I slept through the first episode of Citizen Khan. (10.20pm is about my bedtime.) But waking up to the furore it caused was completely expected. The Muslim community anywhere in the world, let alone in Britain is not one to be portrayed lightly without hearing about it afterwards.
The biggest problem I had with Citizen Khan was the poor acting, bad direction and corny jokes. To me it was just not funny. Is it racist to British Asian Muslims? Well, yes, but in the same way that Father Ted is racist towards the Irish. Is it a show that will perpetuate negative stereotypes of the British Muslim community? Perhaps; there will most likely be a section of the audience that sadly will think that Citizen Khan is an actual representation of Muslims in this country. But, frankly how gullible would you have to be to actually think that Citizen Khan accurately represents this community? Probably about as gullible as if you thought that all Irish priests are drunkards that go around saying “fek” all the time.
But you cannot disagree that stereotypes come from somewhere. That’s why in most comedies of this nature they are funny, because the characters are recognisable and real. The penny-pinching dad, the house-proud mum and so on. I would argue that if Muslim parents were offended by the scene where the youngest daughter Alia suddenly puts on her hijab and pretends to be reading the Quran, as if this never ever happens, they should check their own teenage daughters; their little angel is probably doing the same! Could it be that some of the characters and scenarios we saw were a little too close to home?
Don’t get me wrong, I do understand why British Muslims were offended by Citizen Khan and why there were so many complaints. The Muslim community is a proud one, and is working hard to overcome the bigotry that has blighted it since 9/11. So I can see that to them, for the BBC to rehash as well as exploit these cultural stereotypes is very disappointing.
But the very fact that a sitcom about this community has hit our screens obviously means that popular British culture and the media has finally claimed them as their own, enough to satirise them. It’s what British comedy does: ‘lovingly’ take the mickey out of the characters and families that make-up multicultural Britain. At least Citizen Khan doesn’t make any reference to terrorism, forced marriages or any of the other negative stories that always seem to be flying around in the news.
Let’s take this show for what it is: a sitcom. It’s not a fly-on-the-wall documentary about British Muslims, it’s not even reality TV. It’s simply doing what British comedy and British humour loves to do: satirise.
Come on British Asians, all of us, whether Muslim or otherwise, we need to take a step back and show our fellow Brits that we don’t take ourselves quite so seriously. If, like me, you choose not to watch the next episode of Citizen Khan simply because it’s not your cup of tea, that’s one thing. But let’s be good-humoured enough to let other people enjoy it. If you are that worried that your English counterparts are going to think this show perpetuates negative stereotypes about you or your community, then show them otherwise. Invite your neighbours round and show them that you don’t stockpile cheap loo-roll or still have the plastic covers on your sofa (you don’t, do you?!) Let’s show them that we as British Asians, are just as normal, just as British- in our own Asian way, as they are.
And if the characters and the humour offends you so much, perhaps, as I said earlier, it’s because its all a little too close to the bone. In which case perhaps its time to do some soul-searching. (Or at least find out what your teenage daughter is really up to…)