Saturday, December 25, 2010

The TV Muslim



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 Rupert Murdoch’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.


ever seen the simpsons?? the "mudalali" in it is known as "appu"....relax mr kareem....there is no fun in comedy if it is politically correct
Posted by: ram | September 16, 2008 10:56 PM
Definitely these type of prorogation will create Unhealthy and communal minded younger generation seeded by narrow minded elements. Instead TV media to promote moral and ethics among children of all communities.
Posted by: Bandula | September 17, 2008 03:10 AM
Nice going. But do you think fox news will do much better?
Posted by: crazyoldmansl | September 17, 2008 04:24 AM
you are correct and in correct. you're correct as for the moral that it gives out, but, even a young child knows that Thambiya can speak better Singhala. to cap it "there cannot be no smoke if there is no fire".
Posted by: imran | September 17, 2008 04:40 AM
How about the portrayal of the stereotypical Sinhalese? Always wanting something for nothing, whether it is seeni bola or foriegn aid, and doing so while at the same time abusing the potential giver..!
Posted by: dingiri | September 17, 2008 05:39 AM
These semi educated mass producers of inane telidramas can be forgiven for some part. Remember that mind numbing program in the 80's parodying Pakistani and Sikh stereotypes in the UK, "Mind your Language" which had a cult following among humourously challenged..? I am happy if our sensibilities are only 20 years behind those of Britains.
Fox News, well thats a completely different story. There is no naivety there.. Its the most sinister and and insidious propaganda chanel in the world but the similarity with the Teledrama is that the target audience for both the dumb masses..
Posted by: Anonymous | September 17, 2008 05:53 AM
You should not come to conclusions from a scene from just one teledrama.
Posted by: De Silva | September 17, 2008 05:58 AM
This is derogatory, inculcating disunity among minorities, whoever does it. This should be condemned. I think it is absolutely pertinent to mention here that a somewhat popular stage actor who belongs to a minority community performs a play demeaning another minority community - if I am not mistaken the name of the play is 'Cherrio Sergeant'. What have you got to say about this!
Posted by: Mikee | September 17, 2008 07:18 AM
While agreeing that the depiction of a "stereotyped" muslim is not right, I think you should look at these in a lighter vein. Have you noticed that teledrama's also depict Burghers as 24/7 party animals? And tamils as persons unable to even pronounce a proper sinhala word without creating a hilarity? Now I know Burgher and Tamils who are not at all like that.
Also note that the agenda of the teledrama directors and producers is to give maximum entertainment as possible so that they will get more business. unfortunately at the cost of the minorities - but I dont think they realize it. Just to make the author feel good about fairness to all - have you seen a teledrama called "Kopi Kade"? In which it is depicting 3 jobless Sinhala youth making a mockery of themselves trying to make a fast buck in their village and always getting caught red handed due to their foolish plans. Now, does that mean all Sinhalas are foolish and living like this trio? I dont think so. I havent even seen anyone raise this issue except enjoy the entertaining part of it. I myself enjoy the antics of a character called "Gajang" who is the most foolish of the trio. Everyone enjoys the antics of Mr. Bean, but we all know that all the Brits are no where like that. So, please take things easy at this time of turmoil in our country. Please dont make an issue of a non-issue. BTW, in case you wish to know I myself am a muslim.
Posted by: Ishan | September 17, 2008 07:32 AM
This type of critique is required to give people the other side of the story. It is not necessarily a story should not be told in a particular way, but it should not impart offence to a particular community by negatively stereotyping them. A recent survey showed only 7% of the populace even cared about media freedom. It appears all those who scream loud about media freedom belong to the Colombo-set who are conversant in English and of the cosmopolitan variety.
The vast majority of the Sinhalese have to listen to loud mouths who talk absolute rubbish to people keeping them in poverty. The poor people have no choice but to listen and agree with the hot air they are being bombarded with, in the hope that the government would begin to feed them soon. What those halpless populace do not understand is that the government has no way of feeding the poverty-stricken populace any time soon.
On the whole, Sinhala language newspapers should take up the challenge to educate the public on the need for media freedom, better political education and analyses to promote better values and higher standard in politics, and of course in the ways and means of alleviating poverty.
Posted by: P Shantikumar | September 17, 2008 07:55 AM
Hi Guys!
In Sri Lanka they not only stereo type Muslims. They do this with Tamil, Christians.But always thisn only Sinhalese people are good. But in real life they showcase otherwise.So at last who is 'Modaya" Now let the world judge their deed.
Posted by: Prem lanka | September 17, 2008 08:00 AM
When the Tamils are wiped out of Sri Lanka, it will be the Muslims next. then the Chatholics. The Sinhala/Buddist Chauvinists know no boundaries.
Posted by: Demo_cracy | September 17, 2008 12:27 PM
I read the arguments for and against the teledrama depiction. It is true that there is a comic side to it but we should learn our lessons from history. Jews were traditionally portrayed as sly, manipulative, cunning and even racist in many stories and novels by European writers. Even Shakespeare himself does it in his plays. It created a negative impression in the minds of Europeans to such an extent that Jews were persecuted in many European countries including Britain. It exploded into outright genocide during the Nazi regime with Hitler playing on the fears and misery of ordinary Germans to forward his selfish gains. So while it may be fun to laugh at others mistakes why not make programs to promote national unity instead. After all its not only the armed forces who have a duty to keep the unitary state of the country and promote democracy but every citizen of Sri Lanka. The media has a big reponsibility in shaping the minds of Sri Lankans and guiding Sri Lanka to a united unified future.
Posted by: Salman | September 18, 2008 08:38 AM
As a sinhalese reader of this website I really feel sory for our Muslim brothers.We should think like brothers now irrespective of origins of each community.I think the Muslim organisations could take up this matter with the Association of the Tele drama artists(Tele nirmana-wedeenge sangamaya)in a friendly manner without acting in hatred.Otherwise if you agitate for this in a hatrad manner you would follow the same old path taken by the tamils who has a majority complex eventhough they are a minority.
Posted by: Prasanna | September 18, 2008 01:57 PM
We need to fight this!! i don't think most people even realize that this is wrong, that this demeans people and provides our children with a false understanding of their neighbours. We need education and we need laws.
Stereotyping of people in Sri Lanka is rampant. We thrive on it. I remember my sister said how she did not want to ever rent her house to Muslims because “they are dirty” that night my Oxford educated Muslim friend came home for dinner and I subversively mentioned that my sister is looking for a tenant much to her embarrassment. These stereotypes are considered to be fact in this country.

Posted by: Chaminda | September 18, 2008 03:03 PM

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