Coffee House

Citizen Khan says absolutely nothing new

3 September 2012

I took the opportunity yesterday to catch up with the BBC’s new comedy ‘Citizen Khan’. Focusing on a Muslim family based in my hometown of Birmingham, it lampoons the trials and tribulations of the self-appointed, self-important, and self-obsessed Mr Khan.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of British Muslim communities will recognise the basic truths on which the programme’s characters are premised. Alia, daughter of the eponymous hero, seems to have provoked the most controversy. Alia is a shrewd young girl, doting before her parents but defiant behind their backs. There are complaints she portrays a disrespectful daughter, affronting not just her myopic parents but also a stylised vision of ‘British Islam’.

To complain about this is to miss the point. There is nothing wrong with Alia who is negotiating the difficult space occupied by second generation immigrants of whom society expects integration while their communities demand conformity.

Yet, there is plenty to lament about Citizen Khan. British Muslim life has been the subject of intense scrutiny since 9/11 for understandable reasons. It was suggested that Citizen Khan might perform a role for UK audiences similar to what the Cosby Show did for American ones — humanising the cyclical ebb and flow of a poorly understood immigrant community’s everyday patter.

But there is only one achievement that is immediately identifiable of Citizen Khan and that is it was commissioned despite saying absolutely nothing new. It all feels a bit 1970s, like a plastic table cover adorned with a faded floral pattern. As if to underscore the point, at one point Mr Khan takes an ominous call from his daughter’s prospective father-in-law. Pacing the room, he combines a neurotic tone and bellowing sneer which is more than reminiscent of the camp hysterics of Prunella Scales’ Sybil Fawlty.

And what does Citizen Khan offer that Goodness Gracious Me did not already do fifteen years ago? In many senses, it continues many of the worst themes from that other observational comedy on British Muslim life, East is East.  There, many of the worst cultural practices — misogyny, patriarchy, and domestic violence — were simply laughed off. Citizen Khan began in much the same vein. One of the daughters, Shazia, is to be married whether she likes it or not. Mr Khan is racist against the white convert who now manages the local mosque.

Criticizing Citizen Khan’s treatment of these issues is not to suggest they don’t exist. They do. But what the show does by not fully challenging these gross cultural excesses is to inadvertently play into what George Bush would have called the soft bigotry of low expectations.

I don’t want to come across as the crusty curmudgeon incapable of humour. Comedy can serve as a useful vehicle for exposing difficult topics to scrutiny. David Baddiel’s ‘The Infidel’ offers genuinely funny and observational insights into the realities of sometimes fraught Jewish-Muslim relations in Britain. ‘Four Lions’, Chris Morris’ dark satire, which follows a group of hapless suicide bombers, is equally good at unpicking the naïve aspirations of would-be terrorists.

Citizen Khan presented a wonderful opportunity for a proper examination of the evolving challenges British Muslim life has faced over the last decade. Instead what does it offer beyond the same old hackneyed characters in a style of which Alf Garnett would have approved?

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  • Yasmin

    If I needed to rate Citizen Khan against other bbc sitcoms it would score 2 or 3 out of ten, script not funny, but poorly written. I would have found it more funny, if it had shown Mr Khan going round the block 10 times to find a parking spot outside a pound shop or one of his kids sharing with him that they found a trolley with a pound still in it and Mr Khan asking if he took it? And the child saying in a sarcastic way “no that would be steeling!” As my father who came to the UK in the 1960s from Pakistan worked hard and to date has never claimed benefits, said after watching one episode – by all means take the mic out of culture but not religion.

  • hannah

    this is offensive to muslims because they don’t say these kinds of things and the majority of us are not racist this also takes the mick out of the way we pray to our lord because we take it seriously and MR khan is not a muslim actor which makes it more offensive

  • Gerry Dorrian

    Personally I think it’s hilarious. I hope it comes back for a second series, that is if they don’t get too many death threats from Islamists with humour bypasses…

  • Anzbmw

    It’s only a comedy show and the guy who plays mr khan wrights most off the script him self it’s a really good show it just show how Muslims are in life

  • Rav Gahan

    It’s a bloody comedy, not a fly-on-the-wall documentary! The whole point is to laugh, not dissect it. Critics of the show are ultimately going to kill it off for good. And what will the Muslim community be left with?

    The one time that a sitcom comes along to send up the very social group that longed for its own sitcom on national TV – and everyone wants to beat it with a stick? For the love of Shiva, Allah, Buddah and Jesus, give it a rest! Everything that happens in the show happens in real life.

    People who claim it is disrespectful to Islam, grow up. People who lament on it being something out of the 1970s, think outside of the box. This is 2012 – retro chic is apparent in all walks of life today, especially in fashion (why else would young people want to wear 1950s-style clothes, eh?).

