The Legacy of CBC’s ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’

Toronto.com – March 24, 2012

 

Before Little Mosque on the Prairie premiered on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2007, there were strategic meetings to discuss marketing and promotion. Confusion about how to promote the show was soon eclipsed by unhinged fears about what might happen after it aired. It is now in more than 80 foreign markets, including Algeria, Australia, Belgium, Finland, France, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, South Africa and Spain.

The show premiered on January 9, 2007. Soon after, jitters over any mass protest — every media outlet from CNN to the New York Times dispatched reporters to do advance stories — vanished inside the fictional town of Mercy, Sask. Little Mosque was a lighthearted comedy. The first episode, like every one that would follow, was neither inflammatory nor uproarious. Unlike some American dramas that arrived after 9/11 — The Unit, Threat Matrix, E-Ring, Sleeper Cell, and most conspicuously, Fox’s 24 — the characters in Mercy were mercifully benign. They were just struggling to get through the day. They were, in a word, “normal.”

Minoo Derayeh, a professor in the department of humanities at York University, uses Little Mosque in class to draw attention to social issues inside modern-day Islam.  Ozlem Sensoy, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University, says The Cosby Show arrived during the Reagan era, during a time when heated rhetoric about brutish young black men and a dangerous ghetto culture was widespread.  “I think Little Mosque on the Prairie has a similar place. It also grew out of a particular social moment, 9/11, and had these pedagogical goals — teaching white folks about a different kind of Muslim person in the context in which Muslim men had become the new brute, the new group to be feared.”

Minelle Mahtani, a professor in the department of geography and program in journalism at the University of Toronto, has mixed feelings about Little Mosque. “The show has gone a long way in helping Western audiences see beyond the tired stereotype of Muslims as barbaric, exotic, dangerous and primitive,” she says. “But I think we have to be really careful about the ways we commodify Muslim identity through popular representations. Whose Muslim voice is showcased here?”

“I think it was a terrible comedy,” says broadcaster and author Tarek Fatah. “And I think it survived purely because of what I call ‘white man’s guilt.’ If this were any other group of people, it would have been shut down in a month. Most people watched it with the fear that if they didn’t laugh, they’d be considered racist. It was a massive fraud.”

In 2007, Little Mosque received an award from the Search for Common Ground, a human rights organization that had previously bestowed honours on Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter. That same year, the show was snubbed for a best comedy Gemini.