February 23, 2007
Tarek Fatah on Little Mosque
For some more provincial comments from the Big North, Tarek Fatah's take on Little Mosque on the Prairie has some good points. While I disagree with his idea that there might be an agenda behind the lack of portrayal of liberal Muslims in the show, he definitely put his finger on something when stating that "the liberal, secular or progressive segments of the community – are conspicuous by their complete absence from the Little Mosque narrative."
Conspicuous to liberal Muslims only though. While I do find the show funny - well, its humor is shallow sometimes, but it doesn't hurt to rest one's neurons once in a while - and recognize its merit in humanizing Muslims in the eyes of many, I also agree it reinforces the image of Muslims as being essentially conservatives. Indeed, the show's portrayal of Muslims, who happen to be Western Muslims, is quite different from the reality I know. It struck me for example how the only non veiled Muslim woman happens to be a white convert "who doesn’t take Islam seriously", as was put in one of the episodes.
This is a sitcom though, and here's where I part with Fatah. The show's not intended to bring all political issues to it, it's meant to be lighthearted. I'm not sure how the other missing issues he's complaining about are relevant. Or they might be relevant, but not in the tone that emanates from his complaint. Just like conservative idiots who shoot themselves in the foot by screeching in the streets every time some sensitivities are rubbed, liberal bleeding hearts shouldn't throw tomatoes every time they feel their concerns are not expressed loudly enough.
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I agree with your point re it being a sitcom, and as such not necessarily the correct vehicle for weightier issues.
Plus Fatah irritates me.
Posted by: eerie at February 23, 2007 05:13 PM
I've only had time to see the first few episodes
but it seems clear what the show is trying to do and where it's going to go.
Including a lot of secular Muslims wouldn't offer much comedic potential. For one thing, liberal/secular/progressive Muslims wouldn't be hanging around a mosque all that much. It's the Imam, in a nice twist, who is the most progressive character. As someone notes, he doesn't even have a beard. But generally, the comedy here is about how conservative Muslims adapt to life in Canada. Secular Canadian Muslims have already done that so there's not much you can do with them here.
Each of the main characters is really a stereotype of a particular kind of Western Muslim, the convert, the traditionalist, the pragmatic businessman. Even the second generation, Rayyan, the female doctor feminist (who is the Imam's designated love interest), and the young girl, (whose name I can't remember) are playing to type.
Complaining that the make-up of the main characters on "Little Mosque on the Prairie" is unrealistic is like complaining that the main characters on "Will & Grace" are unrealistic because they're all either gay guys or, you should pardon the expression, fag hags. That's the comedic premise of the show. It either works or it doesn't.
Personally, I find the comedy a bit laboured, (though I do find the running joke about the mayor's shoes pretty amusing). If it weren't for the novel subject matter and mild shock value, I doubt if the show would ever have been green-lighted.
Posted by: Anonymous at February 23, 2007 09:55 PM
It's the token thing, innit? Like the only black person in a sitcom who then represents his 'people'. So he better not be a drunk.
Anon, I agree with all you wrote here and you articulated it well... Ought to be part of this entry.
[Update:] My only small disagreement with you is about the fact that the show presents itself as a show about Muslims, not one about Conservative Muslims.
Well, Shaheen, I've just had a chance to watch the episode about Halloween, and I'm starting to think the show isn't really about Muslims at all, it's about Canadians.
First, the Halaloween thing was brilliant, it would have been a memorable SNL skit. (NB For those who might not know, Saturday Night Live is an American program specializing in short, cutting-edge comedy skits. Sometimes it's brilliant satire. Sometimes it's just dumb.) The part where the ex-Imam, whom everyone thinks is wearing a terrorist/taliban/Osama costume, feels integrated into society for the first time is both funny and telling.
But the most interesting bit was that of the fire-breathing right-wing radio talk show host. He's friendly, eats at the Muslim diner and shows genuine concern when the Muslim owner (Fatima? I forget all the names) hurts herself. Despite her protests, he insists on helping her. Ultimately, he apparently does succeed in getting her out from behind the counter and into a chair with an ice pack. But only after she bloodies his nose. And the fire-breathing right-wing radio talk show host is not mad, even after getting punched out by a Muslim.
If the writers of this show did not intend this to be a metaphor for the Canadian model of tolerance and diversity, they are both amazingly lucky and too stupid to live.
Posted by: Anonymous at February 24, 2007 10:49 PM
With all due respect, I think Fatah's criticism is nonsense, if sadly predictable nonsense. It seems that his mission these days is to make sure that no good deed by Muslims goes unpunished and that nothing without his eccentric imprimatur gets validated as "progressive".
You observed "Indeed, the show's portrayal of Muslims, who happen to be Western Muslims, is quite different from the reality I know." I'm sure a good number of less-practicing and/or communally involved Muslims would agree.
But I think it's fair to ask whether this other demographic reality being invoked is likely to be encountered at or near a mosque, which is after all the setting of the show.
Moreover, the show certainly does nod to progressives. In fact, Yassir (the liberal and pragmatic businessman) is clearly intended as a stand-in for that segment of the community. The women are not all hijabi, either. And then there's the young, cleanshaven, liberal imam (admittedly pretty implausible for a variety of reasons at any mosque I've seen). The other side certainly is represented, if perhaps more implicitly. Some might feel this representation is inadequate, but then again it's arguably a reasonably good reflection of a fairly liberal mosque.
How many of the people Tarek Fatah feels were blackballed regularly set foot in a mosque in the first place? Let's be fair.
Posted by: Svend at March 3, 2007 01:24 PM
In all honesty Fatah's criticism is typical. Admittedly Little Mosque is light humor, and is no way as funny as big US comedies like The Office or Friends, however it is a new show, and if given the chance can develop the characters and become more interesting in the future. Unfortunately people like Tarek Fatah thinks that anything that is done by the Canadian Muslim community without his seal of approval is "conservative", "extremist" and "non-progressive". If he doesn't like the show then he shouldn't watch it, or better yet produce a show that represents his own views. Oh wait, he has created a show, that no one watches (he is on the Muslim chronicle).
Here's an even better idea, why doesn't Zarqa Nawaz create a character that is based on Tarek Fatah, who lectures muslims about being conservatives and how muslims should be like him, while the rest of the muslim rolls their eyes and ignores him.
Posted by: Bilal at March 12, 2007 09:05 PM