Caught in The Headlines
Brick Lane Film Saga Crosses the Atlantic
While contemplating the small Portuguese village she's visiting, a character in London writer Monica Ali's new novel, Alentejo Blue, thinks to herself, "I could run away and be here." Given the events that have unfolded for Ali in the past month, the line must be resonating with the author, who has a very good reason to remain holed up in the vacation home in Portugal, where she wrote much of the novel: Back in London, the filming of a movie adaptation of her best-selling first novel, Brick Lane, has caused a major ruckus. In the real East London Bangladeshi neighbourhood of Brick Lane, which was to star as itself in the movie, community activists succeeded in forcing Ruby Films to halt filming. They disapprove of the tale of a young woman who arrives in London's Muslim Bangladeshi community via an arranged marriage, and eventually starts an affair with a young Islamic radical.
Community leader Abdus Salique said last month, "[Ali] has imagined ideas about us in her head. She is not one of us, she has not lived with us, she knows nothing about us, but she has insulted us."
A very public debate rolled on earlier this week, with a high-profile dual in the press between Germaine Greer, who wrote in favour of the protesters, and Salman Rushdie, who called Greer's piece "pro-censorship twaddle."
"I am British and I am Asian and those are very fine things to be and there's no reason to get away from that. "
Political sensitivities will be all the more raw in the wake of this week's news that British police thwarted a suicide-bombing plot to blow up several airplanes about to take off from Heathrow Airport - and announced the arrest of two dozen young men, most of whom came from Pakistani families in a poor but respectable neighbourhood in East London.
No wonder authors like Ali - who was born to a Bengali father and white British mother in what is now Pakistan, and who grew up in England - feel like they're on the hot seat. And no wonder one of the first questions Ali faces these days while promoting Alentejo Blue is whether, in changing settings, she was fleeing the moniker of "British-Asian writer."
"I found that amusing and a bit bemusing," she said in an interview in Toronto in late June. "I am British and I am Asian and those are very fine things to be and there's no reason to get away from that. But there's no reason why I shouldn't choose my subject matter any more than a white writer chooses their subject matter. A white writer doesn't get accused of trying to escape from being white."
"There are many issues I explore of identity and belonging and the radicalization of Muslim youth - the events following 9/11, the riots in the North of England."
Although it is unlikely to incite the same kind of rage in Portugal that Brick Lane has caused in London, Ali says Alentejo Blue isn't as dissimilar to Brick Lane as it may first appear. It explores identity, place and belonging among its motley crew of characters, woven, short-story-like, together.
"You can't get away from your interests," she said. "There are many issues I explore of identity and belonging and the radicalization of Muslim youth - the events following 9/11, the riots in the North of England. I'm very interested in the world around me and what's happening and the way identities are morphing and changing."
For instance, when she was growing up, Ali says the main soccer leagues had no black players. "The common currency was that they weren't team players. Now a lot of British players are black. Prejudices die hard, but they do die."
That's the more nuanced reality first-time author Gautam Malkani aims to capture in Londonstani, a bold mash-up of South Asian street slang and text messaging telling the story of a crew of middle-class Sikh rudeboys. In the context of this week's arrests, last year's London subway bombings, and the arrest of several alleged young terrorists in Toronto this summer, Londonstani will likely be tapped for its insights, by those trying to get their heads around the idea of Western homegrown terrorism: It's about masculinity, not race or ethnicity, suggested Malkani in a telephone interview from London last month. And the audience he hopes most reads Londonstani is a young male one.
"A lot of kids want to walk a little taller," he said. "The ideological stuff is just props. I'm not excusing Islamic fundamentalist kids. But in the novel, the characters haven't got a problem with Christianity. They haven't got a problem with the Royal Family, and they haven't got a problem with the British democratic way of life. Their only problem is they don't feel manly enough to stand as tall as they'd like to. This identity and subculture helps them do that."
Full article in Toronto's Globe and Mail
Earlier on Netribution: THE BATTLE OF BRICK LANE