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June 24, 1999
Kureishi Slammed For Creating 'Islamophobia'
Arthur J Pais in New York
They love him at Cannes and other international film festivals. Some critics in America have already begun hailing the film, My Son the Fanatic, based on his short story and script, as a sensitive cross cultural story of struggle for identity.
But at a panel discussion about Islam in the South Asia Diaspora, a research associate at Columbia University slammed Hanif Kureishi for stereotyping the Muslim community. Munir Jiwa, one of the participants at the discussion organized by Asia Society on June 22, asserted that the screenplay "raised and maintained Islamophobia."
The film, directed by Udayan Prasad and starring Om Puri as a non-practicing Muslim taxi driver in Bradford, England, who gives up his Pakistani family to be with a white prostitute, opens this Friday in New York and Los Angeles.
Miramax Films, the distributors of several Oscar-winning box-office hits including Shakespeare In Love and The English Patient, acquired the film last year after it won raves at the Cannes film festival.
The film also focuses on the disenchantment of the cab driver's son with his father's wayward life, with the British social structure, and his embrace of Islamic fundamentalism.
Objecting to the word 'fanatic' in the title of the film, Jiwa said the film offered a stereotyped treatment of Islam. The film also made its white prostitute a heroine while depicting the Muslim wife and mother as subservient persons.
He rejected the promotion of the film as a love story and a comedy. Jiwa, who is involved in research on the Muslim communities in New York City, saw the film as a commentary about Muslim immigrants.
Jiwa was joined in criticizing the film by Shiva Balaghi, a professor at New York University, who berated Kureishi for making the Muslim wife of the cab driver a closet character, and his narrow vision of women. Women are either mothers or prostitutes for Kureishi, she said, accusing him of presenting a black and white view of immigrant Muslims without any gray shades.
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