Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

Image via CBC

Image via CBC

We all know the stereotype. Muslims can’t laugh at themselves. We don’t have a sense of humour. Well, this Muslim definitely does have a sense of humour and she is enjoying the progression of Monsoon House. With humour and jokes Monsoon House is addressing not only the stereotypes and misinformation surrounding Muslims, but also some of the realities of being a Muslim. Monsoon House is tackling issues of terrorism and fear of Muslims in a comical way.

In this episode, the most notable twist was the consistently annoying Milton’s becoming a Muslim. Milton is the irritating and supposedly talentless poet whose poems have offended the local Muslim community. See here and here for background and context. Well, in this episode we find out that, in an effort to appease the angered Muslim community, Milton decided to “kill off” the part of himself which angered the Muslim community. Therefore, he goes to the mosque and there he finds the people to be “really nice” and end up enjoying himself. As a result, he decides to become Muslim, partly I suspect, to please the local Muslim community.

The interaction between a skeptical Kesh and an excited Milton in which Milton explains his new found religion is quite humourous and amusing as well as surprisingly educational about Islam. It also provides a comical view of someone coming to Islam. Personally, I was born a Muslim therefore I cannot speak for the experiences of coming to Islam. However, Milton’s experience probably parallels at least a few people. His explanation parallels the excitement of someone who has made a new discovery about him/herself or who has is looking forward to new experiences in life.

First off, Milton is supposedly dressed as a mufti and has changed his name to Muhammad Islam, perhaps the most “Islamic” name ever, demonstrating his zealousness about the change in his life. Muhammad and Islam and wearing a thobe I’m assuming. Although completely unnecessary I have seen many who come to Islam become just as zealous. Of course, if this is the way they choose to express their new found faith its not at all problematic. However, I would hate for anyone to think that this is a necessary part of becoming a Muslim. One can keep their birth name, wear whatever they feel comfortable and modest in, and maintain many if not most aspects of their pre-Islam life.  I am hoping that Kesh’s critical responses and irritation will translate into a message that there is no need to make the drastic changes Milton has.

Next Milton explains how he took the shahada (explaining it in English). He then mentions how Arabic is the “official” language of Islam. Now, although the Qur’an is in Arabic and Arabic is indeed central to Islamic scholarship, “official” is probably not the word I would have used to describe it. But that’s just me.

Milton then speaks of the concepts of halal (allowed) and haram (prohibited) and reveals how he has found it difficult, or rather a struggle, to adhere to some of the rules. A jihad as he calls it. Yes, he refers to his struggle as a jihad explaining how “struggle” is the actual meaning of the word. Thank you Monsoon House. I’ve come to realize that Muslims can say it as much as we want, but it will be opportunities such as the ones in this show, that will begin to clarify commonly held mis-beliefs about Muslims and Islam.

So what is the jihad Milton speaks of? He is having trouble doing all his five prayers, not drinking and avoiding porn. But then eating goat is halal and that has also been a struggle for Milton.  The discussion on what is halal and haram brought up a really interesting point – negotiating what is or isn’t haram and trying to figure it all out. I couldn’t help but laugh at Milton’s confusion as well as irritation with how “hard” it was to follow all the rules. On the one hand I interpreted this struggle as an indication of how much Milton enjoyed things like alcohol and porn, to a comical level in fact. On the other hand this seemed like a realistic reflection of the struggles many Muslims do face in adhering to certain aspects of their religion, especially when they embrace Islam and may be required to let go of certain aspects of their life. (And I’m not talking just about Milton’s indulgences.) Every religion has aspects of it which can seem difficult to follow. I believe its fine for us to acknowledge this and laugh at it.

Kesh is able to though, at some point, take advantage of Milton’s confusion over halal and haram by telling him, that the Family Guy giant doll he just won in a carnival game is haram, because Family Guy is haram, just so that he can give the toy to his son Russell, who loves Family Guy.

Milton also complains about how being a Muslim is “really, really boring” as well. More boring than Catholic mass in fact. Its true actually. Being a Muslim is not about burning flags, sending death threats, stoning women, hearing our imams tell us to kill people, or all those other “exciting” things the media and fear-mongers assume we do in our free time. It is actually quite mundane and boring stuff. However, if Milton was referring to the no-alcohol, no-porn rules being boring, well, then I guess they can be if much of the fun one had was from those sources.

Overall, an entertaining episode which does appear to be aiding in the process of normalizing Muslims in Canada.

Additional points:

Russell notes how since he has written a $50,000 cheque to, what he thought, was a Islamic charity which has now been implicated in a terrorist plot, CSIS is keeping an eye on him. However, we find out later in the show that it wasn’t an Islamic charity nor was he funding a terrorist organization by accident. The money was given to B.P. Patel, Kesh’s nemesis, who then gave it to a money laundering ring, which Patel describes as just like the Swiss bank but less sleazy, in Pakistan which funds people all the way from the mob to Bollywood. That the terrorist plot was uncovered was simply a coincidence and has nothing to do with Russell’s money.


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Image via The Official Website of Russell Peters

Image via The Official Website of Russell Peters

Although the review for last week’s Monsoon House was posted earlier this week I thought today I would post a brief update on the progression of the storyline.

