Saturday, June 12, 2021

Pakistan-Origin Muslim Actor Riz Ahmad Leads Campaign to Make Hollywood More Inclusive

“With all my privilege and profile, I often wonder if this is going to be the year they round us up, if this is the year they’re going to put Trump’s Muslim registry into action, if this is going to be the year they ship us all off,” Riz Ahmad said back in 2019 at Creative Artists Agency's Amplify Conference. “The representation of Muslims on screen — that feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded.”

British Pakistani Muslim Actor Rizwan Ahmad

Who is Riz Ahmad?

Oxford-educated British Pakistani Rizwan Ahmad was born in Wembley, England in 1982. His parents migrated to the United Kingdom from Karachi, Pakistan in the 1970s. Riz is among the highest profile Muslim actors in Hollywood today. He has won an Emmy and received an Oscar nomination for acting.  Riz has been an outspoken critic of the negative stereotyping of Muslims in western mainstream entertainment industry, particularly Hollywood.  He blames it on Islamophobia from the lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood. 

“But sometimes, when you’ve got a feeling anecdotally and experientially, and you’ve been gas lit, you need that data,” he explained to Variety recently. “You need to bring the big guns to come in, and show you that this isn’t just in your head.”

Popular Television Shows:

The US entertainment media in Hollywood has been at the forefront of promoting the image of all  Muslims as terrorists. Popular television shows like "24" and "Homeland" have done it on a consistent basis.

In a recent roundtable discussion titled "Can Television be Fair to Muslims?", Showtime's "Homeland's co-creator Howard Gordon acknowledged that his show has fed Islamophobia in America.  Participants included both Muslims and Non-Muslims engaged in writing and producing popular TV shows such as Aasif Mandvi, Zarqa Nawaz, Melena Ryzik, Joshua Saffran, Howard Gordon and Cherian Dabis.

Roundtable Discussion:

Here's a brief excerpt of the exchange:

MELENA RYZIK: The F.B.I. has said that attacks against Muslims were up 67 percent last year. Do you have any anxiety about your shows being fodder for that?

HOWARD GORDON: The short answer is, absolutely, yes.

RYZIK: What can you do to handle that?

GORDON: On “Homeland,” it’s an ongoing and very important conversation.

For instance, this year, the beginning of it involves the sort of big business of prosecuting entrapment. It actually tests the edges of free speech. How can someone express their discontent with American policy — even a reckless kid who might express his views that may be sympathetic to enemies of America, but still is not, himself, a terrorist, but is being set up to be one by the big business of government?

For me to answer, personally, that question, it’s a difficult one. “24” having been the launching point for me to engage in these conversations, which I have been having for 10 years, and being very conscious about not wanting to be a midwife to these base ideas. We’re all affected, unwittingly, by who we are and how we see the world. It requires creating an environment where people can speak freely about these things. It requires this vigilant empathy.

Pillars Artists Fellowship:

Rizwan has now moved from talk to action by taking his fight one step further, by launching a multi-layered initiative for Muslim representation in media, in partnership with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the Ford Foundation and Pillars Fund, according to Variety magazine. 

Based on a USC Annenberg’s new study on Muslim representation in media — which found that less than 10% of top grossing films from 2017-2019 had a Muslim character on screen, with less than 2% of those characters having speaking roles — the coalition has created the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion, as well as the Pillars Artist Fellowship, offering selected grantees an unrestricted award of $25,000.


High profile British Pakistani Muslim actor Rizwan Ahmad is leading a campaign against negative stereotyping of Muslims in Hollywood. He wants to make Hollywood more inclusive by increasing Muslim representation in positive roles, reflecting the lives of everyday real Muslims. Rizwan has helped create a coalition with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the Ford Foundation and Pillars FundBlueprint for Muslim Inclusion, as well as the Pillars Artist Fellowship, to offer selected grantees an unrestricted award of $25,000.

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Haq's Musings


Riaz Haq said...

Islamophobia in western media is based on false premises

Although anti-Muslim sentiments certainly existed long before 2001, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the response to them intensified anti-Muslim tropes, namely the presumption that Islam is inherently violent or that Muslims have a propensity for terrorism. Since 9/11, specific individuals have turned Islamophobia into an industry, scapegoating Muslims to further their own agendas.

Like other forms of intolerance, however, Islamophobia can be objectively assessed. Empirical studies are an effective means of exposing this prejudice, one that plagues both sides of the political spectrum.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric
The rhetoric of Canadian conservative author Mark Steyn is typical of right-wing Islamophobia. For instance, Steyn claims that “most Muslims either wish or are indifferent to the death of the societies in which they live.”

Likewise, Dutch politician and right-wing populist Geert Wilders refers to the Qur’an as “a source of inspiration for, and justification of, hatred, violence and terrorism in the world, Europe and America.” British conservative political commentator Douglas Murray suggests that to reduce terrorism, the United Kingdom requires “a bit less Islam.”

