The TV Muslim
Negative Portrayal of Muslims on Teledramas
by Hameed Abdul Kareem
A few days ago, while switching channels on the idiot box, I happened to come across a scene in a tele-drama, where a Sinhalese boy was demanding some item or the other for free from the ‘mudalali’ seated at the cashier table at a ‘Thambi kade’. The ‘mudalali’ happened to be one of those stereotyped Muslims depicted so often in movies and on TV programmes.
Our ‘Thambi Mudalali’ was portrayed wearing a ‘Thambi’ prayer cap and had a beard that covered his entire chin and yes, he carried a huge pot belly and wore a tight white banian to complete the picture of your standard TV Muslim.
Unmoved by the poor boy’s pleas, the unfeeling ‘Thambi Mudalali’ demands money for the thing the boy wants. The boy then becomes sullen. What’s the message here? ‘Thambiya’ is heartless. All the while the ‘Thambi Mudalali’ is speaking in heavily accented Sinhala, which maybe the case with a few Muslims from the outstations but wholly untrue of a majority of us.
To cap it all, the ‘Thambiya’ mispronounces the Sinhalese words to cause hilarity among the blue blooded Singhalese audience – giving them a feeling, probably, of superiority over the Muslims. But this is not about good manners, is it? It’s about brainwashing the Sinhalese with negative images of the Muslims or ‘Thambiyas’.
I wonder how they would react if similar programmes were televised in Britain, casting the large Singhalese migrants living there in the same light?
Now back to the tele-drama. A Sinhala youth - so assumed because of his fluency in the language as opposed to the ‘Thambiya’s’ faulty Sinhalese - enters the ‘kade’ and remonstrates with the ‘Thambiya’, telling him he won’t go ‘bunkload’ if he obliges the poor boy. But the recalcitrant ‘Thambiya’, looking over his eyebrows in a wily sort of way, insists he be paid his ‘salli’ for the item.
And the message here? ‘Thambiya’ is greedy! Then in a ‘gallant’, move our Sinhala youth turns hero. He filches the item the boy is clamouring for and hands it over to him, in the process telling the ‘Thambiya’ something that I just couldn’t gather. The grateful Sinhalese boy runs away with whatever he had wanted as happy as ever, with the helpless ‘Thambiya’ still crying for his ‘salli’ like as if his whole life depended on a few bucks.
The message is clear. The Sinhalese are good - the Muslims are bad. I switch channels. Thank God for the remote control. I had had enough of anti-Muslim propaganda for one day and I had still to watch ’s Fox News later in the day.
It is sad that the producers of such anti-Muslim tele-dramas don’t realise that all such propaganda productions have their side affects. In this case, the producers are teaching young Sinhala boys that it’s okay to demand something for free from a ‘Thambiya’ and it’s okay also if a Sinhala youth actually steals from a Muslim for the happiness of one of his ‘brothers’.
And yes, its okay, if young Sinhala children run away with property they jolly well know is stolen. Is that the message TV producers want to convey to their large audiences, especially the youth and thus set the stage for perpetual conflict.
All these anti-Muslim propaganda movies make Muslims feel like aliens in the land of their birth. Muslims are projected as parasites living off the big hearted Sinhalese who have given up so much for their well being. That in sort is the ‘history’ that is being drilled into the minds of the Singhalese – especially children.
Television is a powerful medium. It creates lasting images. And so, instead of dehumanising Muslims, wouldn’t it be better if this powerful medium shows Muslims and all other minorities in a better light and thereby promote better understanding among the different communities living in the country?
After all, there are Muslims in virtually every profession. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to show a Muslim surgeon going about his work; or a Muslim charted accountant making his contribution to society and family?
If democracy means what it’s supposed to mean, then people must be free of stereotypes in the media. Such pigeonholing gives them a warped impression of a section of their countrymen which will in turn alter their behaviour towards them.
Tele-drama producers have a bigger sense of responsibility and must make it a point to avoid stereotyping of any religious or ethnic group, not only of ‘Thambiyas’.
If nothing is done to stop the vilification of Muslims on TV, people might believe there is a sinister motive behind such stereotyping.