Journalist, Producer & Researcher

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Britain Could Really Use its Own Version of 'All-American Muslim'

In November, American television network TLC launched a new reality show entitled ‘All-American Muslim.’
The eight-part series follows five Muslim American families living in Dearborn, Michigan in the United States. The show aims at removing the stereotypes surrounding American Muslims by offering an intimate look at the customs and celebrations, misconceptions and conflicts these families face outside and within their own community.

From a high school football coach to working mothers trying to balance a career and a family, America is finally getting the chance to see what Muslims are like; not as extremists and suicide bombers but as normal human beings.

‘All-American Muslim’ Controversy

The show recently sparked enormous controversy after American home improvement giant, Lowe’s, pulled advertising space from the show because a group who call themselves the Florida Family Association did not like Muslims to be seen as normal human beings.

Despite this setback, the show gained popularity and hundreds have joined the campaign to support the show and condemn Lowe’s for supporting bigotry.

Could, perhaps, British television do with a similar show, depicting the lives of British Muslims as normal human beings integrating into British society?

British Media’s portrayal of Muslims is almost always negative

From the rise of the far-right to articles posted in the Daily Mail and The Sun, Muslims are often always portrayed by the British media in a negative light. If Muslims are not extremists, they’re dangerous, oppressed or secluded from society. One has to merely switch on any British soap opera from Eastenders which shows a Muslim man shunned by his family for being gay to Waterloo Road where you see a Muslim teenager going against her religion by dating a non-Muslim. British television shows either depicts Muslims as oppressed, going against Islam or struggling to fit in. Even in government, one just has to look at British counter-terrorism policy where the focus remains on Muslims needing to integrate.

But in reality, the majority of British Muslims are just like every other British citizen out there. Just like how ‘All-American Muslim’ shows us a Deputy Chief of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office working to keep his country safe, a U.S Federal Agent, a trendy female entrepreneur trying to open a nightclub and working mothers trying to balance a job and a family, there are numerous British Muslims going through similar experiences. Just as Americans were shocked to see Muslims contributing to American society by being employed, educated and down-to-earth, British Muslims also play a major part in British society; as doctors, nurses, civil servants, entrepreneurs, beauticians, lawyers, housewives and much more.

But the British Media doesn’t portray this. Instead, from current affairs to films and television shows, we see Muslims involved in honour killings, domestic violence, protests and suicide bombings. When it comes to Islam and Muslims on British television, there always has to be some sort of political stance attached to it.

As a result, Islamophobia has been escalating across Britain. An article published by The Independent, showed that since 9/11, some 40% to 60% of the mosques, Islamic centres and Muslim organisations in the UK have suffered at least one attack. The Metropolitan Police have also confirmed a record number of hate crimes towards Muslims. ‘‘Islamophobia has passed the dinner-table test and has become widely socially acceptable in Britain,’’ according to Baroness Warsi, the Conservative chairman.

Muslim accessibility to media

Let’s also not forget the barriers faced by Muslims and ethnic minorities to even make it in the media industry. A report published by the Guardian, showed that ethnic minorities, particularly women, are underrepresented by mainstream British media outlets. There are over 2 million Muslims living in Britain making up 4.6% of the population. How diverse and normal would it be to turn on BBC news or ITV news and see a Muslim woman wearing the headscarf giving the weather news or even reporting on a football match?

‘All-American-Muslim’ has been eye-opening for Americans resulting in American viewers expressing comments such as ‘‘they’re just like us’’ and ‘‘I like Muslims now.’’

A series similar to this depicting British Muslims working, living and dealing with everyday issues could be one solution in countering Islamophobia and removing the stereotypes surrounding Muslims. It could also be financially rewarding with a possible 2 million Muslim viewers tuning in.

TLC was brave enough to undertake such a venture. I wonder which British mainstream media outlet will follow? BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5…we’re all waiting.

First Published by Suite101
Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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