Monday’s Media Guardian supplement carried a small piece by me that you can read if you wish. But for reasons of space, they cut my already short piece down further, which made it difficult to see what I was getting at (I think anyway). So I thought I’d publish the whole thing here…
BBC2â€™s recently announced season on white working classes in modern Britain was curiously full of dramas and documentaries concerning Muslims and immigration. Is that central to exploring the disenfranchisement of a demographic given, ironically, the channel actually has to commission a special season just for them?
Is controller Roly Keating simply jumping on the bandwagon where Muslims are not only being used to spice up any issue, but the media is fixated with them to the exclusion of other minority groups? If yes, he would not be the only one.
I recently met playwright Parv Bancil, who related an increasingly common story of a friend applying to write at a new venue in London, only to be told only Muslims need apply. He says: â€œI feel that non-Muslim British Asian stories are now being ignored even to the point where a BBC researcher told me that they were passÃ©!â€
He adds: â€œAs a brown-skinned man living in the UK I empathise with the alienation and the prejudice many Muslims face today; but somehow I feel that I am being squeezed out of the mainstream debate.â€
At a recent debate I attended on multiculturalism, a black audience member said she felt bad for being somewhat relieved the negative media spotlight had moved on. â€œMuslims are the new blacks,â€ she said.
Positive or negative portrayals aside, it seems non-Muslim minority stories donâ€™t even feature anywhere. British Hindus or Sikhs anyone?
The BBC isnâ€™t the only culprit. Commenting on Channel 4â€™s drama Britz, writer Sarfraz Manzoor said it was â€œentirely typicalâ€ that â€œevery dramatist and documentary-maker in search of their next commission leaps onto the Muslim bandwagon.â€
The problem isnâ€™t that only white middle-class writers are passing commentary on everyone else including white working classes, otherwise we get into the silly debate of everyone having to be â€œauthenticâ€ on issues, but that this is patronising to British Muslims themselves.
Do some in the media believe lavishing them with attention will somehow solve terrorism? A theatre artist privately told me last year that since 7/7 he was getting a lot more attention, which was patronising since he wanted to be judged on his work, not religion.
Similarly, Britz actor Rizwan Ahmed is optimistic that this spotlight gives Muslims an opportunity to get heard, but says there is too much emphasis on his background.
â€œItâ€™s frustrating when you give an interview about your music or acting, and when you read the piece all the focus is on the fact that youâ€™re Muslim. You think, why do they need that extra angle? Iâ€™ve got enough going on with work to write about in itâ€™s own right.â€
Will the BBC get around to telling stories that are good and not just because they represent a trendy constituency?
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Filed in: British Identity,Race politics,Religion