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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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