Focussing on where British Muslims belong, rather than where they come from

British Muslims, memory and identity: Representations in British film and television documentary

From European Journal of Cultural Studies

The British media’s preoccupation with Britain’s Muslim populations has ebbed and flowed, especially in the wake of 9/11, the London bombings of 2005 and the 2007 attack on Glasgow Airport. This article explores representations of the memories of British Muslims of South Asian origin in British television documentary and film. Across media output, scant attention is paid to the memories of British Muslims of South Asian origin, media investigations focus on where British Muslims belong, rather than where they come from. British Muslims’ belonging to Britain is challenged when Muslims are cast in a familiar everyday British world and in contexts that demonstrate their humanity and diversity. Britain’s diverse Muslim populations are regularly reduced to a homogeneous unity and are increasingly associated with ‘terrorism’. In addition, interest focuses on synchro­nous definitions of identity that refuse attention to the significant role of memory in shaping identity. If television fails to incorporate these memories more routinely within mainstream programming, it will continue to perpetuate another insidious but effective form of silencing.

Abstract

This article explores representations of the memories of British Muslims of South Asian origin in British television documentary and film. Recent media emphasis on current Muslim identities devalues memory’s capacity to illuminate the formation and renegotiation of identities. In fictional texts where memories feature, Muslim identities are frequently subsumed under a generic ‘South Asian identity’ within stereotyped tropes of generational conflict or contrasts between ‘back home’ and ‘home in Britain’, while specifically Muslim identities are highlighted only in narratives designating Muslims as ‘problems’. Documentary places more emphasis on the relational aspects of identity formation, stressing intergenerational links and interaction between migrants’ preconceptions and subsequent experiences of Britain. Although still marginalized in the schedules, documentaries’ everyday presentation of British Muslims’ memory narrations confronts conceptions of Muslim identities as defined solely by religion, subverts the constructed binary between ‘Muslim’ and ‘British’ identities, and suggests the diversity of identities within a population that is normatively homogenized.

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Article details
Macdonald, M. (2011). British Muslims, memory and identity: Representations in British film and television documentary European Journal of Cultural Studies, 14 (4), 411-427 DOI: 10.1177/1367549411404617

     
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