Thoughts on Britz and Muslims

BBC America recently televised a British miniseries called Britz, a drama serial that follows a Muslim brother and sister as their paths in life take decidedly different turns. Sohail, a law student in London joins the Mi5 while his sister Nasima, a med student in Leeds, takes company with extremists.

Britz is made up of two parts, each part devoted to each sibling. Part 1 is Sohail’s story as we see him going from just a law student to joining and learning the ropes at Mi5. Over the few months, Sohail finds himself immersed in the investigation of the 7/7 London bombers. Eventually, this leads him to come to terms with spying on people he grew up with in order to deal with possible threats.


Part 2 is “Nasima’s story” and takes place during the same timeline as Part 1 but is instead from Nasima’s viewpoint. Part 2 skips over details that we know from Part 1 and then goes into more detail with the turmoil caused in Nasima’s life due to the arrest of her best friend on trumped up terrorism charges. Nasima goes from trying to change the system by being only politically engaged to turning towards more drastic measures.

I thought the series was interesting but wanted to touch on a couple of things. Britz depicted some of the issues that Pakistanis/Muslims have to deal with in England. For instance, there is the blatant racism. I was trying to figure out why that is. I mean, I know that things are not perfect here in the States and that there are plenty of people that will happily tell you to “go back to your country” but it seems to be a bit more so in England. So here’s my theory (that may very well be stated in a bunch of other places too but oh well): The U.S. is a land of immigrants. Unless you are Native American, you are originally from somewhere else. Maybe some people who have been here for generations don’t see it that way, but that is the way it is. If someone tells you to go back to your country over here, you can always respond with a “you first”, have a laugh, and move on with your life. In general though, there is a great deal of tolerance here because this country is meant to be a place for everyone.

But it’s not like that in England. The English may be looking at immigrants, Pakistani or otherwise, as taking over their country. Not that I’m saying that the racist behavio(u)r is warranted but being racist could merely be a defense mechanism as some try to deal with their country being home to so many other types of people.

There’s something you notice about the immigrant population in England which was depicted in Britz– there are some places that in which people live completely within their own ethnic community. For instance, Sohail and Nasima are originally from Bradford, a city that has a lot of desi Muslim people. Dewsbury, which isn’t too far from there, is also like that. Once when I was in England to visit my cousin, she took me to Green Street in London, another area that is completely saturated with desi people. I believe other ethnic groups may have similar types of areas as well.

In the U.S., we really don’t have that. Granted you can say that there are a lot of Pakistanis in the Bay Area but we don’t all live clustered together in one specific area with nary a non-Pakistani soul to be seen. Pakistanis and Muslims in general are pretty well integrated in American society. A lot of us still try to retain the culture of where our parents or ancestors came from but in the end our identity is just as American if not more American than the identity of any other country.

Having said all of that, there are plenty of integrated Muslims in England, like my relatives for one, and I’m not saying that all the ones that are not integrated are more prone to turn to extremism.

Ok, ok, I don’t completely see the point of this post but I guess I just wanted to relay some of my thoughts on a couple of aspects of the series.

And while I have you here, check out Guy Lawson’s article in Rolling Stone titled The Fear Factory about the U.S. government actually manufacturing fear for its citizens with fabricated threats. I blogged about it back in February back when the article came out but figured this would be a good place to bring it back up :)

Oh, so I realize that I didn’t actually review Britz with the above babble so here’s a short review: I liked it and I thought the acting was really well done. Although I have to admit, my initial reason for watching it was because I realized that the guy who played Sohail, Riz Ahmed, is the son of an old friend of my dad’s and I met him in England back in 1995. We went over to their place with my aunt’s family and his mom made fried chicken the first time we went over. That’s a really random thing to remember, you say, but there’s a very good reason I remember that particular detail: One of my cousins ate a bunch of chicken wings and put all of the bones in my plate when I wasn’t looking. With a “Hey everyone, look at how much chicken Bushra ate,” I didn’t hear the end of it from my family for the rest of the trip.

And with that, I’ll end.

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