A Response to Channel Four’s “Extremely British Muslims”.
Categories: Latest News
Thursday March 09 2017
In some respects, Channel Four’s first episode of Extremely British Muslims demonstrates a positive development within media representations of British Muslims.
The episode “All the Single Muslims”, explores the single lives of Muslims seeking spouses in Birmingham, and, in so doing, has a humanising force within media representations of British Muslim communities. While many media representations continue to focus largely on issues such as radicalisation and violent extremism, this three-part documentary demonstrates the personal and social dimensions of everyday British Muslim life. At its core, the episode highlights problems that resonate with Muslims and non-Muslims alike, namely the quest for love.
Demonstrating the commonality of everyday concerns is an important step in normalising media images of Muslims and thus reframing representations of Muslim communities as consisting of real people with shared concerns and shared experiences of everyday life.
However, there are also serious problems with the documentary’s first episode. Firstly, the documentary only shows a snapshot of one specific community within the British Muslim population. It is focused entirely upon British Pakistani Sunni Muslims in Birmingham and, therefore, a vast number of British Muslims are excluded within this generalised image.
As such, the producers are ignoring not only varying interpretations of Islam, but also the huge cultural, ethnic and historical diversity of British Muslim communities. As many commentators observed, it is perhaps more appropriate to consider the documentary to be about ‘Extremely British Pakistanis’, than ‘Extremely British Muslims’.
Furthermore, by failing to acknowledge that this representation can only ever be a generalisation drawn from one specific portion of the British Muslim population, and by overlooking the fact that many of the opinions and approaches are as heavily influenced by culture as they are by religion, the documentary inappropriately labels certain practices and perspectives as Islamic without exploring the underlying motivations.
An example of this is the way in which certain stereotypes are presented. Of particular concern, are the chauvinistic attitudes experienced by Nayera. In this scene, Nayera is told by a prospective partner that he believes his future wife should take care of him, prioritise the home, and take responsibility for the children. Framing this discussion without reference to cultural factors, serves to re-enforce misguided notions that all Muslim women are uniformly oppressed and subjugated, whilst simultaneously ignoring the ways in which these misogynistic views are also shared and perpetuated by huge numbers of non-Muslim men of all backgrounds.
Many in research have noted the difficulty in involving Muslim communities in projects such as this due to the ways in which Muslims are frequently portrayed in a negative light through selective editing and/or individual representation for the benefit of the audience (“Muslims Like Us” is another good example of this). “Extremely British Muslims” does this through its narrow focus on one section of the British Muslim population. Such positioning and representation is not conducive in creating balanced and representative images of British Muslims that are badly needed in the current climate.