BBC receives hundreds of complaints and is accused of insulting Muslims with new 'racist' sitcom Citizen Khan
Viewers complained that the new BBC1 comedy stereotyped
Muslims and insulted Islam.
Adam Sherwin is Media Correspondent at The Independent and an award-winning writer who specialises in covering the entertainment, broadcasting, music and popular culture industries. Previously Media writer and diarist at The Times, he was a co-founder of the Beehive City media and entertainment website. As regular contributor to BBC London 94.9 Radio station, he was named Music Business writer of the year at the awards of influential music industry site Record of the Day in 2006.
Wednesday 29 August 2012
It was supposed to be a ground-breaking new BBC comedy which
finally placed a modern Asian family centre-stage.
But Citizen Khan has proved no laughing matter after the sitcom prompted painful comparisons to the “racist” 70s series Mind Your Language.
Viewers complained that the new BBC1 comedy stereotyped Muslims and insulted Islam.
The corporation has received more than 200 complaints since the first episode aired on BBC1 on Monday night.
Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, will investigate after viewers accused the programme of mocking religious beliefs.
Some claimed that the series, about a self-appointed community leader in Birmingham and his family, was a "tasteless depiction of Islam".
Scenes in which Mr Khan’s heavily made-up daughter rushes to put on a hijab and pretends to be reading the Koran when her father entered, attracted particular criticism.
British Muslim Adil Ray wrote the series and also stars as the pompous Khan, a tight-fisted father who fills the house with bargain toilet paper bought at the cash-and-carry.
He contends with Mrs Khan, who dreams about a spotlessly clean house, one daughter who wants the Asian wedding of the century and the youngest, Alia, who is caked in cosmetics but fools her dad into believing that she is religious.
Dr Leon Moosavi, a sociologist of race and religion, who specialises on Muslim communities in Britain, said: “It can be defined as racist because it reinforced stereotypes that exist about Asians and Muslims to a non-Asian audience. The constructs are in line with the way racists represent Muslims.”
The comedy prompted a fierce debate on Twitter. One viewer asked: “Was Citizen Khan written in 1972? The Pakistani stereotypes are just painful.” Another wrote: “You guys mocked Islam and weren’t funny.”
Another, Sadude, tweeted: “Caked in makeup, a sleeveless top & tight clothes? A pathetic portrayal of a hijabi. The hijab defines modesty. This isn't it.”
But other respondents said the comedy, which pulled in a strong late evening audience of 3.6 million viewers, reflected their own experiences growing up as British Asians.
A BBC spokesman said: “New comedy always provokes differing reactions from the audience and as with all sitcoms, the characters are comic creations and not meant to be representative of the community as a whole.” The BBC had received praise from members of the Muslim community, the spokesman added.
Ray, who wrote Citizen Khan with Richard Pinto and Anil Gupta, whose previous credits include Goodness Gracious Me and Meet the Kumars, said the show was intended to have a universal appeal. “This could be an Irish family, or a Jewish family or an Italian family,” he argued. “It doesn’t matter what religion you are or what background, we all have the same comedy mishaps.
“I think so many families will relate to the Khans, whether it’s relating to the Dad who’s not willing to put his hand in his pocket or the tensions when there are three women in the house.”
Hosting a radio debate about the comedy on the BBC Asian Network, presenter Nihal said that he had come across characters similar to the Khans in real life. He claimed that stereotypes were often the source of comedy and asked: “When you watched ‘Allo ‘Allo!, did you think all French and Germans were like that?”
Reema, 23, from Newcastle, confirmed the series’ veracity. She said: “I work part-time in my Uncle’s ‘cash-and-carry’ and we had a toilet roll offer where you can get 36 in a pack and four packs for £10. You wouldn’t believe how popular that was.”
The six-part series continues with a familiar comic trope next week, when Mr Khan has to take his mother-in-law on a shopping trip. A future episode, in which Khan holds an X Factor-style competition to find a new call to prayer for the Sparkhill Mosque, could provoke further anger.
Yousuf Bhailok, former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the show was "the best thing the BBC has done recently". He said: "It is good to change the stereotyped image of Muslims always being serious and shouting that has appeared so often in the media.”
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