Image credit: BBC
Warning: This piece contains spoilers
The American Indian comedian Hari Kondabolu once said that although he loves The Simpsons, there are times when he’s watching the show and its Indian store clerk Apu, where he’s reminded that it’s not written for people like him. I remembered this line whilst watching the final episode of the BBC series Bodyguard.
Like millions across the nation, I sat down to watch the final instalment of the drama with much in trepidation. I had watched writer’s Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty and was hooked on the intricate saga of police corruption, so I tuned into The Bodyguard with high expectations.
The series began with our hero Detective Sergeant David Budd is travelling on with his two young kids. He discovers a suicide bomber, Nadia, on the train and manages to talk a trembling Nadia into giving herself up. It appears initially that she is being controlled by her domineering husband. Over the course of six episodes it seemed like there was a tangled conspiracy involving politicians, the secret service and the police. The big reveal promised to be complex and sophisticated.
In the end though, it was far simpler. It was the Muslim wot done it. And the hijab-wearing one at that. Indeed, Nadia was no patsy but a willing participant, secretly remembering all the details Budd had told her about his family, so she could pass this information on to her co-conspirators and bomb Budd’s children’s school.
At the closing credits, I literally had my head in my hands. Our hero’s simple mistake was believing that a Muslim woman could be a naive pawn and not a bloodthirsty murderer intent on killing kids. He had underestimated Nadia’s utter callousness. She was not just evil, but attempted child murdering, multiple bomb-making, smirking in your face, Lord-Voldemort-uber-evil.
“The big reveal promised to be complex and sophisticated.
In the end though, it was far simpler. It was the Muslim wot done it. And the hijab-wearing one at that.”
The character proudly states “I am a jihadi” when questioned by police and grins at the thought of the carnage she has caused. Reviewers have already hailed Anjli Mohindra’s performance as Nadia as “amazing”. Indeed, critics have been raving about the series, with very few troubled by the depiction of Muslims. That hardly anyone raised an eyebrow to the fact that all three Muslim characters on the show were terrorists or suspected terrorists, highlights how inured we have become to depictions of murdering Muslims.
We have been here before though. 24 and Homeland, both gripping, action-packed series, have depicted stereotypically evil Muslims, hellbent on mayhem and murder. Writers and directors furiously defend such portrayals. Indeed earlier in the series, Jed Mercurio responded to rare criticism of the show, by stating that it was not Islamophobic but merely reflected ”the reality of our situation”. He said: “the principal terror threats in the UK do originate from Islamist sympathisers”.
This might all well be true. However if it was “reality” that Mercurio wanted to portray, having a sexy Home Secretary begin an affair with her sexy bodyguard, only for her to be blown up and her bodyguard to be framed and strapped to a suicide vest, disarm it himself and then escape a fleet of armed police cars and helicopters by jumping over a wall and running, would not be the best way forward. Needless to add, if realism was Mercurio’s goal, the majority of Muslim characters would not be terrorists either.
The writer further remarked “if the show was set in the recent British past, the attackers might be Irish Republicans.” With the final episode, this statement does seem a tad disingenuous. The revelation that the mastermind was a Muslim woman and therefore underestimated, was central to the final twist.
“Forgive me for the pang of disappointment that the flagship drama from our public broadcaster depicts its only Muslim female character as a murdering terrorist”
I need not remind you that Muslim women are the most economically disadvantaged group in British society, or that attacks on Muslim women reached record numbers in the UK last year or that Muslim women are insulted by politicians for the way they dress and are subject to attacks simply for their clothing. So forgive me for the pang of disappointment that the flagship drama from our public broadcaster depicts its only Muslim female character as a murdering terrorist.
But maybe expecting anything different, even from a writer frequently hailed as a genius, is expecting too much. Maybe minorities only become visible to the general public when they are committing acts of violence. Maybe the dearth of Muslim screenwriters will always mean mainstream shows fall prey to lazy stereotypes. Or maybe it’s time to accept that shows like Bodyguard are just not written for people like us.
Tabasam Begum is a freelance journalist and writer, who has worked on Coronation Street and Emmerdale.