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Has ‘Citizen Khan’ on BBC One bridged the gap? .

Sun 23rd Sep 2012

The third episode of the TV comedy series, Citizen Khan, has been aired on BBC One. The show has been watched by at least 3.6m viewers in its first week. And I would say it is a brilliant production that I have personally enjoyed, even though the Daily Mail reports the show has provoked a storm of complaints because of the presence of a character of a heavily made-up girl in the hijab.

The 200-odd complaints made to the BBC can hardly be described as a storm, when there is no monitoring of the number of viewers who enjoyed the show and found it rather a refreshing change towards understanding a slice of the British community through humour. And let’s be honest, the heavily made-up girl in the hijab does exist within our Muslim communities.

I would disagree with the Daily Mail’s argument that ‘some people claimed’ that the programme ‘takes the mickey out of Islam’, and was guilty of ‘stereotyping Asians’ and was ‘disrespectful to the Koran’.

The show might have taken the mickey of some Muslims, but not of Islam, and that is a huge difference. I would not say that the show has stereotyped Asians as claimed, but rather seemed to be a reflection of self-criticism. But, as expected, it is almost impossible to cover all the characters found in a community in one drama production. This is even more difficult in comedy production, which is considered the art of treating the ills by highlighting the odd, the funny, and the out of norm. In my humble opinion the content was not disrespectful to Koran as claimed; the show was rather an indirect criticism of the actions of some Muslims.

The long waited for comedy, reflects interest in the Muslim community as one of many threads in the rich tapestry of British society. The script being written and roles being played by Muslims themselves; the creator and actor Adil Ray, Bavna Limbachia, Maya Sondhi , Shobu Kapoor and other Asian actors, makes the production an important step towards involving more media professionals from ethnic minorities in the British media, by offering them a platform to express themselves, besides job opportunities.

The events in the show highlight some Muslims reactions to certain social issues, reflecting reality in a humorous way. The dialogue encourages us to look at ourselves in the mirror and identify our own prejudices, discrimination, sexism and our own double standards. As an example, the meetings of the mosque‘s community leaders, shows no participation or presence of women. This is a sad reality that should be scrutinised closely to face the problems hindering Muslim women empowerment and to encourage their active participation in their communities.

The show also highlights the fact that BBC appears to see Muslims as one homogenous group by focusing on the Pakistani community only, ignoring many other Muslim British communities including Arabs and European converts, except involving two characters only, ‘Dave’, the English Muslim convert who works as the Manager of the mosque, and a Somali who works as an IT officer.

The main flaw in the show is the focus on the relationships inside a Muslim family or community and hardly touching on the relationships between members of the Muslim community and other members of the British society at large, to be more precise, there is no interaction with what the British media describes as the ‘white’ British. Such gap isolates the minorities through the media production itself which might seem like targeting the Asian or the Muslim audiences only.

We have seen on ‘Citizen Khan’ Muslims breaking the law, the family car being parked on the pavement, hindering the movement of pedestrians and making it difficult for the disabled to go through. But we did not see the reaction of the average white British citizen to such conduct, probably because of anticipated sensitivity. If BBC strives to achieve media inclusivity and diversity, it has to overcome its fears by making more courageous steps that will eventually lead to more understanding of British communities.

If such a series aspires to gain more popularity, it has to become more realistic and courageous enough to bring the dialogue out; from a discussion between Muslim individuals inside their community, to a discussion between them and other British communities.

Iqbal Tamimi is Director of Arab Women Media Watch

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