You don’t have to know much about television to realise that production companies function from the premise that everyone is gagging to appear on telly. This assumption gives film crews a sense of entitlement which inspires everyone, from the producer to the lackey in charge of charging up the batteries, to be as dismissive and insulting to the…let’s call them actors…..as they choose.
Someone named Jim White has written a review of ‘Muslims Like us’ in the Telegraph. It’s headed: “Muslims Like Us is a Wake up call for Islamophobes everywhere.”
He has obediently taken this project in the spirit in which it was intended, i.e., a vehicle for making Muslims look whacky and cool and ‘just like us’. Jim White willingly plays along with the theory that getting the ‘just like us’ Muslims to ridicule a radical would be enough to make us all realise that, phew, the Muslims are fundamentally just like us - et voilà! Instant cure for Islamophobia.
It was heartening to see that most of the below the line comments weren’t quite so sure.
On the other hand, Christopher Stevens in OMG The Daily Mail strap line says:
Bigoted. Nasty. Cynical. The BBC's 'Muslim Big Brother' - including a zealous convert who would 'rather be in Syria than Britain'- won't unite cultures, it'll divide them:
This review gets closer to reality. He begins with:
“A woman in an elegant headscarf, knotted almost like a turban, is explaining her beliefs. Her name is Humaira and she is, she says, a sort of ‘radical moderate’. She seems articulate, educated, rational.
And then her throat tightens, and she adds: ‘British values for me are colonialism, institutional racism and theft, and genocide.’
The disturbing fact is that Humaira really is one of the more moderate voices in Muslims Like Us, the two-part BBC2 reality show that puts ten Muslims in a house in York and gleefully films their furious arguments over faith and Islamic culture.”
For me, there was far too much emphasis on the deluded Abdul Haqq, whose radicalisation was triggered by a childhood ruined and humiliated by his given names: ‘Anthony + Small’ - and who could blame him?
I mean, what else could one do under the circumstance, other than turn to Islam? Not just any old Islam but the full English M & S Islam of the most foul incarnation, in an absurdist - or do I mean absurd - quest for meaning and manliness?
All the handwringing and agonising over the ethics of including Abdul in this TV extravaganza was disingenuous in my opinion. The BBC and Love Productions put him in for two reasons.
Without him it might be: a) a bit boring, and b) it might make the Muslims look less ‘like us’ than the BBC intended.
It’s simple. They put him in for contrast, if you like. Didn’t work though, did it? They still looked unlike us with or without Abdel and his leaflets on Islam at its most absurd.
The second episode was much worse, in documentary terms. Not only was it chaotic and badly crafted, but the Big Brother format was showing badly. Bigly and badly. You could almost hear the brainstorming meeting with the company throwing around their best, most hackneyed Big Brother tactics. It would be exactly like W1A. Siobhan would suggest provoking more action by introducing some random local infidels. Cue four locals, an atheist, an actress, a prostitute and a vicar, (or something) striding purposefully along the pavement towards the B.B. house. If the perennial cliché (meaningful camera shot of their feet) was absent, I must have included it mentally.
I suppose it was an excuse to discover which of the Muslims would refuse to honour the war dead. Most of them duly obliged. Then a trip to York Minster so they could fail to be moved by the perpendicular architecture and have a great big row on a parapet.
The remainder of the programme was a series of rows, squabbles, accusations and anger. Everyone was at loggerheads with everyone else and the (Shia) Muslima got upset when she tearfully provoked a confused Abdul (Sunni) into more or less admitting that he believed she should be shot.
The least devout participant of all who, throughout, had tried to distance herself from some of the goings-on suddenly had a little indignant rant about English people’s inability to learn unfamiliar, ‘foreign’ names, and she found their automatic tendency to anglicise them insulting. She didn’t see it as a friendly gesture, as might have been intended.
The whole exercise was quite absurd; its aim, its execution and its vacuousness. I did enjoy the girl with the most unIslamic dress code, the highest heels and the reddest lips (Mehreen) being disarmingly honest, personal and sort of charming, by admitting, to camera, that she used to have a monobrow, and adding sheepishly “and a moustache….. and a beard”. "Asian girls can be hairy", she mused.