A well-intended yet misguided movie that’s unnecessarily melodramatic, painfully long and filled with stereotypical caricatures that merely exist to incessantly attest and affirm the same point (again and again and again!) that “A Muslim can be a nice person too.”
But technical issues aside, the movie inadvertently makes the same “group-think” error that it so humbly tries to rebuke. The correct response to denounce the claims of Islam’s tendency to propagate violence is not “Hey look over here! See, Muslims are nice people too!”. You’re just trying to put them on the “right” side of the divide — while accepting that such (crude and singular) division exists.
When one tries to describe an individual in terms of a single dimension – be it her religion, culture of ethnicity – all other associations and affiliations that this individual has are conveniently ignored. And what you end up with is a grossly incomplete, flawed and narrow understanding of that individual.
The protagonist in My Name Is Khan is shown to be a devout Muslim who continually chants his prayers, who donates handsomely to the 9/11 victim fund because that’s what a true Muslim would or should do. He opposes the justifications for a violent jihad – not because he’s a good human being, but because he’s a good Muslim (who happens to disagree with a nascent terrorist organization’s leader’s interpretation of a Koranic/Biblical story).
This reminds me of the classic example of a presupposition/trick question: “Are you still beating your wife?” If the respondent answers yes or no he’s admitting that he had beaten his wife in the past. Similarly, “Are Muslims bad people?” question presupposes that the humanity can be preeminently classified into discrete and distinct groups and defined based on religion… that the world can be seen (and analyzed) not as a collection of people, but as a federation of religions and civilizations.
While Islamist militants have good reason to deny all the identities of Muslims other than that of Islamic faith, it is not at all clear why those who want to resist that militancy also have to rely so much on the interpretation and exegesis of Islam, rather than drawing on the many other identities that Muslims also have. [From Identity and Violence, Amartya Sen]
What the makers of My Name Is Khan failed to understand is: the problem is not that of incorrect attribution, but that of monoculturalism (i.e. civilizational or religious partitioning that confines human beings into “little boxes”) and disregard of individual identities at the behest of a group identity.