By Ben Soton
The BBC’s latest Tuesday night crime thriller Informer shows the murky world of the undercover police informant as well the love hate relationship between the British state and reactionary Islam. The series centres around the roles of a young British Pakistani, Raza Shar (Nabhaan Rizwan), and his police handler, DS Waters (Paddy Considine).
In one scene Waters tells Shar that he can “go to the places I can’t”, Shar replies “what Ministry of Sound and Cargo?”, an obvious reference to the generational as well as cultural differences between the two men. Raza works in a warehouse during the day and in the evening deals drugs to well-heeled customers in Shoreditch. Meanwhile his low income is shown when he uses his school blazer to go clubbing.
The idea of identity plays a big role in the series, particularly with reference to the younger man. Is his loyalty to the Muslim community or to Britain? An idea that is highly problematic, especially if by Britain we mean the ruling class and the repressive arm of the state. Meanwhile, why should a working-class youth on the minimum wage have any interest in supporting reactionary Islam, which as this paper has pointed out has often found common cause with British and American imperialism.
The programme gives an insight into who the police use as informers; many of them are petty criminals or sex-offenders. More to the point, some may even be supporters of reactionary Islamic movements themselves. In one scene Waters has to tell one of his informers to stop promoting Jihad in the mosques, to which the man responds: “How else am I going to make contact with these people?”
The murderer of the off-duty soldier Lee Rigby, Michael Adebolajo, was said to have been known to the authorities. Was he an informant?
The two men are brought together when Shar is arrested for drug dealing. Waters and his sidekick DS Holly Norton decide he will make an ideal informant, suffice it to say based on his identity. The drug dealing is not sufficient to keep Shar in custody or convince him to inform, but Waters and Norton soon discover his mother is an illegal immigrant.
The programme mentions some of the problems and assumptions made about young Muslim men. In a scene with a group of potential house mates he points to a photograph showing a man in Islamic dress giving out leaflets. The photographer assumes that the flyers are Islamic propaganda; Shar points out that he knew the man and the leaflets were, in fact, takeaway menus.
In a discussion with his younger brother, who is good at Maths in school and has an ambition to become an astronaut, he is told: “They don’t let Pakis on planes, they’re not going to let one go into space.”
Overall the programme does contain some good social commentary as well as amusing one-liners. Will it explain fully the true relationship between the British state and reactionary Islam however? I doubt it.