Muslim’s in the media: T.V. dramas and representation post 9/11.

 

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.

Afraid Nadia confronted by Budd on a train – Episode 1.

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

Empowered Nadia being questioned by the police – Episode 6.

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.

Is Tory Islamophobia shaping modern ‘multicultural’ Britain?

 

 

Modern Britain is widely seen as a multicultural country because of the diversity of its inhabitants’. But has the ’light touch’ policy of multiculturalism that promotes inclusivity in the UK multifaceted? Since WW2 Britain has seen an influx in immigration that has radically altered its dynamic and added to the multicultural society we live in today. However, to define Britain as truly multicultural would be difficult. Multiculturalism seems almost tainted; symbolising a “clash of civilisations” that live side by side not together.  

But can we trace the reason for the deterioration of Multiculturalism? Is Tory Islamophobia shaping  modern ‘multicultural Britain’? 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been the forefront of media news this year. Amid Brexit debates and EU negotiations, it’s not a surprise the former foreign secretary has had much to say regarding Britain’s future and specifically the role of minority communities in the UK. 

 A recent article in The Guardian unearthing an essay, he made in 2007 has strongly criticised Boris Johnson’s claims that the Muslim world is “literally centuries behind” the West. His derogatory views of the Muslim community identify the issues at the centre of failing ‘multicultural Britain’. By highlighting our current Prime Minister and former foreign secretary as a man whose powerful voice speaks on a global capacity, his position regarding Muslim’s in Britain is complicated and potential fuel for negative post 9/11 perceptions of Islam. Here, I situate his Islamophobic tendencies and ask: is Boris Johnson cementing Islamophobic rhetoric?  

His representation of the East links to Edward Said’s theories in which the East is binarily opposed to Western cultural values and therefore a presence that must be used to difference in order to reinforce dominant power relations. Johnson’s portrayal of Muslim culture as backward and lacking in contemporaneity plays into the construction of crude stereotypes that circulate in public representations. Although, this essay was made six years after the dreadful 9/11 attacks we can see the immense effect it had on the Islam’s representation. Additionally, the essay was wrote one year after the 7/7 bombings cements a further layer of unsteadiness that has worked to “reduced the diversity and complexity of the Muslim world”. 

 

Yet, this is not the first time Johnson has been at the forefront of Islamophobia claims. The recent resurface of articles he wrote for The Telegraph (2002 and 2008) during his term as foreign secretary have received much backlash for their dog whistle Islamophobia. Johnson wrote that schools and universities should have the authority to force students to remove a veil if they “turn up … looking like a bank robber” highlights the complexity of intolerance and xenophobia. The use of simile provides a lighthearted representation that simplifies general stereotypes and homogenises the complexity of Islam in mainstream media discourse. In September 2019, a Labour MP demanded an apology from the PM for his column which compared veiled women to “letterboxes”; an incident that has led to huge surges in anti-Muslim attacks as well as building negative perceptions of Islam in the uneasy climate of Brexit-Britain.  

Following this, Johnson publicly spoke about these allegations of racism, defending his comparison of Muslim women in Burka’s to “letterboxes” as an attempt “to defend the rights of women to wear Burkhas”.

His complicated defence and complete ignorance to Islamophobia highlights his inability to recognise the negative effect he’s had on the  Muslim community in Britain. Similarly, an independent panel thought his comments  were “respectful and tolerant” and the  use of “satire” is permitted without criticism. This clear escape from accountability alludes to  The Satanic Verses incident by which Salman Rushdie was issued a fatwa for the depiction of Islam he put forward but was never condemned. Does the mask of satire, hyperbole and provocation simply undermine accountability? Surely Johnson should take some responsibility?

 Yet, regardless of media coverage the mediated access to cultural reality that Johnson depicts appears to be having a lasting impact. The ability to use an active political voice with agency that will never be held accountable is detrimental to the structure of multiculturalism. A society which appears inclusive yet uses racial and religious discrimination for political advance ultimately operates in a contradictory and hypocritical manner. We can see how Tory Islamophobia challenges the lived experience of Muslim’s and how the slippage of multiculturalism as a semi-official policy has led to a lived experience that is steeped in prejudice because of the creation of caricatures which politicise Islam. As Morey and Yaqin the decline of the nation state has led to the gradual deterioration of multiculturalism and the current period of cultural hypersensitivity that we now live in. It has resulted in stereotypes that circulate in the media through the voices of politicians and appear to legitimise culture for political advance and seek to alienate through “distorted abstractions” of a mediated reality.  

Perhaps, it is important to take some time and effort to understand different cultures and religions in order to create our own perceptions of other people. We must create our own realities by which our truths are constructed through our own ideas and not the thoughts of dominant ideologies.