Monica Ali “just fanning communal rivalry”

Being at work and too tired to blog in the evening, I missed the whole story of the opposition in Brick Lane to the filming of Monica Ali’s novel of the same name. The objectors are saying that the book stereotypes and insults the community; others say that the objectors are mostly men and that women might find that the book accurately reflects life in the community, and others say it’s a free speech issue. Well, there’s a letter in today’s Guardian from Iqbal Ahmed in Ilford suggesting what Monica Ali’s offence may really have been:

The majority of British Bangladeshis originate from the Sylhet division in Bangladesh. Monica Ali originates from Dhaka.

There has always been rivalry between Bangladeshis from the mainly rural and peripheral Sylhet and those hailing from the major metropolitan areas like Dhaka and Chittagong. Sylhetis are usually stereotyped as being uneducated and cliquish: for instance preferring their children to marry within the Sylheti community. They are not considered “proper” Bangladeshis by many non-Sylheti Bangladeshis. Sylhetis are fiercely protective of their own language, family-orientated community culture and conservative practice of Islam.

I strongly abhor threats of violence against any individual or group. Yet I find it ironic that Ali is being lauded in some quarters as an icon of liberal multicultural Britain when in fact she is fanning rivalries and stereotypes within the British Bangladeshi community.

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  • Ange

    Interesting. Just like with certain quarters of ethnic Chinese - alright based on Singapore’s very own - they don’t welcome brutal but accurate depictions of them. It could be their rather low inferiority complex, or rather grand delusions of self.

    Divisions within the entire community have been around for yonks, for instance, those who adopted English as first/mother tongue are labelled as snooty superior “yellow bananas” [yellow on the outside but white inside] who are a mighty disgrace to the “yellow” race. So woe betide anyone who makes the effort to speak proper English without the typical Chinese accent.

    Worse, if you appear Chinese but speak Malay! Yeah, I’m talking about myself here.

  • Thersites

    Do the British Bangladeshi community need anyone to fan up rivalries and stereotypes when they already do it so well?

  • I dont know. I think she doesnt really have much of a connection with the community. It is my understanding, that as a Muslim lady(even though I dont think she was really raised in the deen) that she has married a non Muslim British guy and had basically no connection with her “ethnic” roots.

    It would seem like to me, based on what I have read, she is another person cashing in on the current interest in Muslim and foreign society, so even though she has little personal knowledge of the situation, she writes about it anway.

    Kind of like a fictional version Irshad Manji, although some could make a good argument that Irshad herself writes fiction.

  • What rubbish. She actually hasn’t said anything to “fan rivalries”, as this guy puts it, other than write a fictional book.

    And he reckons she’s deliberately being disparaging towards Slyhetis. Funny that, most young Slyhetis I spoke to wanted the film to be made:

  • Imran

    People from different areas of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan hate each other, no surprise there. Sylhetis hate Dakaiyas and Mirpuri Kashmiris hate Punjabis and everyone in India hates South Indians. These countries only really exist on maps.

    Dakaiya people don’t like Sylhetis because we are better off than them. Theyre envious because we established ourselves in this country in grocery shops, corner shops, takeways and restaurants. Lots of better educated third generation Sylhetis in the professions. Then we go to Bangladesh and only marry from our area and keep the wealth in our own families. Dakaiyas left on the outside looking in. That’s why they tell us we are uncultured and not Bangladeshis. It’s all about money and wealth.

  • Old Pickler

    It’s only a book. It’s only a film. Nobody has to read it or see it.

    She’s from my home town of Bolton, so she’s got to be OK.

  • Other than the area of origin is there any serious cultural or racial difference between Sylhettis and other Bangladeshis?

  • Thersites

    Other than the area of origin is there any need for any serious cultural or racial difference between Sylhettis and other Bangladeshis?

  • Arrow

    I think Sylheti ppl speak a different language. It’s about 70% same as Bangla in vocabulary and closer to Assamese from India in 30%. And Sylhetis are supposed to be taller and lighter skinned. But all Bangalis at the end of the day.

  • PremChand

    Sylhetis maybe lighter-skinned, but who in the heeeeell said they were taller? They’re easily some of the shortest Bengalis around. They generally have connections with more Eastern-Oriental type populations, which explains why they are both lighter, and SHORTER than other Bangladeshis. 

  • Shumon

    Sylhetis are generally lighter, more diver-looking AND taller. Im 5’8, I feel like a giant when Im with non-Sylhetis.