Since the 2001 race riots in Bradford, Burnley, and Oldham and the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, British Muslims have been subjected to increased levels of suspicion and hostility. In particular, the spotlight has shone on working-class South Asian Muslim communities in the north of England, which have been accused of “self-segregation” and constructed as alienated from and posing a threat to “Britishness”. Racial divisions and tensions have been problematically blamed on the “failure” of multiculturalism; commentators from the left and right of the political spectrum have claimed multiculturalist practice and policies have encouraged too much diversity, thereby obstructing integration, while social factors such as poverty, disenfranchisement, racism, and “white flight” have been obscured or at best downplayed.1 As news stories of young British Muslim men joining extremist organizations at home or abroad continue to circulate, the communities’ male youth remain particularly susceptible to Islamophobic stereotyping and profiling. In this interview, performance poet and playwright Avaes Mohammad discusses the ways his work engages with this fraught political context. Our conversation begins by considering his experience of growing up in a racially divided northern English town in the 1980s and 1990s, before turning to the impact of the events of 2001 on his life and art. We discuss the role art can play in politics, and the part faith can play in art, before focusing on specific representations in his plays of young British Muslims held at Guantánamo Bay, divided working-class communities in the north of England, and young men — both Muslim and white — drawn to different kinds of extremism. Finally, we explore the racial and social exclusions of the creative arts, and the reception of Mohammad’s work.
The Journal of Commonwealth Literature – SAGE
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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