By Mouj Hijazi
In recent years, it seems like there’s been an increase in Muslim representation in Western TV Shows – with muslim characters taking on roles other than terrorists.
While that’s great and a step in the right direction, there’s a lot more steps we need to take before we can cross the line of ignorance.
I’ve watched scenes from shows like Elite, Grey’s Anatomy, and 9-1-1 Lone Star that have quite literally made me laugh out loud.
In Elite, the main Muslim Hijabi character, called Nadia Shano is portrayed by Mina El Hammani. Nadia falls in love with a white man, Guzman.
Later in the show she’s seen taking off her hijab, strutting into a club, buying a drink and finally getting together with Guzman, as if to say, this entire time she’d been oppressed by her scarf and religion, just waiting in agony to finally be free. The show suggests that the thing that ‘saved’ her was a white man. Are we not tired of this white saviour narrative?
Shows and scenes like this really make me wonder if this is how people really think Muslims are? I mean, these are shows with millions of viewers. It makes me question whether people think that, because I’ve come from an Arab Muslim background, but don’t wear a hijab and am studying in the UK, I must have ‘broken free’ from the shackles of my society?
One of my personal experiences of realising the prejudices people have is from when I was doing work experience at a newspaper in the UK. Somebody who worked there at the time, who I perceived to be intelligent and educated, asked me a question that made me stop and do a double take.
When I had told them I had chosen to study in the UK instead of staying where I lived in Oman, and they genuinely asked me with a straight face “Oh, was that for refuge purposes?”
This person was a journalist. Someone you’d expect to be knowledgeable about worldwide affairs and not just the UK. Did they perceive the entire Middle East to be a constant warzone? That every inch of it was uninhabitable? Was it my fault for having higher expectations from someone who seemed to be an educated British person?
I’ve also had many a person make comments along the lines of “Your English is really good!”, or “Oh, you might not understand this because of the language barrier”… I’m sorry? I am a journalism student; don’t you think I had to speak fluent English to get here?
I understand their intentions are good, but, do they think we just don’t learn English at school? That we don’t have access to television? It baffles me.
Rest assured, I’m not saying this to bash anyone; honestly. It’s not your fault if you think this way. It really is the media’s fault.
Ironic, saying that, as an aspiring journalist. But I hope I’ll be able to help change this perception one day.
I’m not saying that my society back home is perfect, it most definitely isn’t. Misogyny, sexism, racism, are all prevalent there. Nor is it to invalidate anybody who does experience oppression from their Muslim community or family.
All I’m saying is that that’s not all there is to it, and if people are going to try to represent a certain group of people in their films and TV shows, maybe try to do your research to capture all different sides and perspectives? Just a thought…