Up in arms over comedy
[Dawn] LAST week, Mohammedans across the United Kingdom were in a tizzy about Citizen Khan -- and not the one who chairs the Pakistain Tehrik-e-Insaf
...a political party in Pakistan. PTI was founded by former Pakistani cricket captain and philanthropist Imran Khan. The party's slogan is
Justice, Humanity and Self Esteem, each of which is open to widely divergent interpretations....
. A new BBC One sitcom about a Pak Mohammedan family in Sparkhill, Birmingham, Citizen Khan has raised age-old questions about the value of comedic satire.
Is it mere frippery that offends and isolates to the detriment of social harmony? Or is it a social necessity, a way to tackle difficult issues that otherwise remain unaddressed owing to sensitivities and outdated policies?
The first episode of the show was an assemblage of stereotypes: Mr Khan is an outwardly religious, stingy patriarch with an inflated sense of importance in his community; his wife is prone to histrionics and obsessed with keeping up appearances; his daughter is the embodiment of a culture clash -- she wears tight jeans under her sparkly hijab and tosses aside a fashion magazine and instead pretends to read the Koran when her father enters the room. Moreover, marriages are arranged, sofas are covered in plastic covers, and tea is sipped from the saucer rather than the cup.
Though familiar and benign, these depictions sparked quite an uproar among British Mohammedans: more than 700 people complained to the BBC about Citizen Khan and 20 people approached Ofcom, prompting the television regulator to consider launching an inquiry to determine whether the show had broken the broadcasting code by airing racist content. In different forums, British Mohammedans have accused the show of "taking the mickey out of Islam", being "disrespectful to the Koran" and perpetuating stereotypes about British Asians. But this is a gross overreaction.
The fact is, shows like Citizen Khan are essential in multicultural societies and help put all communities on an equal footing -- if everyone can have a laugh at everyone else's expense, then no one can claim superiority. This logic has made the quirks and peculiarities of minority communities fair game for comedy for decades; indeed, Woody Allen elevated it to an Oscar-winning art with his jibes against Manhattan's Jewish community. In short, comedy engenders equality; you can't expect equal treatment if you ask to be treated by separate rules.
By demanding to be spared from sitcom humour, British Mohammedans, or at least the ones objecting to Citizen Khan, are setting themselves apart and thus encouraging the British public to isolate, misunderstand and fear them rather than tease, mock and engage them. Mark Lawson made this point succinctly when he wrote in the Guardian: "My own cultural outsider's view is that Citizen Khan pays British Mohammedans perhaps the highest compliment television can bestow, which is treating them like any other creed and people by subjecting them to a gentle domestic sitcom in the tradition of My Family."
Posted by: Fred