    If anything, Citizen Khan sends up shows of the 1970s. It’s a shame that the so-called cultural intelligentsia of the media wish to are stuck in that orthodoxy of comparing stuff to a previous generation instead of appreciating a show’s existence in the here and now. Shows such as ‘Father Ted’, ‘Rev’ and ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ employ the same conventions of comedy – they take the mick out of religion. ‘Citizen
    Khan’ is no different and it should not be labelled as being different.

    Wise up to the fact that it is a comedy and it is portraying a community which has for the past decade been unfairly maligned. Take that away from Muslims and you’ll be doing them a great disservice. Salam, dudes.

  • Sarah

    The reason it says nothing new is the same reason the BBC never says anything new. You can’t have controlled creativity.

  • Sarah

    Some people got together to make something to entertain you. They wrote it, built a set, dressed up, acted it, filmed it, edited it, put it on your TV and gave it to you.

    Say thank you and then be quiet.

  • PBennett

    I though it was rather good! It didn’t agonise over jokes involving religion, and the jokes hit home, even though some of them had a re-heated feel. Four Lions is a completely different beast to this, a deliberately edgy and disturbing dark comedy. Citizen Khan is aimed squarely at the mainstream family sitcom audience, and as that I think it succeeds.

    The main problem is that, like most British sitcoms, it carries on like other TV comedy for the last 20 years never happened, from Seinfeld onwards.

  • Any

    Listen this a show which is trying to make people laugh about the religion Islam which is not right and should be banned ASAP. All the actors are puppets who getting paid to sell there deen, the day of judgement they will suffer.

  • ahmad baker

    its a Sit Com, not a documentary about British Muslims. think about it in that sense and you will find it ok, not great, but not bad!

  • darkrose

    So this new comedy ‘feels a bit 1970s’ – you mean that pathetically humourless decade which produced the likes of Sykes, Are You Being Served?, The Likely Lads, Porridge, Rising Damp, Last of the Summer Wine etc. etc. When I think of the low-brow foul-mouthed garbage which has passed for comedy in recent years I can not imagine a finer compliment.

  • Any

    The girl with the hijab all of it is true girls do that

    • Sarah

      Girls will be girls. You can try to keep em down but they’ll find a way.

  • Any

    Stop over reacting it made me laugh

  • Therab

    This is nothing to do with second generation immigrants deling with the dilema between integration and conformity. It is simply making fun of people from a minority community. The people who are part of that community who are performing in the production should have given this more thought before becoming involved. I find it uncomfortable to watch and will not watch again. It really is going back to the 1970s. Why not bring back Love thy Neighbour if this production is acceptable (I am not suggesting that you do).

  • Sickofmediocre

    Feel like i switched over and returned to the 1970s. Is the next programme Love Thy Neighbour? So many sterotypes in such a short space of time. I just know that we are capable of better in Bham.

  • Warrior12

    It’s just the same old stuff I remember from the seventies. The Beeb needs to look at it’s commissioning policy hard. Maybe Aunty is scared!

  • Andy little

    What the fxxx was that so-called comedy. I noticed that there wasn’t a writers credit on the titles was this because it was taken from an old Love thy Neighbor script. Unfunny and not relevant. Grow up BBC and get some writers with a sense of humor and a time in which they are writing.

  • Aaron

    Stop being so backwards. It’s a joke for God’s sake

  • NJ2000

    To be honest the whole show should be taken in jest, as I am sure the writer does not intend to insult people, and for those who are offended seriously lighten up…Something similar was shown in Goodness Gracious me but did the Indians take offence no so please just grow up and live a little

  • Keveen

    MY god some Brits have become so PC they can’t laugh. Do you all come from North London? We don’t want to offend our ethic minorities now do we? It’s just another comedy sitcom for goodness sake. Thank god the writer is Adil Ray half Pakistan and half Kenyan.
    Otherwise the racist accusations would be even louder. If he was Jewish
    and the programme about Jews he would probably still be accused of being
    antisemitic. I bet the French hated Allo Allo. I think Germans liked
    it. Some communities take themselves too seriously.It’s a long standing British tradition to send up all and sundry. It’s
    British and tough luck if you don’t like it. Comedy like Citizen Khan
    actually humanises Pakistanis who generally get a bad press.

    • Keveen

      I watched the second episode. Sorry but I laughed. And lots of old mothers are just like Mr Khan’s mother in law. And we all make similar jokes. There is a similar idiot boyfriend in Mrs Browns Boys. And bitchy women are common to all cultures. Its a comedy!

  • Sheikh Kaka

    Hear hear…..cancel this crap show.

  • Sheikh Muhannad

    Its a degrading boring show. It’s not funny in any way. I’ve never in my life seen such senseless disgusting crap. I call for this show to be cancelled with immediate effect.

  • west midlands man

    It is a very poor reflection of reality. No mosque would have a muslim convert managing it – of any nationality. These places are extremely traditional.

