Humza Arshad is a comedian on a mission – making people laugh, while talking about things like Islamophobia and the radicalisation of young Muslim kids.
Arshad became a viral hit with his YouTube series about a young British-Pakistani Muslim growing up in London.
Almost a decade later, he started working with London’s Met Police Unit, speaking with young British Muslims in some of the most at-risk schools and colleges. The school that “Jihadi John” —the English-speaking man believed to be in ISIS beheading videos — went to was one of them.
Next he was chosen by YouTube to become one of the “ambassadors” in its Creators for Change programme, part of the video platform’s global effort to take on “social issues like hate, extremism and xenophobia by promoting awareness, tolerance and empathy.”
Arshad’s debuted his first TV series, called Coconut, on BBC3, the first comedy series fronted by a British Muslim on the network. His character, Ahmed Armstrong, is a middle-aged Pakistani man, who, essentially, is just trying to be British.
The thing that connects all his work is his very topical and thoughtful kind of comedy. Arshad’s powerful and self-deprecating humour has been breaking down stereotypes and countering harmful and racist discourse from the start. And his medium of choice has been social media platforms.
YouTube, as well as Facebook and Twitter, have all faced criticism for their inability to tackle extremist and hate speech trickling down through their channels. And with the record rise of hate crimes in the UK after the Brexit vote, tensions are running higher than usual.
For Arshad, the important thing is to have role models kids can look up to and relate to. Through his character Ahmed Armstrong, Arshad is offering a new generation of British Muslim kids an alternative on mainstream TV – representation.
Through his work with the police, he offers that connection to teenagers in anti-radicalisation workshops that, say, a white, male police officer simply doesn’t have.
As a YouTube “ambassador,” he brings it all back to where it started, using his original platform to spread a positive message and offer a counter-discourse to some of the harmful messages spreading online.
Arshad’s next project, as a YouTube “ambassador” is tackling bullying and knife crime in a series of workshops. And from the looks of it, he shows no signs of stopping any time soon.