We believe good journalism is good for democracy and necessary for it.
Prominent left-wing commentators also contribute to the same scaremongering stereotypes as their conservative counterparts. For example, American neuroscientist and new atheist Sam Harris asserts that “there is a direct link between the doctrine of Islam and Muslim terrorism.”

Similarly, American comedian and television producer Bill Maher believes that there is a “connecting tissue” of intolerance and brutality that binds 1.6 billion Muslims to terrorist groups like ISIS. And Somali-born Dutch American activist and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali states that “violence is inherent in the doctrine of Islam.”

None of these characterizations, however, are sufficient from a scholarly viewpoint. Self-evident positions and gross exaggerations tend to detract from the main issue: whether the depiction of Muslims as violent extremists is misleading.


Islamophobia is an apt term for classifying inaccurate assumptions concerning Muslims and Islam. Those forwarding an anti-Muslim agenda believe that their viewpoints are coherent, but as Eli Massey and Nathan J. Robinson point out, the function of a prejudice “leads us to believe that our generalizations are based on reason and evidence, even when reason and evidence actually point in an entirely different direction.”

The main assertion that Muslims largely support extremist violence is groundless. Because Islamophobia distorts the western image of Muslims, scientific studies serve as an important corrective in two important ways. First, they expose Islamophobic attitudes that have gripped the West since 9/11 and second, they help to decrease the spread of anti-Muslim vitriol by providing a rational forum for discussion.

Riaz Haq said...

The following is for the benefit of any one who’s interested in the reality as seen by a hardened CIA hand George Friedman who runs Stratfor widely seen as a CIA front:

1. America is a place where the right wing despises Muslims for their faith and the left wing hates them for their treatment of women. Such seemingly different perspectives are tied together in a self-righteous belief that the American values are superior to Muslim values. Americans, being at a barbaric stage, are ready to fight for their self-evident truths.

2. Perhaps more than for any other country, the US grand strategy is about war, and the interaction between war and economic life. The United States is historically a warlike country. The nation has been directly or indirectly at war for most of of its existence...the war of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and Desert Storm. And the US has been constantly at war in Afghanistan and Iraq since the beginning of this century.

3. The United States has achieved its strategic objective of further dividing and destabilizing the Islamic world after 911. The US-induced chaos and deep divisions in the Islamic world are sufficient to fend off any challenges to the US power from any of the large Muslims nations of Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran or Egypt during this century. Even if America loses in Afghanistan, it has already scored a strategic win against the deeply divided Islamic world.

Riaz Haq said...

ZAKARIA: Louis Menand is perhaps the foremost historian of America's cultural and intellectual landscape. His last book, "The Metaphysical Club," won the Pulitzer Prize. His new one, "The Free World," has received even more rave reviews.

He teaches at Harvard University and writes for The New Yorker.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, when you look at American culture today, what does it look like, you know, compared to the period you've just written so much about? MENAND: Well, the period I wrote about is the period right after the

Second World War, from about 1945 to 1965, the early Cold War years. So, comparing that period to today, I think we would say that today cultured America is doing extremely well.

I mean, we have to bracket the pandemic period, when cultural industry struggled a bit, but on the whole there's just an enormous amount of product out there. People are creating it. People are consuming it. People go to museums. They buy books. They download music. They stream everything.

And all those things are infinitely more accessible than they were 50 years ago. And I think they're more central to people's lives -- plus the bar to entry for creators of culture and consumers of culture is just very low. Anybody, pretty much, can record a song and post it on Spotify or YouTube, and almost anybody can listen to it there.

And, remember, video games are culture. TikTok is culture. Music videos are culture. And all these products now circulate worldwide.

I would even say that criticism is in great shape because the Web is filled with criticism. A lot of it's very learned and sophisticated, and it's all very easily accessible. So I would say, by that measure, I would say culture today is very strong.

ZAKARIA: What about -- the big difference that strikes me is -- between culture today and the period you were writing about in this book, which is -- and you alluded to it at the start -- which is it's totally decentralized now. There are no gatekeepers. You don't need to go through a certain set of established avenues or things like that, whereas culture in the 1950s, '60s was still very hierarchical.

Is that a good thing, that it's become so completely democratized, or does it mean, sort of, anything goes and standards have gone down?

MENAND: How could it not be a good thing?

You know, when I started out writing for magazines in the 1970s and 1980s, it was all print, and there were relatively few publications where, you wrote a review or wrote an essay, people would pay attention to it. So the gate was very narrow to become part of the critical conversation in a public way. Just very few people could get into those -- those journals and those venues.

Today is completely different. Anybody can write a review on Amazon. Believe me, they do.

Riaz Haq said...

Pew Research: Islamophobia in America has doubled from 25% to 50% in the last 20 years

Islamophobia among Republicans is up from 32% to 72% in last two decades.