  • East european

    very easy watchable, changed my mood and make me laugh. well done. i like it

  • NG

    Are all Asians Muslim or are all Muslims Asians?

    • King Tut

      Neither, not All Asians are Muslims and not all Muslims are Asians. Muslims = followers of Islam, Asians = ethnic group.

      • daniel Maris

        Asians in America = Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipinos etc

        Asians in UK = SW Asians – Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis…maybe Nepalese as well.

    • Anzbmw

      No not all Asians are muslim thank god.
      U need to find out how humans started out the 1st humans were african so r all humans Africans??????

  • Marcopeter

    Reminds me of another BBC show Mrs Brown’s Boys, very dated and old-fashioned – but there would seem to be a trend for that in the world of sitcoms at present as the former has proved a huge success. Agree its goundbreaking-ness is in its very existence.

    • David Lindsay

      Ground-breaking, indeed. This year, Mrs Brown’s Boys was given a BAFTA as a British programme at a ceremony compèred by a man from County Wicklow who was schooled entirely in Irish. Brendan O’Carroll was also nominated as a British actor, and neither he nor anyone else said a word.

      Meanwhile, the Olympic Torch toured the Irish Republic on the apparently unquestioned basis that it is an integral part of the host country. The most notable thing about that detour is that no one has found it remotely worthy of comment.

      Things are shifting. And, frankly, we can all see in which direction. Well, look at the alternative. Just wait for the coming Miliband-Balls Government in, therefore, non-austerity Britain. Support for readopting sterling rises drastically among the young and among Sinn Féin supporters.

      Remember the outpouring of outrage over here when Ireland had that spot of footballing bother with the French a couple of years ago? As far as everyone was concerned without a moment’s pause, a Home Nation had been wronged by foreigners. Well, of course.

  • Jez

    Sorry Shiraz, i’ve just commented on one of your previous articles- i don’t want to seem to be picking on just one Spectator contributor.
    This programme is about about as sincere as when Lord Amherst helped American Indians keep warm one winter by handing them blankets laced with smallpox; On the face of it a harmless gesture but somewhere down the line it’s going to bite.
    Who produced this? Not the Pakistani community from Bradford i strongly bet….. because it most probably holds zero relevance to their community. The Pakistani or similar Islamic communities won’t be watching English speaking channels here- because they don’t have to. You need to find the faces who dragged this up and then realise that they are all liberal left whites- with a strong agenda. Middle England will watch it, soak it up and then 10 or 15 years down the line when they still have the above visions in their heads of a 21st Century version of the Kumars rattling about their heads they could be quite suprised at a possible but very sudden call to Sharia in many of our major urban centres.

  • Saad Jay

    Im a muslim i found it very funny

  • TomTom

    It is awful. Lame. Very 1970s and dated. It plays the old BBC Class Politics of mocking someone who is socially aspirant for not being quite pukka. It makes fun of someone who is integrated and fails to mock those who fail to integrate. It makes not one reference to shrouded ninjas floating across the street to pay credit card bills at the bank or listening ti iPods or using mobile phones or driving whilst shrouded and without peripheral vision.

    It is the same old storyline whether it be Only Fools and Horses or whatever – always have a snobbish disdain for the man who wants to better himself and treat the deadbeats living on welfare or doing zilch or failing to learn English with utmost respect.

    That is why Citizen Khan is trash and an insult to people who get up and do something to better themselves

  • haj

    i my brother works on the same road as were citizen khan is filmed

  • meeeeeeeeee

    dont no y people r complaining its a good laught as long as its not going against the teaching of islam its good.The show is just a show dont no y people r making a big fuss

    • Davis

      “as long as it’s not going against the teaching of Islam it’s good”. What happens if it does, meeeee, eh? Surely it wouldn’t be breaking the shari’ah law of slander and talebearing, otherwise known in the vernacular as ‘islamophobia’, would it? After all, us uppity non-Muslims need to be kept in our place…

      • Jez

        “What happens if it does, meeeee, eh?”
        Answer; ‘meeeeeeeee’ and his mates won’t think it’s a good laugh.
        And you know what happens then………. Yikes!

        • Anzbmw

          Ask ail

  • John Dickinson

    I think the greatest merit of the series is that it exists. The heavy script editing process that the BBC undoubtedly went through is evident, but what was left was still funny. Comedy is subjective, but remember this is a light sitcom, not the edgy / dark comedy of Chris Morris, which was brilliant. The further you push the envelope, the higher the risk, remember how hard it was for CM to find a distributor for Four Lions?

  • Baz

    I agree with the article to come extent and you cannot
    compare it to GGM which was indeed groundbreaking in its concepts and insight
    to Asian culture plus it was genuinely funny. Citizen Khan offers nothing new,
    it has its funny moments but the storyline is not original. It seems an amalgamation
    of a number of storylines from yesteryears to fulfil a void on TV focusing on
    Asians or Asian Muslims.

