“I’m A Terrorist…” – Muhammad Hassan
Back in 2004, when the world lived in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, many fresh faces emerged in WWE. One of those was Muhammad Hassan after debuting on an episode of Monday Night Raw on December 13th. After spending two years in OVW’s development territory, his career skyrocketed into the stratosphere. He was 24-years-old, and the future looked bright. This article takes an in-depth look at Mark Copani’s short WWE career, and I hope you appreciate the analysis of a poorly timed, yet sorely misunderstood character.
Who Is Mark Copani?
Mark Copani was born in Syracuse, New York on April 16, 1980, and is of Italian descent. For the sake of this piece, it is important to note that Copani has never claimed to be Muslim. I read somewhere that he is Jewish, but I can’t find confirmation, so it’s best not to assume.
After high school, he enrolled in the State University of New York at Buffalo and studied for a degree in history, but left in 2002 to pursue a professional wrestling career. After leaving WWE in 2005, he went back to college to become an educator. He has since become the principal of Fulton Junior High School in Fulton, New York. In 2011 and 2012, he & Shad Gaspard wrote the graphic novel Assassin & Son.
Muhammad Hassan’s Arrival
After two successful years in Ohio Valley Wrestling under the ring name Mark Magnus, he left the development territory as a former heavyweight champion. WWE was looking for somebody to portray an Arab-American character, and Jim Cornette was instrumental in getting him the job. In the weeks leading up to his debut, several vignettes aired. I highly recommend watching this, because it laid the groundwork for his upcoming success.
The first vignette begins by talking about injustice, but it mellows out and gives the impression that Muhammad Hassan is a calm figure who only wants to ensure equality. Daivari follows up by talking in Persian, although most English-speaking fans won’t know or care to figure out that he isn’t speaking Arabic. They will assume he is. Much of their early heat stems from Daivari aggressively preaching in a language that fans don’t understand.
If it’s not said in English, then they have to be an evil foreigner villain, right? Daivari could be saying how much he loves the fans, but not being able to understand makes him an alien. People automatically assume that Daivari must be sinister and/or doing this to rally up their people against America.
The second vignette gets personal, as Hassan explains the effect that post-9/11 hysteria had on his uncle Akbar’s business. He runs a convenience store, but he’s having to sell up because customers have chosen not to support him anymore because he’s Arab-American. Hassan reminds us that America has always been a melting pot that boasted equality for all, but he sees the true America. Ironically, he says what happened to Akbar won’t happen to him (keep this comment in mind for later).
This highlights Hassan’s aggressive nature, as he promises to beat the prejudice out of anyone who stands in his way. Yes, he is sharing a positive message, but the way he is delivering it is negative. You can understand why he’s upset, but the way he’s acting is hypocritical. Hassan is lowering himself to where he has to cut corners to get people to pay attention to what he’s saying. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Hassan had already begun to master this delicate balance between speaking truth and speaking truth in a way people despise.
The next line is interesting because he rarely said it afterwards, but Hassan said, “And if necessary, I will lead a revolt against our very own country”. This crosses the line somewhat, because the point of this character is to be patriotic, while also pointing out hypocrisies with the goal of making the country better for all. It was never about rising up and possibly instigating attacks that could be seen as terrorism. So, I believe they ironed this out afterward, because the point is to play into the fact that fans judge him as a terrorist. It certainly isn’t about straight up admitting that he is. Daivari shouts at the end of this segment, again to show how calm Hassan is being in comparison.
The third vignette seriously hits home, as they produce it from an airport. With it being only three years since 9/11, the image of two planes crashing into the Twin Towers is still pretty fresh in people’s minds. Hassan compliments the changes in security, because it’s for the greater good, even if it comes as an inconvenience for customers. Hassan is angrier this time, as he highlights the outright harassment directed towards Arab-Americans at airports. No one else has to put up with this. They are singled out, humiliated, and often strip searched because of their names. He demands respect and to be treated equally, otherwise he will beat it out of anyone who gets in his way.
These three vignettes serve as a powerful tool to introduce Muhammad Hassan and Daivari. We already know what they’re about. We know why they are coming to do what they set out to do. But it’s a bold gimmick, and one that was sure to draw a ton of heat in a time when people are afraid. Xenophobia wasn’t rampant, but it was there enough for people to see this gimmick and judge them without a moment’s thought. Nothing Hassan could say or do would make them listen. They are the evil outsiders by default… despite Hassan being American. The fans won’t be happy until he is forced out of the country he grew up in.
Muhammad Hassan’s Debut
On December 13, 2004, Muhammad Hassan & Daivari made their debut on Raw by interrupting Mick Foley’s promo.
