by Huma Dar
The obligatory declaration of cinematic patriotism for Indian Muslims (discussed in Parts I and II earlier) necessitates a continuous performance of “loyal citizenship” invariably through offering the sacrifice of a “disloyal” one. This leaves little space for critical engagement with the nation, the state, and the unending wars. An example of this ritual performance is the sequence in My Name is Khan where Rizwan Khan, played by Shahrukh Khan (SRK), reports the “doctor” in the Los Angeles Masjid to the FBI. How do we know the “bad” doctor is an al-Qaeda member or a terrorist? Dr. Faisal Rahman does indeed talk about his “blood boiling” at the oppression of the Muslim Ummah in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir et al and even exhorts the handful of audience in a completely open space inside the Masjid to “join him and do something.” The details of that “something” are never revealed.
Does this imply that activist or academic work against oppressive wars or occupation or an end to imperialism are also prohibited, bound to be “reported” to the “authorities”? The fact that this lacuna is not remarked upon by most critics is in itself an indication of the degree of naturalization of Muslim as “terrorist.” Even if the doctor is indeed a terrorist, why is Rizwan Khan’s reportage necessary to confirm Rizwan’s innocence and thus his acquittal? What if, like most of us, Khan had not serendipitously run into this “terrorist” to later conveniently report on him? Would Khan have stayed imprisoned forever then? Isn’t one innocent until proven guilty? Or is there a new paradigm in the offing: become a “crown witness for prosecution” before one can be declared truly innocent? If so, might it be prudent to keep a risqué set of acquaintances of suitably “reportable” people — just in case? Similarly, how necessary was it to show Khan being stabbed by the angry, fanatic Muslim man with a skullcap, a follower of Dr. Rahman? This, seemingly unnecessary, over-the-top distancing of Khan from the Muslims constructed to be “fanatic,” is, I argue, a twice over ritual sacrifice of the ‘disloyal’ Muslim precisely to placate the gods of citizenship — a context directly taken from India, and reproduced in My Name is Khan.
A third sacrifice of My Name is Khan is more subtle – the scripting choice to portray Rizwan Khan with Asperger’s syndrome. Was it to garner extra sympathy for, and a drop in audience defenses toward, a character that might otherwise have been deemed “untrustworthy” or “intractable”? Or was it an allegorical reference to all Muslims (with whatever degree of (dis)ablebodiedness) having to perform an autistic/Asperger-like, repetitive: “I am not a terrorist” in the post 9/11 era? Had the film shown Rizwan Khan without Asperger’s Syndrome, what narrative possibilities might have opened up or closed down? Is the presence of a [male] Muslim body who can “read” love and fear, hostility and hospitality, irony and humor, “good” and “bad” as well as the nuances in-between, inherently more terrifying in this age of war without end? This, I argue, is the sacrifice of the third Muslim “bodiedness” — an “able” male Muslim body (in India) is always already inscribed as “disloyal.”
[read Part IV]