Photo: Mammoth Screen/ITV

Why Next of Kin isn’t the drama that Muslims deserved

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ITV’s five-part drama, Next of Kin, came to an end on Tuesday, and has been met by mixed reviews from fans and reviewers. The show has been criticised for being slow-paced and implausible, both of which are not unreasonable criticisms. What I would like to discuss, however, is more than the show’s quality as a drama (on which level I personally quite enjoyed it), but the way in which the show approached the complex subject of terrorism and extremism.

Initially, the show appeared to be a triumph for diversity. Sadly, the depiction of an ordinary British Muslim family from Pakistan is noticeably progressive in a climate where religious minorities are rarely depicted onscreen. This comes back to an issue which I previously discussed in an article about religious programming, in which I argued that people of religion were starkly absent from television. While Next of Kin goes some way in countering this, there still appears an unshakeable fear in presenting religious characters.

Would a protagonist with faith in God be too problematic for a largely secular audience to swallow?

In a show that depicted so many Islamic extremists, it would have been nice to counteract this with characters who held a genuine Islamic faith, so as to exclusively vilify the extremists, rather than creating suspicion around religious belief as a whole. What I really mean here is a fear, not limited just to Next of Kin, to show any characters who genuinely believe in God and pray to God. Next of Kin played it safe by only really exploring this with the character from the older generation, Mona’s mother. Meanwhile, we get no clarity as to Mona’s perspective on Islam, since she never actively advocates, condemns or expresses faith. Far more vocal on the matter is her younger sister Ani, who no longer believes in Islam. Would a protagonist with faith in God be too problematic for a largely secular audience to swallow?

However, the show’s focus on extremism is the more widely debated topic. A number of Muslims took to Twitter after the first episode to express their opinions on this, with one user commenting: that ‘id love to have a bit of representation on the tele that had nothing to do with terrorism’ (sic). While I felt a similar disappointment when I realised where Next of Kin was going, this problem is really a wider one. Terrorist attacks carried out by extremists are a very current topic, and so it only makes sense that a drama will be produced with one at its centre. This is only problematic because of the general lack of representation which has led to this program being so unique for its focus on a Pakistani family.

Unfortunately, the programme failed to shine a great deal of light on radicalisation

The trouble is, whilst I enjoyed Next of Kin and remained invested in its characters, there was a significant flaw at its heart. Archie Panjabi, who plays Mona, said the following about the show:

“It shines a light on (radicalisation) in the hope that people will discuss it.

“Ultimately, it’s about how a family is affected on a human level when they discover that a young member of their family is involved – or suspected of being involved – in something dangerous.

“The sad reality is that it has become (an important topic). It seems to be an increasingly frequent reality, so it’s something that affects each and every one of us who live in Britain today.”

Unfortunately, the programme failed to shine a great deal of light on radicalisation, as Panjabi hoped. The central dilemma of the drama revolved around the radicalisation of young Danish, Mona’s nephew. But the show focuses only on the effects of his affiliation with the terrorist group and his regret. As a result, it never gets around to explaining how this boy, coming from an ordinary and loving family, became radicalised. This is a glaring blank at the drama’s centre. A few throwaway comments putting the blame on the fact that his father was physically distant simply doesn’t cut it. In fact, it could even be argued that the failure to in any way explain Danish’s radicalisation perpetuates a dangerous idea that all Muslims, no matter their background, have the potential to go bad. Doesn’t this create the exact fear of Muslims that Next of Kin is, in other ways, trying to dispel?

Terrorist attacks appearing as frequently as they do on the news is depressing enough. Perhaps the topic is best avoided in TV drama for now, and instead we could focus more wholeheartedly on showing audiences the normality of most followers of Islam.

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