The great lie of British Muslim ‘representation’ in the media

Media freedoms are under attack

Blogger Muhammad Hussain argues that Muslims being fairly and proportionately “represented” in the British mainstream media is a lie.

“One who makes himself a worm cannot complain afterwards if people step on him,” the German philosopher Immanuel Kant once wrote. Putting aside his critiques of pure rationality and his propagation of universal democracy for now, he might as well have been referring to the British Muslim community in 2018.

Despite all the strides, the achievements, and the prosperity that Muslims have made in the United Kingdom over the last few decades, one major problem that continues to face us is the misrepresentation of us in the national media.

From the invitation of extremist figures onto mainstream talk shows to the terrible comedy series’ and movies based on liberal figures in densely populated Muslim areas to the makeshift documentaries showing our worst and most negative sides, self-humiliation is at the heart of British Muslim “representation” in our national media.

The crisis

In December, Channel 4 commissioned and published the production of a short thirteen minute comedy sketch on YouTube – as is the trend in accessible media nowadays – called “Lady Parts,” which presents the story of an innocent young Muslim woman seeking marriage and stumbling on a rock band made up of rebellious Muslim women clad in tattoos, lumberjack flannel shirts, and tonnes of attitude.

As well as showing a leading female character wearing a niqab while smoking marijuana and selling lingerie, the sketch started out by portraying a practising Muslim family – whom the lead character was meeting for marriage – as impolite, rigid, and arrogant.

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Such portrayals of the supposed Muslim community in the UK are not a new phenomenon but have been gaining commissions from mainstream British media for the past two decades. Recall, for example, the movies East is East and West is West, the recent series Citizen Khan, and the countless documentaries and talk shows centred on the British Muslim community and its various issues.

All of these productions consist of the same content: the liberal-minded Muslim oppressed by their tyrannical family structure, the Muslim female struggling with the pressure of marriage and breaking barriers, and practicing Muslims acting as hardliners and constantly being vulnerable to radicalisation, all the while focusing specifically on negative issues around the community.

The revelation and the parable

The Muslim community in the UK certainly struggles with its own problems, just as every other community does, but the disproportionate focus that is applied to particularly Muslim issues is predatory within itself.

Moreover, there is one major problem with every single production that claims to represent our community: almost all the actors, actresses, producers, and directors of these shows are non-Muslims (of mostly Hindu or Christian origin) or if there were any Muslims involved such as Lady Parts’ writer Nida Manzoor, they are either of a minority sect or are Muslims that do not represent the UK Muslim community as a whole.

Do names such as Om Puri, Jimi Mistry, Jordan Routledge, Raji James from the cast of East is East sound Muslim to you? Does Bhavna Limbachia, Shobu Kapoor, and Maya Sondhu from Citizen Khan sound Muslim to you? Does Ritu Arya, Juliette Motamed, Lucie Shorthouse, Anjana Vasan, and Danielle Vitalis from Lady Parts sound Muslim to you?

The cast, producers, and directors of all of these productions are – intentionally or unintentionally – imposters attempting to imitate the British Muslim community (and in the case of the Hindu cast, to imitate and insult Pakistanis) while claiming to help the “integration” of Muslims into British society.

And, judging by the huge variety of positive feedback and laughs that we have given them, so many of us British Muslims have indeed fallen for it. To add insult to injury, it is not independent channels or YouTube accounts that have done this – that, at least, would have been understandable – but these productions were officially commissioned by large mainstream national channels such as BBC, Channel 4, and ITV, all serving to release propaganda against the Muslim community under the guise of “comedy.”

Consider, for example, if Muslims wrote and produced well-made sketches about the British Jewish community (or any other minority) and acted out all of the community’s roles while portraying them as foolish and dangerous, reinforcing negative stereotypes of the blood-sucking Jewish moneylender or the blood-thirsty Hindu thug killing travellers for Kali.

And imagine if we spiced it up a bit more by adding in comedy making fun of their quirks oddities while keeping actual members of those communities out of any real position in the productions. Such productions would rightfully be considered a crime against those communities and against any efforts at “integration.”

So it is with the Muslim community.

The solution

If the mainstream national channels of the UK genuinely sought to integrate and include Muslims into British society and media, they should have approached the talent from the orthodox mainstream Muslim community dispersed throughout many cities in Britain.

There is no shortage of talent in the British Muslim community: I myself know and know of vocal artists, documentary producers, radio presenters, and those with considerable acting abilities who are all well-respected and recognised within our community.

There are countless others who have been left unrecognised by the national media, however, and their talent lies in wait until it is brought about by either the mainstream channels or an official mainstream Muslim home-grown media industry which has yet to prosper.

Whatever the solution to this crisis of British Muslim “representation” in media, we Muslims should never resort to being a laughing stock simply to fit in, and we must recognise clear agendas against our religion and our values when they occur instead of subjecting ourselves to self-humiliation.

Muhammad Hussain is a university politics student, who is an aspiring journalist focusing on Middle Eastern and international political affairs.

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