Britz – Part II (Nasima’s Story)

Yesterday there was a tidal wave of blogs and articles written in response to the first part of Brtiz, with a divided opinion amongst most Muslim writers about the content of the film; some were hailing the docu-drama as a positive step towards raising awareness, and the other (not so convinced) half dismissing it as another ploy to make British Muslims feel even more paranoid about the current UK law and enforcement system than we already are. I must say that after watching the second part, I am beginning to see sense in the “propoganda” argument – but I’m not completely won over. Why? Because last night’s programme was riddled with so many flaws that it made it difficult to believe that any reasonable-minded person with so much as a percent of understanding about Muslim British women would take the story of Nasima at face value. Some scenes depicted were so unrealistic and absurd that I couldn’t restrain myself from shaking my head in utter disappointment, and I doubt I was alone. I am sure a kazillion Muslim women must have been out there ranting; shouting “that is not how we are!” I know I was.

Initially Nasima is shown as a free-spirited young woman in her early twenties. She is not exactly the ideal role model as a Muslim woman, and in any typical Asian community Nasima and her brother Sohail would have been termed as the local vagabonds – the one’s who you’re supposed to stay away from because they are so corrupt. Yet somehow, Nasima’s parents remain oblivious to her dual-personality in scenes where she is arrested under ASBO laws, and then when she finally does turn up at the hospital her mother is totally calm. A true depiction of that scene (in Bradford of all places) would have been the mother yelling curses at her daughter even if she was lying on her deathbed for bringing “shame to the family” by spending a night in a cell. Nasima then goes off (again) to spend the night with her boyfriend and the family / cultural angle of this is never shown.

Eventually things change for the worst in Nasima’s life when her best friend ‘Sab’ is bizarrely arrested under Anti-Terror laws for the possession of four packets of chilli powder. Sab is put under a form of house arrest, falls deep into a state of depression, and finally commits suicide. Disillusioned with the system after the death of her friend, Nasima becomes politically active but is intrinsically weak and confused. She decides to learn more about political Islam; a version of Islam that is born out of the injustice faced by many in war-torn Muslim countries. At first she tries to advocate the need for democratic resistance and protest through peaceful means, but when she realises that this is a lost cause, she becomes frustrated and eventually ends up with more radicalised Muslims at university (all the while still with her boyfriend.)

One day Nasima takes up the challenge of wearing the hijab for the day, and begins to relate to the alienation felt by many scarf-wearing sisters, but she does not at any point take out time to learn why they wear it or for that matter, what her religion teaches – her perception of Islam is so basic that it almost renders null and void. This to me is a vital point. If the purpose of this tele-film was to show why ordinary British Muslims generally turn to terrorism then they could have at least shown a more realistic stereotype. I don’t know how many, if any, would have been able to relate or understand Nasima’s story.

Nasima’s motivation behind joining the camp is unclear; throughout the journey to Pakistan and even whilst in training we are under the impression that Nasima is grieving over the death of her friend Sab, even at the end when her co-jihadist tells her that she will land a place by God she replies “that’s not why I’m doing this” – so then why was she doing it? Nasima didn’t seem too bothered about UK foreign policy, because there was not one scene where she mentions this, and is instead angered and fuelled by Sab’s suicide. This is what makes the whole thing so absurd and unrealistic – because it was a revenge crime and not a terrorist one. She was protesting against the death of her friend, not in response to the crimes against humanity; and surely not in the name of Islam. 

In a way I should be pleased that Nasima was not shown as another radicalised hijab wearing, niqab clad Muslimah who cannot see beyond her husband’s or father’s beard to make up her own mind about Islam, but instead shown as a juvenile and misinformed girl with pathetic motivations. I feel no sympathy or connection with Nasima because she was so unreal and unlike any other Muslim women I have ever known, and in comparison to Sohail’s character, Nasima failed to convince me in her role.

But the one message that I do hear loud and clear, and one that I also echo, is that Muslims like me and you (if you’re reading this) have to speak up – there are no other means of tackling this issue without getting to the heart of it, debating the complexities of the problem, and creating dialogue with those in power – those who we are told “matter”, through our democratic rights. This is my country, my home, and I refuse to live in a state of paranoia or in a community that surrounds itself with conspiracy. If those who are fighting this war say it is not against Islam, then it is the duty of every citizen to question the motives behind this war and protest against injustice without depending on a narrow interpretation of a version of religion that suits their particular needs. I know many people will disagree with me on this, but I honestly believe that if one voice can change two minds, and two minds can change four, then eventually the world will change – slowly but surely. But until then, I am fearful of the growing number of young Nasimas and Sohails whose motivation is not based on religion but something far deeper, something far destructive – revenge. Those Muslims who choose to ignore this reality are in my opinion living in a state of denial and temporary foolish sanity.

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2 Comments

  1. Good on you. Thats the spirit. I hope you don’t mind me linking to this post.

  2. At first I thought I would share my thoughts on this show- but after discussing with British Muslims and reading this opinions, I decided not to. For me, it was just a show- I cannot relate to most of the feelings and emotions expressed..

    I thought as a Muslim, that was not born and bred in a Muslim majority country (I am South African), I would be able to relate to the lives of other young Muslims growing up in a majority non-Muslim country. But the differences are both subtle and huge at the same time:

    – the few years that I did experience under Apartheid, most of which I was too young to remember anyways, we identified closely with the majority of the population due to the fact that we were treated the same- as non-white.
    – and today, to identify as a South African, we need to be ourselves- an ethnic Asian minority that has close links with the black native population, and the rising numbers of black Muslims as well.

    The difference I see for British Muslims, is that to identify with the British natives, it sometimes is understood to mean more than just being yourself- an Asian, African, Arab, Muslim, Jew, etc.. Even though that this should not be (or probably is not) the case, this is the impression that I have gotten in my few weeks here.

    In my mind, what British Muslims need to do, is to highlight the similarities of our beautiful religion and unite with the locals on those- which are universal morals and values of goodness..

    Things which I remember from the show:

    ‘This is our culture; you were not f*$% grown up in ghetto in Gaza!’

    The lecture on the campus, with the female partition and the shocking ‘Sheikh’!
    ‘No Muslim can take military action against country that gives him sanctuary. But nothing says a Muslim born in a country can’t do anything!

    The statements that should be eye opening:

    ‘More white people going to help in Palestine- more white British than British Muslims at the Anti-War marches.’

    ‘If they don’t like it, they can leave! Go live in Pakistan- under the Military dictatorship!’


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