Clearly, the fans had not listened to his vignettes and directed a “USA” chant at him before he could speak. As an Englishmen looking from the outside, it doesn’t surprise me, but I also feel like many Americans would look back on this and regret that the fans found this appropriate. They played into it beautifully by having Daivari introduce Hassan in Persian. Hassan opens up by claiming that he supported America and its troops, all the way up to 9/11. Whoa… yeah, that’s heat.
The next line is interesting because it highlights that people like him are victims of “this war”. What WWE is doing is using some very sensitive topics like 9/11 and the Iraqi war, channeling that into heat and doing so through a young man who is being so incredibly brave by taking on this character. He calls people who support the war unpatriotic, because it hurts Arab-Americans. Now, it’s a complicated and controversial subject. I won’t get into the reasons for the Iraqi war, or whether it was justified. But what I know is that it wasn’t just America, the UK played a huge part as well. He’s right to be upset about the treatment of Arab-Americans, but so many other people were affected too.
By making this only about Arab-Americans, his grievances are tough to sympathize with. And not because of racism, but because his character is only willing to care about Arab-Americans and nobody else. Hassan says he feels like a prisoner in his own country, but the fact is that he isn’t. He’s overselling the fact that he’s being discriminated against. Now, if you’re a woman in Saudi Arabia… that’s discrimination. Locking somebody up for being gay, that’s discrimination. Hassan and other Arab-Americans may have endured some mistreatment because of xenophobia, but they were far from being locked up, enslaved, and/or killed for being Arab-Americans.
Mick Foley acknowledges Hassan. He says that he listened and appreciated some of what he had to say. Foley subtly told the fans that they should show Hassan some respect, instead of giving him a constant “WHAT?!” chant for the past few minutes. He nails it by saying that it’s sweet that they live in America, where people like Hassan can say whatever they want. Even if their views sound stupid. He could live somewhere that would cut out his tongue if he were to speak out of turn.
Foley lists a few soldiers who sacrificed themselves in different ways (some with their lives) so they could give guys like Hassan the right to shoot his mouth off. Mick Foley provokes them into the ring so he can respectfully show them his fist, but Hassan decides he doesn’t want to fight somebody he doesn’t respect. It’s a very successful debut for a character that has already shown it will go above and beyond to get heat. Rough around the edges, but it will get better.
While Muhammad Hassan’s 7-month WWE career was short-lived, he was blessed with working directly with many legends of the business. Some of these names include: The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan, John Cena, Chris Jericho, Batista, Big Show, Jerry Lawler, Jim Ross, Sgt. Slaughter, Rhyno, William Regal, Chris Benoit, JBL, Stacy Keibler, and more.
Some of my favorite segments that I highly recommend are:
- Getting into a debate (which he clearly wins) with Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler.
- Seeking justice from Stone Cold Steve Austin, who gives him his unbiased opinion.
- Daivari scares Stacy Keibler away, before Hassan shares his New Year’s resolution.
- Just as Candice Michelle’s dress is about to fall off, Hassan arrives to let us know that Chris Jericho is dumbing down America with his female sexual exploitation.
- His first interaction with The Undertaker after stating he did not deserve to be part of an upcoming elimination match.
As WWE headed toward the Great American Bash 2005 PPV, Muhammad Hassan was scheduled to face The Undertaker. Three days before July 7th, WWE taped an episode of SmackDown, including a moment where Hassan had large men in ski masks attack The Undertaker and choke him out. They then picked up Daivari, who The Undertaker had given a Tombstone Piledriver. The men carried him out in a way similar to a martyr, and commentary mentioned the resemblance.
On July 7th, it was reported that four terrorists had killed themselves and others in a terror attack on London’s transport system. UPN decided they would edit the footage in some countries, and would not air it in others like the United Kingdom. The angle received tons of mainstream attention from the New York Post, TV Guide, Variety, and other major media outlets. Because of this, UPN lobbied to have the Muhammad Hassan character pulled from TV, and WWE eventually caved in.
After the match with The Undertaker at the Great American Bash, they wrote Hassan off. WWE later released Mark Copani on September 21, 2005 and he never returned. Their website retains a page that highlights the media reaction to Muhammad Hassan at the following link: Media reacts to Muhammad Hassan – Below are videos of the controversial segment, along with Hassan’s last WWE match.
Before the Great American Bash PPV on an episode of SmackDown, Muhammad Hassan appeared to respond directly to the media. Because UPN edited the promo, WWE uploaded the unedited footage to their website. I cannot say for certain that the shared video is the unedited version, but here it is. Before you watch, look out for the fan sign saying “Get The Hell Out Of America Hassan”.
