Friday, November 2, 2007

Special Friday Post: Britz Bombs

On October 31st, British television aired the two-part drama Britz, “a fictitious drama about two young Muslim British siblings in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings and the impact that anti-terror legislation has on their lives.” Muslima Media Watch has included viewpoints from two Muslim women on Britz’s female lead, Nasima. The following authors’ viewpoints do not necessarily reflect those of Muslimah Media Watch.

Safiya from Outlines writes:

“Apples Do Not Exist”

Neither do practicing Muslims who are active and positive members of society. Muslims are either totally assimilated and vaguely nominal Muslims or Jihadists. Nothing else.
Such prejudices will not have been altered by the second installment of Britz, which focused on Nasima, the female character. There was so much wrong with this show. It would take a massive post to list it all, so I will summarize.
We are introduced to Nasima as a bubbly medical student with a passion for politics. We see her praying with her family (although she doesn't cover her hair properly during salah, the first of many inconsistencies).
Sadly, our insight into her religious beliefs and motivations pretty much ends there. For a drama supposedly about Muslims there is actually very little about Islam.
It was just completely unconvincing.
Nasima's best friend is arrested, imprisoned and release under a control order, despite not being involved in any illegal activity. She subsequently commits suicide.
After this Nasima attends a student meeting for Muslims, where she is told that Jihad is the duty of all Muslims (even women) and that nothing else will help to end the war in Iraq, etc. In fact, the women are told that they could make excellent jihadists as they are less likely to be detected.
Meanwhile, Nasima still fits in the time for a non-Muslim boyfriend. In one of the most unrealistic scenes (and there were many), she tells her boyfriend he doesn't understand, because he's not Muslim. She then proceeds to kiss him after he drinks some beer and they sleep together. Because that's the behavior of a committed Muslim.
Cue Nasima confessing to her parents about aforementioned boyfriend in order to get sent to Pakistan so that she can train for her 'mission'.
The director proudly claimed to have spoken to Muslims before making this film. I'm not sure what he spoke to them about, but it wasn't Islam or how Muslims interact with each other.
Nasmina is shown making wudu and praying by the side of the men. Considering this is meant to be an 'Islamist' camp, it’s a little confusing that neither she nor the other women wear hijab when they agree to do the mission. The leader makes this bizarre covenant which makes no mention of Allah. While doing so, he puts his hand directly on her head.
She then returns to London to finalize the preparation for her mission. While in London she lives with a male fellow terrorist, which would also be a no-no Islamically, but the script remains unconcerned with such matters.
She looks a bit troubled that there might be children there at the planned detonation site, but this doesn't last long. This is another major problem. We know she is mourning her friend and blames the government for her death, but again, it's just not convincing. Her motives are unclear. A character tells her she will ‘sit at God's right hand,’ which is an odd statement from a Muslim, as there is nothing in Islamic theology about anyone sitting at the right hand of Allah. However, she replies that she is not doing this for that reason. Yet if she is doing this for emotional reasons, i.e., to avenge her friends death, she seems curiously lacking in passion. I'm not sure if it's the fault of the actress, the script or both.
So she goes to her final destination, wearing virginal white and an empathy belly to hide her bomb. Before she can detonate it, her brother finds her, they struggle in slow motion. Then the screen goes fuzzy.
Now for some statistics. Remember the director has spoken to real Muslims, so we are treated to statement about how 81% of young Muslims think U.K. foreign policy is an attack on Islam and will increase the likelihood of terrorism in the U.K. Then information about the government anti-terror legislation laws passed.
Following this is a clip of Nasima's suicide video, where she declares the public are all guilty for electing the current government and that Muslims will fight. She ends by saying ‘So Help Me God,’ which is just not the sort of terminology a Muslim would use. Considering the number of real video messages made by suicide bombers, you'd think this would not be difficult to portray in a mildly authentic manner, but it's fair to conclude this program as the same relation to authenticity that a tree slug has to moonwalking.
I stand by my opinion, that the producers should be ashamed at how they earn their money. I would rather clean toilets with a toothbrush for a living then be involved in making such prejudiced garbage.
Britz is just the latest in a seemingly never ending torrent of negative portrayals of Muslims and Islam. Both films and television will claim to tackle any number of difficult issues, yet they find it impossible to show Muslims in a realistic manner. If there is no room for our reflection in their media mirror, then it's time we made our own mirrors.

