clearly meant by this humor.
“In our home, we have a bunch of mixed children,” Syverson added. “They don’t worry about political correctness. To them, it’s just another 7-year-old kid. But when you get older, all of a sudden, the fear comes in of ‘What do I say and how do I say it?’
“And if it was anybody who was truly offended by it that doesn’t know me, then I am sorry for that,” Syverson said. “But people who know me know my heart, and they also know that you’ve got to have a little bit of fun and enjoy life a little bit. Some of the stuff we did in the Legal Follies … is that going to come back and haunt us now? They weren’t serious, but will people take them as that now?”
From the July 13-19, 2011 issue
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