What’s interesting about this promo is it comes not only from the heart, but likely from Vince McMahon himself. While doing his best to stay in character, Hassan tells the world what he & WWE think about the media’s response to the controversial segment with The Undertaker. He begins by telling everyone he is the only true patriot left in America, which is sure to grab people’s attention. It’s interesting that he uses the word martyr to describe himself. It was likely the use of this word that caught the media’s eye.
Hassan stresses he is an American, and despite saying this countless times over 7 months, wrestling fans and media still treat him like a foreigner… when he isn’t. The sarcasm kicks in as he states he must be a terrorist because it’s black & white in the New York Post. The news article is titled “Terrorist Wrestles After Bombing”, which is untrue on many levels because 1) Hassan is playing a character who had never outright said they are a terrorist, and 2) WWE taped the episode a few days before.
It’s like saying that some Russian terrorists starred in a movie three days after the release of Die Hard, and then the movie gets pulled because of an unrelated incident. The media was almost making out that WWE did this purposely. Hassan then mentions Don Kaplan, the author of the piece by name, and says that he has never met him, so it’s impossible for him to state that he’s a terrorist. For those who are interested, you can find this article here: ‘TERRORIST’ WRESTLES AFTER BOMBING
Hassan makes a significant point that while Kaplan said the masked men were Arabs, how could he know this when they were all wearing ski masks? Again, it’s being discriminatory without proof. Yes, they knelt down in the ring, but does that resembled a beheading ritual? No, it merely shows their subservience to Hassan. He could be their religious leader, corporate boss, long-time friend, or perhaps even a relative. Who knows? We will never know who those guys were.
Using Daivari as a “sacrifice” and carrying him out like a martyr was on the nose, though. That was suggesting radicalization when people are fearing aggressive responses by terrorists. Copani later admitted that the angle took the character in a direction that was perhaps too political. Hassan states articles like these deprive him of his basic rights to pursue his career and the American Dream. And he’s correct, because it was the media attention that swayed UPN to pressure WWE in to axing the character. There was no way back for Copani, and he was cancelled long before cancel culture was a thing.
Until this point, the audience has respectfully listened without booing over him. He reminds the fans that their ancestors fought and lost their lives for their rights, no matter the race or creed. Everyone would be treated equally. He goes on a sarcastic rant about how everything bad that happens must be the Arab’s fault, including Hurricane Dennis. Now the fans chant “USA” because they’ve heard enough. They probably didn’t realize how important this promo was, not only for Muhammad Hassan but for Copani. He was fighting for his career, but no one was truly listening.
He says that he has a right to be in the ring, saying what he wants to say, and his name is Muhammad Hassan. This gets a very negative reaction, and I believe it’s one of his standout moments as a WWE Superstar. All he has to do is to say his name to get a loud reaction. He says that his first amendment rights have been trampled, and in a way they have. Hassan said this many times before, but it means more at this moment than at any other time. Daivari gets the microphone and is noticeably calmer than usual. He still gets a decent reaction, but the aggressiveness isn’t there anymore. This is how it ends.
Many years later, Mark Copani sat down for some interviews and talked about Muhammad Hassan and the controversy surrounding it. He states that while the character began with good intentions; it was the leaning toward the more radical aspects. Even had the bombings not taken place, it likely wouldn’t have lasted for much longer.
It wouldn’t work today, because Muslim-Americans would take great offense to it, and I believe social media would ensure it received far too much backlash for WWE to handle. Copani admitted a character like this could work today, but not in the way he did it. In the video below, Copani sat down with Chris Van Vliet in 2020, and I highly recommend giving it a watch. It’s also in tribute to Shad Gaspard, who passed away not long before this.
In closing, I would like to say that Muhammad Hassan was one of the best, quickly pushed heels in wrestling history. The character was exceptional, and Copani’s execution was perfect. Thinking back, I remember how much I hated Hassan. While I was a young adult, I did not understand how far ahead of its time this gimmick was.
There was so much hatred for Hassan that many fans were glad that he wasn’t around anymore. But over time, I reckon many of those same fans would have realized that this character had only touched the surface of its potential. Muhammad Hassan could have gone down as one of the most hated villains in wrestling, but sadly, WWE crossed a line they couldn’t get back from.
I hope this piece has helped people to see what Muhammad Hassan was all about. There’s nothing more we can do but to dream about what WWE would have been like had he not been cancelled. Perhaps John Cena, Randy Orton, and Batista would have had to share some of those 36 World Championship reigns? It’s fun to imagine. Thanks for reading everyone! See you again soon.