Tag Archives: 9-11

Films on South Asian Muslims and Islamophobia in the Diaspora

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Written by Randeep Singh

In much of post-9/11 cinema, a “Muslim” is someone whose identity is defined fundamentally in terms of religion rather than nationality, culture, class or ethnicity. Indeed, South Asian Muslims in post-9/11 American cinema are usually portrayed either as religious radicals or terror suspects in films like The War Within (2005) or as exhibiting a bipolar Muslim disorder in The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012).

Thankfully, there have been attempts to understand the more nuanced shades of South Asian Muslim diaspora identity. In The Muslims I Know (2008)Mara Ahmed speaks with Pakistani Muslims in upstate New York on questions of cultural identity and being American while also interviewing others on what they think of Muslims.

Films from the U.K. have also tried to portray the experiences of South Asian Muslims humanistically. One such film is Yasmin (2004). The story of a spunky, young British girl from a Pakistani family in West Yorkshire, Yasmin (played by Archie Punjabi) is forced to choose her identity after the Twin Towers come crashing down.

Another film is Bradford Riots (2005), a film about Karim (Sacha Dhawan), a young university student also from northern England. When Bradford burns in riots during the summer of 2001, Karim finds himself on the wrong side of the mob and the law.

The third film, Brick Lane, is the story of Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a young woman who moves from Bangladesh to East London. The film looks mostly at her life against the backdrop of her family and the British Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets, before and after 9-11.

With respect to identity, Yasmin and Karim are the British-born children of working class immigrants. They are, at most, “Muslim” in an ethnic sense. Like many from working class backgrounds, they are tough, proud and street smart. Yasmin wears a hijab when she has to but otherwise lets her hair down. Karim has his white mates at college and dosses around with his boys back in the pool halls of Bradford.

In contrast, Nazneen is a first-generation immigrant who came to England to get married. Her memories are those of the paddy fields back home with her sister as she adjusts to her life in England and to raising a family. She prays to God, but writes to her sister more often.

There’s a difference in how these characters experience racism and Islamophobia. Yasmin and Karim are labelled Muslim by a society and system. Karim is sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the Bradford riots, raising the question of whether he received a fair trial at a time of such heightened racial tension and the public call for retribution.

Yasmin meanwhile is detained on suspicion of harbouring a terrorist in her husband. Not having gone to the mosque in five years, she is given a copy of the Quran in prison and told which direction Mecca is in. Having suffered taunts at work, she is subjected to the gaze of a police constable who threatens to charge her for withholding information which she doesn’t have.

In Brick Lane, Nazneen’s lover, Karim bears the brunt of racism and Islamophobia. After facing harassment from racist gangs, Karim and starts holding meetings on how the local Bangladeshi community can defend itself after 9/11.

For Yasmin, Karim and Nazneen, being Muslim is only part of their larger identities which are based on culture and nationality. The Bradford riots and 9/11, however, make Karim and Yasmin themselves and whether they’re different after all. Whereas Nazneen takes her religion for granted, for Karim and Yasmin, the Muslim part of their identity is something that won’t let them be.

 

Previews:

The Muslims I Know: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PPBbIzq_0E

Yasmin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjzg1PC0QjM

Bradford Riots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJYBX64PdV8

Brick Lane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hbd7m00oW6c

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Filed under Cinema, Diaspora, Islam, Randeep Singh, Religion, Uncategorized

Film Review – “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”

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Starring: Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi and Haluk Bilginer. Directed by Mira Nair. (130 mins).

Reviewed by Randeep Purewall

The film adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 novel took three years to adapt for the screen. Whereas Hamid’s novel centered on two characters, the protagonist Changez Khan and an anonymous American, in a Lahore café, Nair’s film adaptation is a full-charactered narrative shot which shows the protagonist leaving Lahore (filmed in Delhi) to pursue an education and career in the United States where he lives the American Dream in New York City until 9-11. He returns to Lahore, becoming a professor.

The lead is played by Riz Ahmed who did well as a streetwise Brit and jihadist in “The Four Lions.” As Changez, Ahmed does well enough as someone searching for himself but falls short in scenes such as his having to leave America, moments otherwise rich in dramatic potential which would have underlined the torment of the character’s being American, Pakistani and Muslim.

His limitations are all the more apparent when he’s is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast including Liev Schreiber as Bobby, the American in the Lahore café, Kate Hudson as Changez’ partner Erica and a superb Kiefer Sutherland as Jimmy, Changez’ Wall Street boss. Turkish actor Haluk Bilinger is a revelation in a small but seminal role as a publisher in Istanbul who compares Changez to the Janissaries, Christian children taken from their homes and trained to fight in a Muslim army only to reconquer and destroy the homelands where they were born and nurtured.

The film is stunningly shot with searing images such as the one above. After being stripped and probed by American airport security, Changez looks through opaque glass at footage of the Twin Towers coming crashing down along with his American Dream. Nair uses music to great effect too. In one of the film most poignant scenes, Changez looks at men performing namaaz in the Suleyman Mosque in Istanbul while a boy looks back at him. The scene erupts in a clash of drums in a explosive mix of Khusrao’s “Mori Araj Suno” and Faiz’ “Rabba Sachiyaan,” highlighting Changez’ inner turmoil.

Amongst growing student protests over the presence of Americans in Pakistan, Bobby urges (Professor) Changez to control the protests: the white man tells the brown man or Muslim man to “do the right thing.” Nair say she wanted the film to start a dialogue but she provides an answer instead. Reading a eulogy at the funeral of a friend killed in the protests, Changez prays the youth of Pakistan will let their inner lights shine with a force greater than the suns’. Perhaps that is the Pakistani dream which Changez asks his students about in an earlier scene. Only for many Pakistanis, the dream is to send their kids to the West, have them score good jobs there and perhaps go West themselves.

6.5/10

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