The world of a British Muslim is a complicated place. While your distinctiveness amongst the Anglian masses is publically applauded, construct a suitably sized mosque or voice any opinions that divert from the norm and many people still get a little jumpy. Our nation is publicly fine with diversity, up to the point it infringes upon the status quo. A Muslim female working in an industry dominated by white males, comedian Shazia Mirza has proved she’s unafraid to make herself be heard. “On TV you get either a man with one eye, one leg and a hook or a woman in a burqa,” she tells me. “Those are the only two images we get of Muslim people. The vast majority of us never get a voice, because they want the absolute extremes.” Coming from a strict household, you’d suspect her family would disapprove of her career choices. Originally working as a science teacher, she began performing at small comedy clubs in London. With an uncompromising stance and a lot of hard work she’s broken through into the mainstream. Since them she’s won awards, landed newspaper columns (one cheerily entitled Diary of a disappointing daughter) and finds herself performing around the world.
Her new show, The Kardashians Made Me Do It, splits itself between the increasing danger of runaway politically correct liberalism and the rise of ISIS. Rushing headlong into areas that make many uncomfortable, Mirza has got plenty of home-truths to throw in the faces of the nervous. One strand of the show relates to the growing number of young girls running away to marry jihadi fighters. The perceived wisdom is that a hatred for the West drives the absconding teenagers, but the truth might be more biological than ideological. “It’s not radicalisation, it is sexualisation. They know nothing about religion or politics at that age, they just fancy these guys. When I was a teenager I fancied George Michael and Kenny Everett. I didn’t know they were gay, but that’s who I had on my wall. Nowadays they have pictures of Jihadi Jack, John and Ginger.” With some careful use of social media jihadists are brainwashing and luring increasing numbers of young girls to Syria. As a recruitment strategy it’s beautiful in its simplicity, and entirely plausible. “Barbaric as they are, you have to admit they’re hot. The West likes to think there’s some kind of political or religious reason, or The Guardian readers like to intellectualise everything, but it is just sex.” Obviously there are many people in Britain who won’t subscribe to this line of thinking, simply because they want to populate the belief that Islam is horrific religion.
If this new phenomenon is simply Halal sex tourism, the source of the issue is in the repression faced by these young women at home. Often immigrant families, eager to preserve their cultural identity, are wary of letting their youngsters integrate too much. Especially the girls. “It’s not our religion needing modernisation, it’s the culture.” Her own upbringing engenders an appreciation of the pressures these teenagers are under. The name of the show relates to a statement made in front of a Commons Select Committee by the baffled parents of a recent East London schoolgirl who left for Syria. They portrayed her as being totally British, not least for her love of that most Western of all TV shows – Keeping Up With The Kardashians. It’s possibly unquestionable evidence of having ‘British values’. “It’s naïve to say they’re not ‘British’. They don’t hate Britain, it’s all they’ve ever known.” There’s an unassailable fact that countering extremism should begin at home. Over 35 women were arrested for terrorism offences in 2014, many of them suspected of trying to join Islamic State in Syria as jihadi brides. Often these young girls lack self-esteem, wondering where they might fit into their culture and unable to distinguish between fact and propaganda. To prey upon them, Islamic State is styled as providing a utopia for the truly observant, one that is filled with hot men.
Mirza’s work often takes her to America, performing shows in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Mirza jokes that her success over there stems from the locals thinking she is Mexican. “They don’t understand British Asian. I always have people coming up to me, speaking in Spanish and offering me cleaning jobs. When I speak in English, they think I’m doing a character…” Of course in the eventuality Trump does become ‘Leader of the Free World’ there’s talk of preventing all Muslims from entering the USA. “I don’t know if Donald Trump wants to be President. He’s quite old and he’s not a politician. You don’t know any of his policies; all you know is the people he hates. I think he’s just addicted to fame.” Whilst much of her material rails against over-zealous political correctness, she feels dismayed against the likes of Trump and Katie Hopkins being lauded for ‘just speaking their mind’. She takes the platform she has very seriously, and isn’t using it to just get a profile-raising reaction for the audience.
With her trademark deadpan delivery, Mirza and her quick fire scathing exposé of British culture has been on tour since February. Some of her jokes might veer towards the aggressive, even occasionally sound harsh, but no one can dispute her reasoning. As her most political show to date, you have to wonder if any hate mail has been rolling in… “Only from my dad! Everything I’ve done before has been quite frivolous. But it’s the most truthful thing I’ve ever done. But there’s been no hate mail yet. Maybe people can’t disagree with the truth.”
Featured image credit: Martin Twomey
Shazia Mirza’s The Kardashians Made Me Do It comes to Komedia Brighton on Thurs 28 April.