    Being a Muslim Asian, I have no problems with the humour on
    the Asian culture or Religion, its expected to be exaggerated. The problem is,
    it’s not new and doesn’t take you by surprise, you already know the jokes.

    An opportunity lost indeed.

    • Augustus

      “I agree with the article to come extent…”
      “The novelty soon wears off.”

    • Augustus

      “I agree with the article to come extent…”
      “The novelty soon wears off.”

  • mialadivina

    What like father Ted wasn’t? Citizen Khan is the most subversive thing on tele… has clearly gone over your head……muslim humour bypass….

  • Olaf

    I thought the main problem with it was that it was crap

    • The_white

      I know it was like they copy and pasted every stereotype they could within 30mins and said “That’ll do!”

  • arps

    muslims have forgotten how to laugh. its a tv show. no one complained about goodness gracias me or only fools and horses. get a life and have a laugh. well done Adil Ray. very funny.

    • Ali

      I have not forgotten how to laugh, it is just not funny. The only part I have found funny is the way he parks (in his drive and in the disabled spot). And how terrible are the pronunciations of Assalamu Alaikum by the people supposed to be Muslims (the funeral director and the ott Somalian). They should be lucky they don’t have to say the full greeting lol.

      • Abdul Rashid

        You know what’s funny? Bad Education. Especially Episode 2 – Sex Education

  • Archie Mohan

    It’s a comedy. And probably the best, second to Only Fools & Horses. But you don’t know what a comedy is. Miserable person

  • Davis

    This is the spin-off series for the Pakistani bloke out of ‘Mind Your Language’, thirty years too late. It looks like it was made thirty years ago as well. Unfunny. Oh, I got all the jokes, alright – they just weren’t funny.

    • Daniel Maris

      Mind Your Language – we just didn’t realise at the time that it would be a rather accurate portrayal of our future as a nation. Subsitute our political elite for the well meaning, bumbling English teacher and you just about have it! :)

  • Daniel Maris

    1. The Cosby Show was not about newly arrived “immigrants”. African Americans are just about the oldest ethnic community in the USA, along with the English and Dutch.
    The reason the Cosby Show was groundbreaking was because it showed an essentially middle class family from the Black community – that was new to US TV. Previously Blacks had been shown in subservient or exotic roles.

    2. “Second generation”….hmmm…but this is the problem isn’t it? There are 5th generation families in the northern towns that still speak the home languages from Pakistan and still live by the old cultural standards, particularly in relation to daughters.
    It is even easier now than 30 years ago for communities to isolate themselves from the rest of the country – with their own inward looking religious institutions, satellite TV etc.

    3. David Baddiel’s comedy was complete wish-fulfilment. There is very little interaction between Jews and Muslims – far, far less than between Jews and Christians.

    • Frank Sutton

      The Sioux, Apaches etc might disagree with the second sentence in point 1.

      • Daniel Maris

        Yes, I did wonder about expanding this to explain the whole of the history of North America but I would have had to include the Vikings in Vinland as well.

        I think you understand I am talking about the post-Columbian invasion.

        Note – there were at least three distinct Native American arrivals, and nos. 2 and 3 definitely caused no. 1 some grief. Even the Native Americans don’t get off the genocide rap.

        The African Americans though were clearly very early post Columbian arrivals preceding the Italians, Germans, Russians, Jews, Mexicans, Scandinavians, Japanese,Chinese and Vietnamese etc. More than that, they have had a profound influence on American culture in terms of its music, clothing, story telling and dance – things which have gone on to influence the whole world.

        • Frank Sutton

          Indeed, Daniel, are there any among us who cannot say “We are not the first”?

    • TomTom

      There are also third generation driving around in Bentleys and Mercedes with prosperous businesses in Bradford

  • David Lindsay

    Not brilliant, but it had its moments.

    Including the tensions that arise when ethnic groups that had assumed themselves interchangeable with religious communities, so that to be a self-appointed “community leader” in one was to have the same status in the other, start to discover that such is no longer the case. Very interesting to see that depicted as an aspect of British Pakistani life today.

  • In2minds

    So “Citizen Khan presented a wonderful opportunity ……….” Perhaps but being the BBC………

  • Hilton Holloway

    There is a strong thread of immigration from rural Pakistan which demands difference from the host country, which insists on at least one of the parents of a family having been raised in the old country as a bulwark against creeping Westernisation. The Mr Khan sketches from Bellamy’s People were a very, very gentle tweak at those who would live in their own, closeted world, living by alternative rules, building ghettos and determined to create a little bit of over there, over here. I have been surprised to hear colleagues forget themselves and tell me dismissively what ‘some English person’ might be doing that they don’t agree with.

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