As we all know, when Gene Roddenberry set out to create Star Trek, he had a specific vision in mind for the show and the messages he wanted to send. Primarily, Star Trek was an optimistic view of the future of humanity, in which we had learned not only to accept, but celebrate diversity of all lifeforms.
Obviously, later instalments of the franchise expanded on this aim, incorporating many different social messages into the shows. But there's one specific method Roddenberry employed to make this message of diversity clear, and that's the characters he included in the main cast.
Uhura and Sulu were huge strides for representation on television, in a time when racial divides were even more prominent than they are today. With the newest Trek show — Star Trek: Discovery — promising to fulfill the same aim of inclusivity, there's no doubt that the cast will be as diverse as The Original Series. But it's the character of Chekov that Discovery should really try to emulate, and we don't mean by putting a Russian on the bridge.
Enemy Of The State, Friend Of The Federation
Pavel Chekov is many things — arrogant, courageous, loyal to the Enterprise, and fiercely proud of his Russian heritage (he'd probably argue that pride was invented in Russia). At the time Star Trek aired, such a character was very subversive. Thanks to the Cold War, Russian characters in American media served primarily as villains, because Russia was seen as the enemy of the United States.
By presenting Chekov as a lovable, if cantakerous, character, Roddenberry was making a specific point to his viewers — that no matter what the tensions on Earth right now, humanity's future depended on us working together.
This was a risky move for a fledgling show, but by including characters like Chekov, Uhura, and Sulu, Roddenberry created something nothing less than iconic. This diversity, along with the sophisticated plots and the concept of Trek itself, was what set the show apart and allowed it to become a franchise with such longevity.
As the first show after 12 years of Trek being off the air, showrunner Bryan Fuller has a big challenge ahead of him with Discovery. It would be easy to shy away from the more difficult aspects of Roddenberry's vision, and presenting an enemy as a friend is not necessarily the best way to win over a new audience.
But sending a similar message should be part of what Discovery sets out to achieve — and there's one culture that is desperate for positive representation.
Could We See A Muslim Starfleet Officer?
There are many people facing discrimination in the current fraught social climate, and positive representation in the media can go a long way to helping ease these tensions. There's no denying that Islamophobia has risen in recent years. Without delving into a political discussion of the specifics, suffice it to say that introducing a Muslim character to Star Trek might be the most revolutionary thing that Discovery could do — and this would be the best way to parallel Chekov's role in The Original Series.
Of course, this would not be without its problems. When Roddenberry created the Federation, he decided that humanity had moved beyond aspects of our current society. For one thing, everyone from Earth is now vegetarian (seriously), we don't have an economy or currency, and crucially, we're all atheist.
Or at least, that's what Roddenberry insisted when asked about the prospect of religion in humanity's Star Trek future.
"I condemn false prophets, I condemn the effort to take away the power of rational decision, to drain people of their free will — and a hell of a lot of money in the bargain. Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all. For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain."
Executive producer Brannon Braga backed up Roddenberry's statements many years later, explaining that he and the other writers always aimed to keep humans secular within Star Trek, instead using aliens such as the Bajorans to explore religion within the shows' storylines.
However, there is evidence within the shows that contrary to the showrunners' statements, the Federation includes and accepts religious people — even allowing expressions of this religion in the Starfleet uniform.
There are several Christian expressions used throughout The Original Series that imply the officers believe in God, and Data talks about a recent Hindu celebration of the Festival of Lights in The Next Generation episode "Data's Day". Regardless of the official stance, religion does seem to have prevailed within the Federation — and if the TNG episode "Ensign Ro" proves nothing else, it's that Starfleet will allow religious dress as part of the uniform, at the request of the officer in question.
So much for the canon. While many fans would be up in arms at the idea of Discovery stating, by way of an Islamic character, that religion does exist in this version of humanity's future, there are others that would support this idea — and not only because of the potential for positive representation.
Debates on Star Trek canon and continuity aside, the question of whether we'll see a Muslim character aboard the Discovery is already one that fans are asking, inspired by the purpose of Chekov in The Original Series.
No Bigotry On The Bridge
At the "Star Trek: Mission New York" convention last month, Discovery writers Kirsten Beyer and Nicholas Meyer were specifically asked whether the show would include an Islamic character. Naturally, the writers did not want to reveal anything, so their response was suitably vague, referring back to the previous revelation that there will be an LGBT character in the series:
"The spirit of inclusion is not just related to sexual orientation."
We can't draw much of a conclusion from this, other than the writers really didn't want to confirm or deny the existence of a Muslim character. This could be because they didn't want to spoil a big reveal within the show — or maybe they just didn't want the Q&A session to descend into a heated debate.
In any case, the fact remains that including a Muslim character in Discovery would go a long way to fulfilling Roddenberry's aim of easing social tensions between different human cultures and peoples. Admittedly, to do so the Discovery writers would have to flout another one of Roddenberry's beliefs, but there's already ample evidence for religion existing within the Federation.
Personally, I would love to see a woman sporting a hijab on the bridge of the Discovery — and not just because it would be neat to see how the scarf is incorporated into the uniform. If the Discovery writers do want to combat Islamophobia with representation, the character in question must be a practicing Muslim, as this isn't just a racial prejudice, but one against the religion and culture.
Bonus points if there's an episode to explain why this character is still religious, as she describes the prejudice she faced for believing in a deity in a predominantly atheist society. That could go a long way to fixing some of the inconsistencies in the canon, giving us a final answer about religion on Earth in the future.
As Captain Kirk would say, "we're all human", and we all deserve to see ourselves as part of humanity's bright future among the stars.
Tell us in the comments: How do you think Discovery can support the theme of diversity?