‘Rogue One’ Actor: Create Diversity — or Create Terrorists

Riz Ahmed claims minorities will run to ISIS to 'be like James Bond' if they're not accommodated creatively

by Brad Slager | Updated 08 Mar 2017 at 12:19 PM

In a speech given before British Parliament, actor Riz Ahmed (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) made some blunt statements about diversity in British television. He implied that if productions did not offer more roles for minority performers, well, those productions actually could be inspiring minorities to take part in terrorism.

“If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism,” Ahmed told Parliament, to whom he was giving Channel 4’s annual lecture on diversity. He said minorities may “switch off and retreat to fringe narratives, to bubbles online and sometimes even off to Syria.”

“If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism,” Ahmed said to Parliament where he was giving Channel 4’s annual lecture on diversity.

The British actor and rapper, 34, continued, “In the mind of the ISIS recruit, he’s the next James Bond, right? Have you seen some of those ISIS propaganda videos? They are cut like action movies. Where is the counter-narrative? Where are we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories, that they are valued?”

The first issue that strikes here is a tacit demand of action — with the threat of retribution. It has the feel of a do-this-or-pay-a-price level of commentary. Here is an actor, an artist, implying that aspects of the artistic process should become compulsory. In dealing with creativity, his suggesting quotas to be applied is curious to say the least.

Related: Nike to Launch ‘Pro Hijab’ for Female Muslim Athletes

The darkest aspect to his words is the casual racism that’s suggested. There is an assumption in his thinking that minorities have little choice but to fall victim to terrorism when and if they don’t see themselves represented on television. That is reductive and even borderline offensive thinking.

It is also the contradiction of the Left. To make any statement connecting Muslims to terrorism means getting labeled as “Islamophobic.” However, Ahmed apparently feels free to accuse any Western activity of “creating new terrorists,” and to assume minorities have so few options and deal in such rash judgments that they are only steps away from becoming terrorists.

"If we don't step up and tell a representative story," said the actor, "we are going to start losing British teenagers to the story that the next chapter in their lives is written with ISIS in Syria."

He continued in even more blunt fashion, "We are going to see the murder of more [members of Parliament] like Jo Cox, because we've been mis-sold a story that is so narrow about who we are and who we should be." (In June of last year, Labour party member Jo Cox, 41, was repeatedly shot and stabbed in what the prosecutor called a "brutal, cowardly" and politically motivated murder. The killer uttered the words "Britain first" and "keep Britain independent" as he carried out the attack. Cox had supported the campaign to remain in the E.U.)

So, in other words, tell our story — or terrorism follows.

Some have mocked the actor's words on social media. "This might be the most ridiculous reach in logic I've come across today," commented a Facebook user.

One last implication here would be how Ahmed's comments bump up against another issue with immigration in Europe — and that is assimilation. It is telling how the problem is only presented in one direction. The networks are not accommodating, but there is no insistence that the disenfranchised partly accept the cultural presentation in Britain.

The solution to Ahmed's concerns would be to come up with content he desires to see — and offer it in the marketplace. Have a discussion, a presentation. At least on this point, Ahmed seems to be moving in the right direction. In a past interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the actor said that he was planning a series about three generations of a British-Pakistani family, which he would direct himself.

This is the way to affect the change you want. Instead of mandating it, produce the desired content yourself. The marketplace will then judge, and perhaps reward, the results.

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