British Muslim Comedian Sadia Azmat on not being Malala, Prevent and Radical thinking
I discovered stand up comedy at a very early age watching late night comedy specials like Chris Rock Bring The Pain. What I loved was how raw and honest the routines were. Legends like Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle are all a great inspiration. My own style is observational humour and I call it as I see it. It’s amazing to work in a field where you don’t have to worry about people’s feelings, in fact, it’s the exact opposite, audiences expect to be challenged.
I find it important to exist beyond a stereotype and to be seen as an individual rather than a token Muslim, female or Asian. What I’ve discovered that surprised me is how much comedy is really about being truthful. My show was called ‘I Am Not Malala – The Girl Who Did Stand-Up For Entertainment and Was Not Shot By The Taliban’ as a play on the title of her book ‘I Am Malala’. After she was shot a lot of people congratulated me and it was rather bizarre for me to take the credit for her bravery and the fact she survived the ordeal! It was similar to how people congratulated all black people after Obama was elected like they had won some sort of prize.
My latest material tracks the rise of ISIS, Jihad and terrorism. The case of 26 year old Brit Tareena Shakil, who returned from ISIS, highlights the heightened paranoia as she received a sentence of six years for allegedly supporting ISIS, which is weird since threatening to kill the U.S President only gets you five years.
Another concern is the fact that the Government STILL doesn’t have a current definition for terrorism! The Prime minister remains evasive on the area and simply gives contemporary Muslims the cryptic message to adopt ‘British values’. However, when a family tried to do just that by travelling to Disneyland they were prevented from doing so, because one of the people travelling had a questionable friend on Facebook. Now so you know, all my friends on Facebook are questionable! They take pictures of themselves eating cereal, I can’t vouch for them! Muslims are constantly being made an example of in order to, on some level, justify how deep the Government have gotten in terms of their attempts at countering radicalisation.
What seems to be overlooked is the commitment the majority of the Muslim community have to integrate. It’s the Government’s policies that seem to be divisive. Take for instance the Government’s recent £20 million funding to teach Muslim women who can’t read. One has to wonder if the only solution for people from other religions and backgrounds would be to first convert to Islam to be entitled to the same opportunities.
A balance needs to be struck in terms of really looking at the underlying appeal of terrorist groups versus stigmatizing an entire community. The popular view seems to be that radicalisation is religiously motivated – but yet the majority of evidence fails to support this, with extremists ordering copies of Islam for dummies on Amazon and being known more for their party than their prayer skills.
The motivations for terrorism are far and wide-reaching – from concerns about foreign policy, to lacking a sense of belonging. These salient issues are being continually reinforced rather than addressed. The rise of Prevent, the Government’s statutory counter-terrorism strategy, and it’s increasing infringement on freedom of speech and expression, is having an effect on morale and the ability of Muslims to feel like equal citizens.
As a comedian, and having researched the field, the answers I have found are that there is nothing wrong with radical thoughts or ideas. There needs to be a forum where these ideas can and should be aired and challenged in a safe environment. Without this, we’re kind of letting the terrorists win as they succeed in bringing us further apart.
Aside from making people laugh I want my comedy to help unite people from all different walks of life through the similarities in our experiences. I always try and come from an honest perspective and also want to help audiences identify with the issues I raise, rather than confirm some form of indoctrination they may have already become accustomed to.