Since the first episode of Citizen Khan aired last Monday, all manner of controversy has sprung up. Whilst some British Muslims have defended the show as being an honest portrayal of their community, others have complained that it stereotypes them and is offensive to their faith.
As much as it is important to ask whether these things are offensive, itâs equally pertinent to ask why we still donât know.
For obvious reasons, the British Muslim community has become an increasingly prominent minority over the past decade. In that time, popular culture and the media have struggled to balance depictions. If Spooks were to offer a recognisable portrayal of modern counter-terrorism (recognisable, at least, to an ignorant audience) then it would be bizarre for them not to feature jihadists.
The problems arise once we recognise that British Muslims – like most other minorities – do not otherwise register on the radar of a predominantly white public sphere. Whichever path media producers take from this point, they are doomed to play into the hands of bigots.
If television depicts Muslims solely in the context of terrorism, it fuels that recognition in the already prejudiced. Alternatively, scriptwriters can attempt to counter the balance by introducing positive Muslim characters.
In this case, they lay themselves open to charges of tokenism and again fuel the types who throw their hands up in the air at the âcreeping Islamification of Britainâ?. Due to all this obfuscation, most of us cannot meaningfully judge whether or not the complaints regarding Citizen Khan are justified.
As a white middle class atheist, I do not know many practicing Muslims and I would wager the same is true for many from the same background. I recognise that my own view of the community is probably wildly stereotyped, but these complaints do not clear it. I can seize on second hand evidence – âMy mate Tariq says his sister used to do exactly the same thing with her hijabâ? – but those are only ever going to be individual interpretations.
After almost a decade of being confronted with depictions of Islam on a daily basis, itâs telling that few of us from outside the community can offer a more considered verdict.
We may say itâs not our place to judge what is offensive to an individual community which is not our own, but that only further distances that community. If we cannot offer an opinion on whether or not a simple sitcom is offensive, how can we hope to make informed decisions about the really serious forms of this same question?
How can we offer an opinion on immigration, or the wearing of the burkha, or which religions should be taught in our schools? The one thing all this controversy at least gives us is the opportunity to hold up our hands and admit our ignorance.
CITIZEN KHAN Continues on Monday 3rd September, BBC1, 10.35pm