Russell Page’s father, Kesh, continues to deal with his drama with the Muslim community. In the last episode he had Russell write a cheque for $50,000 to give to an Islamic charity to appease the angry Muslim community. (Read last post for background). This week we discover that he gave the cheque to his foe, B.P. Patel, who was the one to give Kesh the advice of donating the “appeasing” money in the first place. Patel is then to pass it along to an Islamic charity. When told by Kesh of his donation Russell points out that Patel is not a Muslim. Kesh brushes it off and says that giving a donation was B.P.’s idea. Russell aptly implies that no Muslims were involved in trying to resolve the situation. Perhaps, to the non-Muslim ear this may not have seemed significant, but I sensed a certain recognition of the problem associated with resolving issues regarding Muslims, or any minority group, without actually involving Muslims or minority group members.

As with last week’s show, Kesh and Milton’s fear of the Muslim community continues to be ridiculed by Russell. Kesh’s paranoia regarding the Muslim community is painted as the delusions of a highly stressed and inept man, including Kesh’s speculation that Milton has been beheaded based on the evidence of finding Milton’s shoe – a shoe with a little blood on the inside, which Russell points out probably came from stubbing a toe or a blister.

However, there is now a new twist in the plot. Before today’s show concluded, we find out that CSIS has discovered a possible terrorist plot in Canada involving a group of 30-some Muslim men ranging in age from teenagers to men in their 80’s. An event similar to the real-life Toronto 18 (which is now the Toronto 11) seems to being playing out on Monsoon House. Of course, the idea that men in their 80’s could be involved in such works hints at a possible ridiculousness this story line may take on.

And then to add to this craziness, we find out that the $50,000 cheque Russell wrote and Kesh gave to B.P. actually did not go to any Islamic charity, but rather a money laundering operation in Pakistan that funds Bollywood films and such. However, somehow this cheque and the money laundering operation has been colluded with the supposed terrorist plot and now Russell has become a “person of interest” to the authorities.

To be perfectly honest, I am very curious how this particular storyline will play out. I see a great opportunity to really critique the hysteria and frenzy often created over Muslims in Canada and I do hope that both this and the irritation of the Muslim community function as critical analyses of this culture of fear.

If you’re interested, tune in Wednesdays at 11:00pm local time (11:30pm NT) or Thursdays at 11:30am local time (12:00pm NT) on CBC Radio One.

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Russell Peters. Image via The Age

Russell Peters. Image via The Age

Russell Peter’s CBC radio show Monsoon House, now in its second season, is a radio comedy series starring Russell Peters. From Wikipedia:

The series stars comedian Russell Peters as Russell Page, an aspiring Hollywood film producer who ends up returning to work for his Indo-Canadian family’s book publishing business after squandering his cantankerous father’s money in an attempt to finance a comedy starring Tom Arnold as a pediatric surgeon. He ends up helping the family’s publishing company, Monsoon House, produce a biographical film about John Diefenbaker, based on their only hit selling novel, Hail to the Dief.

The cast also includes Pamela Sinha as Russell’s sister Sabrina, Sam Moses as their father Kesh, and Michael Riley as Trenton Harrison, a successful, womanizing novelist constantly trying to seduce Sabrina. It also features Simon Rakoff as a script doctor and has Rick Green as Milton Claymore, a comically unstable street poet who is Monsoon House’s only client other than Trenton.

One of the recent story lines involves Russell’s father angering the local Muslim community. Oh dear. Yet again. The Muslims are coming! Apparently Russell’s father’s publishing company publishes a book of poems by Milton Claymore, one of which is entitled ‘The Prophet.’ This poem offends local Muslims. They in turn are protesting, though we’re not sure how exactly. There are allusions to their anger but they are all stated in very stereotypical terms.

Here are some highlights.

When talking to his father about the controversy Russell teases his father about Milton being scared of ‘Al-Qaida’ and jokingly narrates that his father is dealing with the Taliban. Within this storyline, Russell’s father asks his foe for advice on how to deal with the media and appease the Muslim community. The advice he receives is to”speak their language,” to which Russell’s father replies “Arabic?” Throughout the show Russell’s father and Milton are painted as fearful, for their lives, of the angered Muslim community.

Now, we all know Arabic is not the language of Muslims. It may be the language of the Qur’an, but its not the language of Muslims.I realize this is a comedy show but considering the misconception among not only non-Muslims, but some Muslims as well, that all Muslims speak Arabic, or should speak Arabic, this comment may have lost its humour to those ignorant about the linguistic diversity among Muslims.

Personally, I interpret all this as ridiculing Milton’s, and his father’s, fear and misconceptions of Muslims. However, until the storyline plays out we will not really know how the writers of the show have meant for this to go. Considering Peters tends to use this technique to ridicule fear and racism toward other minority groups as well it seems very probable. We can only wait and see. And wait and see I will.

However, there was one comment which I was uncomfortable with. Russell is being sent to India for work and his father, in expressing his trepidation about Russell’s trip, says he’s worried because of all the “Muslim nonsense” in the area. Russell assures his father that he will be nowhere near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Calling the problems around the Afghanistan/Pakistan border “Muslim nonsense” seemed not only inappropriate but totally unfunny. I really did not get any social or political commentary in that comment. Considering the ways in which Muslims, especially in that region are seen, a comment like that requires some political or social commentary. Otherwise, it just reinforces the idea that the situation is something religious and not a result of macro level, socio-political factors which span back many decades.

Now, I am a fan of Russell Peters as his comedy, I find, often ridicules racism itself as opposed to being racist. He often makes fun of his own Indian-ness on the show as well as stereotypes about Canada (ehem…making fun of PEI). So I’m hoping that the angering of the Muslim community story line goes along that track and in the end we realize how stupid the stereotypes about Muslims really are. I hope.

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