Zareen from FreeWriters writes:

“Britz – Part II (Nasima’s Story):

Yesterday there was a tidal wave of blogs and articles written in response to the first part of Brtiz, with a divided opinion amongst most Muslim writers about the content of the film; some were hailing the docu-drama as a positive step towards raising awareness, and the other (not so convinced) half dismissing it as another ploy to make British Muslims feel even more paranoid about the current UK law and enforcement system than we already are. I must say that after watching the second part, I am beginning to see sense in the ‘propoganda’ argument - but I’m not completely won over. Why? Because last night’s program was riddled with so many flaws that it made it difficult to believe that any reasonable-minded person with so much as a percent of understanding about Muslim British women would take the story of Nasima at face value. Some scenes depicted were so unrealistic and absurd that I couldn’t restrain myself from shaking my head in utter disappointment, and I doubt I was alone. I am sure a kazillion Muslim women must have been out there ranting; shouting “that is not how we are!” I know I was.

Initially Nasima is shown as a free-spirited young woman in her early twenties. She is not exactly the ideal role model as a Muslim woman, and in any typical Asian community Nasima and her brother Sohail would have been termed as the local vagabonds - the one’s who you’re supposed to stay away from because they are so corrupt. Yet somehow, Nasima’s parents remain oblivious to her dual-personality in scenes where she is arrested under ASBO* laws, and then when she finally does turn up at the hospital her mother is totally calm. A true depiction of that scene (in Bradford of all places) would have been the mother yelling curses at her daughter even if she was lying on her deathbed for bringing ‘shame to the family’ by spending a night in a cell. Nasima then goes off (again) to spend the night with her boyfriend and the family / cultural angle of this is never shown.

Eventually things change for the worst in Nasima’s life when her best friend ‘Sab’ is bizarrely arrested under Anti-Terror laws for the possession of four packets of chilli powder. Sab is put under a form of house arrest, falls deep into a state of depression, and finally commits suicide. Disillusioned with the system after the death of her friend, Nasima becomes politically active but is intrinsically weak and confused. She decides to learn more about political Islam; a version of Islam that is born out of the injustice faced by many in war-torn Muslim countries. At first she tries to advocate the need for democratic resistance and protest through peaceful means, but when she realizes that this is a lost cause, she becomes frustrated and eventually ends up with more radicalized Muslims at university (all the while still with her boyfriend.)

One day Nasima takes up the challenge of wearing the hijab for the day, and begins to relate to the alienation felt by many scarf-wearing sisters, but she does not at any point take out time to learn why they wear it or for that matter, what her religion teaches - her perception of Islam is so basic that it almost renders null and void. This to me is a vital point. If the purpose of this tele-film was to show why ordinary British Muslims generally turn to terrorism then they could have at least shown a more realistic stereotype. I don’t know how many, if any, would have been able to relate or understand Nasima’s story.

Nasima’s motivation behind joining the camp is unclear; throughout the journey to Pakistan and even whilst in training we are under the impression that Nasima is grieving over the death of her friend Sab, even at the end when her co-jihadist tells her that she will land a place by God she replies ‘that’s not why I’m doing this.’ So then why was she doing it? Nasima didn’t seem too bothered about U.K. foreign policy, because there was not one scene where she mentions this, and is instead angered and fuelled by Sab’s suicide. This is what makes the whole thing so absurd and unrealistic - because it was a revenge crime and not a terrorist one. She was protesting against the death of her friend, not in response to the crimes against humanity; and surely not in the name of Islam.

In a way I should be pleased that Nasima was not shown as another radicalized hijab-wearing, niqab-clad Muslimah who cannot see beyond her husband’s or father’s beard to make up her own mind about Islam, but instead shown as a juvenile and misinformed girl with pathetic motivations. But I feel no sympathy or connection with Nasima because she was so unreal and unlike any other Muslim women I have ever known, and in comparison to Sohail’s character, Nasima failed to convince me in her role.

But the one message that I do hear loud and clear, and one that I also echo, is that Muslims like me and you (if you’re reading this) have to speak up - there are no other means of tackling this issue without getting to the heart of it, debating the complexities of the problem, and creating dialogue with those in power - those who we are told “matter”, through our democratic rights. This is my country, my home, and I refuse to live in a state of paranoia or in a community that surrounds itself with conspiracy. If those who are fighting this war say it is not against Islam, then it is the duty of every citizen to question the motives behind this war and protest against injustice without depending on a narrow interpretation of a version of religion that suits their particular needs. I know many people will disagree with me on this, but I honestly believe that if one voice can change two minds, and two minds can change four, then eventually the world will change - slowly but surely. But until then, I am fearful of the growing number of young Nasimas and Sohails whose motivation is not based on religion but something far deeper, something far destructive - revenge. Those Muslims who choose to ignore this reality are in my opinion living in a state of denial and temporary foolish sanity.

*Anti-Social Behaviour Order laws.