Osama of Love global hunt Doctor
Osama Loves, as previously mentioned in this august organ (dontcha just love both those words?), is a participative online documentary I commissioned last summer from the breath of fresh air that is Mint Digital and Menthol TV. The interactive documentary came about in response to a request from my fellow commissioner at C4, Aaqil Ahmed, who looks after religious and multicultural TV programming. He had commissioned a season of television programmes about the culture (rather than the politics) of Islam, including a flagship primetime doc on The Koran. The underlying theme of the season was that Islam is not a homogeneous culture but a diverse and multifaceted one. Aaqil asked me to come up with an online project which conveyed the heterogeneity of Islamic culture and, after some great conversations with Andy Bell, Jeremy Lee and the MintFolk, Osama Loves was born…
In an interesting iterative dynamic, the interactive documentary which was born of the TV season in turn gave rise to a TV documentary commissioned through Janey Walker, Channel 4’s Head of Education. It’s a beautiful film entitled Osama bin Everywhere (and sub-titled Searching for 500 Faces of Islam). It follows the progress of Farrah Jarral and Masood Khan through the participative Web travelogue that is Osama Loves, on their mission to track down 500 people called Osama in just 50 days. The two intrepid explorers uploaded blog posts, tweets (a relatively early application of Twitter to enable our protagonists to publish by mobile when out of PC-based internet range), photos and videos each day, asking the public for tips and advice to help them complete their challenge and get the most from the countries they were visiting (including Nigeria, Egypt, Indonesia and Canada). As they backpacked across the Muslim world their search offered a window into the everyday life, culture and belief of the Muslims they met.
They asked each Osama they met “What do you love?” The idea was to transcend clichés about Muslims – the most well known Muslim on the planet being a certain Osama who epitomises these clichés and is not normally linked with Love. So Osama Loves sought out as many other Osamas (previously a popular name in Islamic countries) as they could in the time and showcased the rich diversity of their hopes and beliefs, concerns and perspectives.
When the spin-off TV doc aired again recently in the C4 morning slot it prompted a mass of positive feedback from viewers including:
“I am a Catholic and father to 6 children. Having just watched Osama bin Everywhere, I feel this programme should be shown to every child in every school in the UK regardless of religious belief. How refreshing it was to watch. This young woman deserves public recognition and a national award. The comments made and feelings expressed by all the Osamas were a true insight to Muslim people and the meaning of their religion.”
“Not really a press enquiry but please pass my congratulations onto Farrah – I taught her at school in the 1990s. Watched today’s Channel 4 programme whilst at home recovering from surgery. Very, very proud of what she’s become – but not at all surprised!”
“The programme was a joy to watch and I’d love to see more programmes like it. The presenter should be very proud of the programme – she is a great ambassador for her religion.”
“In a time of ‘reality TV’ which seem to be centered on Channel 4, finally a program that I could call brilliant! I was at work during my break and caught Osama bin Everywhere. I can honestly say I’ve not been so engrossed in anything in such a long time. This was a pleasure to watch.”
“What a fantastic programme! A real eye-opener, but I only saw it because the TV happened to be on when it started. Why was such a positive, heart-warming program hidden away on morning TV? Have you shown this in an evening slot? Please do!”
“I truly appreciate what you set out to achieve. Everytime I watch a programme on the television about Islam, it highlights the “bad apples”. I am only 18 years old, but have lived all my life in Britain. Having only visited Pakistan once, and at a very young age, you have driven me (in the most positive way) to go back to my country of ethnic origin. The programme itself has opened my eyes to how shallow people can be, relating everything bad to one name. I hope one day that I will have the power to enlighten people, just as you have to me. May you have all the health and happiness in the world, Inshallah.”
And here are a few other reactions to Osama Loves from more pressy sources:
Mike Mendoza, BBC Radio 2 website of the day
This is interesting – a Dave Gorman-influenced quest from 2 London-based Muslims (in collaboration with Channel 4), to find and meet 500 people who share the same name. In the process, they hope to change many people’s perception of Islam. Long-standing listeners will know that I like a pointless quest, so it’s nice to see a quest/travelogue which aims to do something a bit more positive.
Islam doesn’t provoke much interest unless they [Muslims] are burning flags or pillaging embassy workers or holding insulting placards. It won’t provoke much interest outside of Muslims, but Muslims worldwide will be grateful for the positive break. Put it this way, at least it’s better than their annual masterpiece, Big Brother.
No doubt the FBI will be keeping a close eye on the site – especially for any entrants expressing a love of the Tora Bora caves in eastern Afghanistan.
None of this is sponsored by the CIA – the aim is to give dignity back to a much abused and reviled name.