Law & Order’s Muslim Archetype

[…] but they still demonstrate that it’s often hard for these folks to write Muslim characters with more depth than a Wikipedia entry on what Islam allows and forbids.

At Vice, author Michael Muhammad Knight discusses problems with depictions of Muslims on TV.

I see this a lot, an author reproducing Wikipedia entries without an understanding of the variance in religious observance in any human population and the unique relationship any individual may or may not have to religion. So we read non-practicing characters experiencing pious guilt, discussing religion -not that these are impossible but misunderstood and unrealistically frequent in fiction- or self-identifying in internal dialogue! “As a liberal Muslim, I…” Who thinks like this?

Meanwhile, “pious” Muslims, characterized by a hijab or kufi, are monolithic and without any identifying characteristics, generic Muslim #693 right down to  wardrobe. Who wears a square scarf beyond school? Why don’t any of these girls and boys listen to rap, like the hijabis I know? Why are their cultural markers absent, if they weren’t raised in a vacuum? Enough essentialism. Present a complex character to an intelligent audience. I realize everyone has their expectations of certain characters, and it’s difficult to write around them, but if you respect a people, their representations should be more than just talking encyclopedic articles. Everyone is.


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