A recent hit TV show called Trackers based on the novel by Deon Meyer has come under the spotlight of the Muslim community in South Africa – particularly in Cape Town – for its representation of Muslims. The show, which has received rave reviews and seemingly largely positive public feedback, reportedly portrays Muslims in Bo-Kaap in problematic “Islamophobic undertones” and ties the community to terrorist cells. The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has indicated that it has taken steps to engage with the production teams of the show, as well as the broadcaster, and has acknowledged the need for overt steps to be taken to tackle the rise of Islamophobia in South Africa.
“Leading up to the launch of the series there was a lot of marketing that went into it and a few people in our community certainly raised the issue with the MJC that there was an Islamophobic undertone in the series,” said head of media and communications at the MJC, Fazlin Fransman.
“Obviously we could only make that judgement call once we had seen the series and engaged with the content…”
According to Fransman, the entire series – based on what she has seen and has been aired thus far – is not necessarily focused purely on Islamophobia or about portraying Muslims as terrorists. However, she does think that there “is a sentiment problem with this series that we find across the board in a variety of countries.”
“This is a first for South Africa in its portrayal of Muslims in this way. We’ve seen in Hollywood the normalisation of the image of Muslims as terrorists and that is something you kind of feel is a normalised reality in movies that come out of Hollywood. But for something produced in South Africa, it’s very disturbing when a community like Bo-Kaap, which represents the history of the Muslim community in South Africa and is well known globally for representing a particular culture in the country, becomes the centre of a so-called terrorist cell.” she said.
“Obviously, we know this is merely a television show and we shouldn’t read too much into it, but this is how we normalise things in society. When these series take places of historical importance for a community – that has always represented something positive in the country – and turn it on its head and now make it represent something not positive, certainly from the MJC’s perspective there’s a concerning element here and I think it’s deeply problematic.”
Fransman worries about the association between extremism and Islam in the minds of South Africans after watching locally produced shows which depict local Muslim communities in these lights and says a series like this is “a slippery slope” that breeds mistrust and the creation of an “otherness”
The MJC is investigating the motives behind the portrayal of Muslims in the show and whether the “Islamophobic undertones” remain true to the original intent and content of the book the show is based on.
The MJC has been engaging on different levels with producers and the broadcaster and they now await the outcomes of those engagements which will determine the MJC’s next steps.
Fransman has acknowledged that action needs to be taken to combat the spread of Islamophobic narratives which could pose a danger to Muslims in the country and admitted that South Africa needs forums to directly and overtly tackle issues like Islamophobia.
She warned that Muslims in South Africa may have become complacent with regards to concerns around Islamophobia and other related issues and says we should more actively evaluate whether things like this show infringe on the constitutional and human rights of the Muslim community.
“We have to be wary of the notions of how we’re being portrayed as a community…we know as a South African community and more so as a community in Cape Town, that this series is not representative of our community whatsoever. It’s laying the seed in this country for the tying of a Muslim community to the notions of extremism and terrorism.”