British Muslim minorities have been at the centre of increasing tensions following the terrible terror attacks of 9/11 and 7/7. The urgent debates surrounding multiculturalism alongside political discussions of immigrants and British values in the current unsteadiness of Brexit have placed Muslims and Eastern immigrants in the spotlight.
The media’s attempts to engage with Muslims in Britain are often limited and one-sided. Producing a dialogue that appears to explore relationships between Britishness but only reinforces prejudices that circulate in public imagination. Following 9/11, stereotypes like the bearded fanatic, the oppressed veiled woman and “the duplicitous terrorist who lives among ‘us’ have lingered through our television screens to implement a narrative of difference for the white British viewer. These depictions serve to support dominant power hierarchies in which security is placed as the most important measure. Yet, this production of a one-sided dialogue where Eastern identities are scrutinised provides an ideological message for the viewer by which the literal framing of Muslims on the screen ensnares and traps their identity in a way that they cannot escape the simplification and implicit assumptions of their identity.
Almost 19 years on, terrorism has been commodified by the media to continually cement stereotypes for the benefit of politics. The recent BBC TV thriller The BodyGuard is a prime example of this. The series follows war veteran and police sergeant David Budd working as a police sergeant in his bid to protect the home secretary as she plans to introduce invasive new surveillance systems for security forces.
Budd continuously finds himself at odds with the secretary’s policies alongside dealing with his psychological scars from his time serving in Afghanistan. In his bid to find the perpetrator of a series of terrorist attacks he finds his beliefs and duty torn. The series begins with him
talking down the terrified and trembling suicide bomber Nadia into giving herself up. However, over six episodes of trials and tribulations it was Nadia who had been a willing participant in the whole incident.
We might consider how Nadia seeks to defy common perceptions of Muslim women as submissive and oppressed. Her willingness to engage in terrorism defies prejudices but not exactly in the most positive way. Portraying her as a bomb-maker is not exactly the irradiation of negative stereotypes. But this is not an unfamiliar narrative – we have been here before! American T.V series Homeland and 24 operate on a similar basis; by reinforcing negative perceptions of Muslims in the pursuit for social security. Therefore, reinforcing difference and producing prejudice.
But surely, our representations shouldn’t be limited by binary oppositions or productions that limit Muslim identities with fundamentalism. We should have a deeper focus on real lives of minorities, but where can we find them?
In a society by which T.V., online streaming and social media rule our lives, where can we look for alternative perspectives? I could suggest Film 4’s award winning 2004 drama Yasmin to illuminate working class Muslim perspectives but would only be undermining your judgements with the films underlying narratives of fundamentalism that may reproduce dominate prejudices of young Muslim men. Alternatively, I could put forward a more recent offering, Netflix’s critically acclaimed new series Top Boy. This drama takes viewers into the housing estates of East London, depicting the tensions between drug gangs that operate openly, and those who strive to live honest lives against the odds in the crime-riddled area. This subtly social realist drama explores the interlocking stories of drug dealers, teenagers and culture clashes that arise in the mission to climb the socio-economic ladder.
However, despite the underpinning genre of violence and gang-culture I hope to draw attention towards the series’ episode ‘Bonfire Night’. The episode centres around the economic deprivation in Ramsgate, a sea-side town which protagonist ‘Sully’ meets with an old friend to discuss business. Due to the shady nature of their dealings the matter takes place in a dilapidated street house where two immigrants live with their baby. Violent racist crimes against them like writing on their home, bricks through windows, ultimately lead to their house being burnt down by local, white male, residents.
Despite the disturbing images which create much sympathy for the characters, one scene depicting the young immigrant mother stealing baby supplies from a corner shop is eye opening.
The scene shows the shopkeeper catching her stealing and expects the police to arrest her, however, in a unusual turn of events the policeman pays the shopkeeper what he is owe. This comforting attempt to provide the viewer with a considerate approach to immigrant identities draws closer attention to the socio-economic factors that are associated with immigrants supposed inability to mingle with society. The xenophobic attitudes that she endures highlights the unsteady climates we see ourselves in today and seeks to illuminate our perspectives. Yet, despite Top Boy’s focus on suffering, it is not to be a gospel depiction of immigrant lives in Britain. However, perhaps, it offers a deeper understanding of immigrant lives in Britain and further illuminate how the failure of Multiculturalism, as put forward in Framing Muslims, is not related to Muslims or immigrants failure to integrate into society.
I find myself searching for a narrative that places minorities at the forefront of our attentions with no ulterior motive to produce a stereotype or negative representation but I wonder that in a world were binary oppositions are placed at the very front of our creations of identity whether this to ever be truly possible.