Maya Evans' diary

IssueMarch 2008
Comment by Maya Evans

I recently read Monica Ali’s highly-acclaimed novel Brick Lane. At first I felt drawn to the book. I grew up within a mile of Brick Lane during the time the book is set in; I’m half-Indian and spent much of my teenage life in Asian households.

As the book unfolded, it became harder to read. Although beautifully written, the story started to sadden then irritate me as it became clear it was about a young Muslim woman from India who moves to Brick Lane after an arranged marriage to an older idiotic Indian Muslim man.
I got thinking about other Anglo-South-Asian cultural offerings which have recently broken into the mainstream of British culture. There seems to be a difference in the depiction of Muslim and non-Muslim Asians.
Hanif Kureshi, one of my favourite writers, in his very comical book Buddha of Suburbia, takes a rather dim slant on first-generation Muslims who struggled with the collision of cultures. The main character’s Muslim mother is depicted as docile while the father is rather idiotic and suffering from an identity crisis.
The hugely popular film East is East portrays an old fashioned, heavy-handed Pakistani Muslim father as a villain, stern towards his children and his white “number two” wife.
South Asians don’t always come off badly in mainstream culture. Good examples of Asian women being heroic and breaking cultural boundaries are found in films such as Bend It Like Beckham and Anita & Me. Both are good examples of how young Asian women in this society struggle within the clash of cultures yet manage to be courageous and achieve. However, both films feature non-Muslim South Asian women (actually they’re both Sikhs).
In contrast, the typical Muslim Pakistani/Indian man has been typically portrayed as oppressive, old-fashioned and idiotic, while women are presented as oppressed and unempowered.
Although comical in presentation, many mainstream representations of Muslims reinforce the already widely-held incorrect belief that Islam is a violent, antiquated, tyrannical religion – an unfair judgement that will lead to further division.
Why is Islam portrayed as so much worse than Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism – which all have violence in their histories?
Of course the other major monotheistic religions also have violence in their histories, but religiously-motivated violence within Judaism or Christianity is not reported the same way as “Islamic terrorism”.
The double standards in reporting – and in the use of “counter-terrorist” legislation - makes me worried about the future backlash from the Muslim community, and the shaping of attitudes of non-Muslims towards Muslims.
The recent election of Boris Johnson fills me with dread. How can someone who has referred to black people as “picanninies”, who has called Islam the “most viciously sectarian of religions” and who was nominated by the BNP as their second preference in the London mayoral elections, reach such a position of power?
As activists we need to be more aware of and sensitive to the double standard treatment of Muslims in our media and by the government. We should be standing in solidarity with Muslims.

Topics: Islamophobia
See more of: Maya Evans diary