Among Democrats, Islamophobia has risen from 23% to 32% in this period.

Ishaan Tharoor tweeted: Am I reading this right — that, six months after 9/11, fewer Americans believed Islam encourages more violence than other religions than they do now?

Views of Muslims, Islam grew more partisan in years after 9/11
Concerned about a possible backlash against Muslims in the U.S. in the days after 9/11, then-President George W. Bush gave a speech to the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., in which he declared: “Islam is peace.” For a brief period, a large segment of Americans agreed. In November 2001, 59% of U.S. adults had a favorable view of Muslim Americans, up from 45% in March 2001, with comparable majorities of Democrats and Republicans expressing a favorable opinion.

Chart shows Republicans increasingly say Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence
This spirit of unity and comity was not to last. In a September 2001 survey, 28% of adults said they had grown more suspicious of people of Middle Eastern descent; that grew to 36% less than a year later.

Republicans, in particular, increasingly came to associate Muslims and Islam with violence. In 2002, just a quarter of Americans – including 32% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats – said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers. About twice as many (51%) said it was not.

But within the next few years, most Republicans and GOP leaners said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence. Today, 72% of Republicans express this view, according to an August 2021 survey.

Democrats consistently have been far less likely than Republicans to associate Islam with violence. In the Center’s latest survey, 32% of Democrats say this. Still, Democrats are somewhat more likely to say this today than they have been in recent years: In 2019, 28% of Democrats said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers than other religions.

The partisan gap in views of Muslims and Islam in the U.S. is evident in other meaningful ways. For example, a 2017 survey found that half of U.S. adults said that “Islam is not part of mainstream American society” – a view held by nearly seven-in-ten Republicans (68%) but only 37% of Democrats. In a separate survey conducted in 2017, 56% of Republicans said there was a great deal or fair amount of extremism among U.S. Muslims, with fewer than half as many Democrats (22%) saying the same.

The rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the aftermath of 9/11 has had a profound effect on the growing number of Muslims living in the United States. Surveys of U.S. Muslims from 2007-2017 found increasing shares saying they have personally experienced discrimination and received public expression of support.

Riaz Haq said...

The (Bollywood) film (Sooryavanshi) does not even pretend to mask its agenda — which is the right-wing Hindu nationalist agenda of Modi’s government. It justifies the abrogation of the special status accorded to Kashmir, where thousands of youth were detained and an Internet blackout was imposed in 2019. Like the government, the film argues that the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution has wiped out terrorism from the valley.

If the filmmakers had read any news about Kashmir, they could have had a brush with reality. But who wants to talk about reality when the purpose is propaganda?

Propaganda sells, obviously. News just gets in the way.

Recently the police in India filed a case against 102 Twitter accounts that include journalists, activists and lawyers who spoke out against the anti-Muslim violence that unfolded in the northeastern state of Tripura in October. Hindu nationalists vandalized mosques and attacked Muslim homes, but the Tripura police went after those who spoke against it, accusing them of sedition.

For weeks in New Delhi, Muslim Friday prayers have been obstructed by Hindu nationalists. The Muslims were finally displaced, and a grand Hindu prayer service was organized in the presence of a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Nov. 5.

In this context, a film like “Sooryavanshi” is not just entertainment. The film makes a point of repeating attacks carried out by Muslims, ignoring the numerous episodes of violence carried out by Hindu radicals. Kumar’s protagonist speaks about the 1993 blasts in Mumbai but conveniently ignores the 1992 anti-Muslim carnage that preceded it. He conveniently ignores the 2002 riots of Gujarat, the Malegaon blasts of 2006 that killed Muslims after Friday prayers and the Malegaon blasts of 2008, where retired officers in the Indian army were implicated.

In India, Muslim seminaries and organizations are being hounded by the Modi government for allegedly spreading terror in the country using foreign money. In the film, a Muslim scholar and priest who runs an organization is seen as the mastermind of a terrorist nexus that receives funding from Pakistan. The filmmakers should have at least given writing credits to Modi and his allies.

Disappointingly, the film is produced by Karan Johar, a well-respected director who made a film called “My Name Is Khan.” That movie addressed the demonization of Muslims post-9/11. But that was before Modi. Johar’s new worldview is celebrated by the government; he recently received one of country’s highest civilian honors in the presence of the prime minister and his powerful minister of home affairs, Amit Shah.

“Sooryavanshi” is dangerous. After watching it, it’s impossible not to think of Nazi Germany, where Hitler cultivated a film industry that paid obeisance to him and made propaganda films against Jews. In a sane world, India’s film industry — and actors, directors and producers from all over the world — would denounce it for its criminal and brazen Islamophobia. But maybe I’m asking too much. If Bollywood continues this aggressive descent into nationalism and hate, it will have blood on its hands. No box office record will be able to change that.