According to this left wing dhimmi, Peter Beaumont, at The Guardian, “the slick US drama, now into its second season, draws praise from critics and viewers, but its ridiculous view of Arabs and Islam is a distortion of Middle Eastern realities.” (That’s funny, I have a problem with a crude image of a United States Marine converting to Islam while a POW in Iraq, who is now conspiring with Muslim terrorists to kill Americans on U.S. soil)
GUARDIAN Fictional drama tells us truths about ourselves in ways that can be as uncomfortable as they are unintended. The Emmy-winning Homeland is a case in point. Its plotting is exciting, but what makes it difficult to watch is its treatment of Muslims.
In the first episode of the new season we were confronted with a new character, a glamorous correspondent with a cutglass English accent, a Palestinian family and access to both the CIA and the US Congress. Like the Saudi prince from the last series and the academic, behind the scenes these high-profile Muslims living in the US share a secret: both willingly or otherwise they are covert helpers of Abu Nasir, the al-Qaida terrorist leader.
In other words, it does not matter whether they are rich, smart, and discreetly enjoying a western lifestyle, all are to be suspected.
I admit I have no idea how the story arcs in Homeland will develop and what surprises are in store. What I do know is how both Arabs and Islamists have been portrayed thus far as violent fanatics, some of whom are powerful and influential infiltrators. (Hmmm, type-casting)
As someone who has spent much time in the Middle East, I find the depictions not only crude and childish but offensive. (And Muslims find everyone who isn’t Muslim offensive) There is more to it than the portrayal of individuals. For Homeland presents an odd and unbelievable image of relationships between countries and identities in the region, where Palestinians, Iraqis, Saudis all share an agenda regardless of background, culture and history. (Yes, they all do – kill the unbelievers and force Islam on the whole world)
Should any of this matter in a fictional series? The answer is yes. It has not only been Damian Lewis, the British actor who plays the character Brody, who has insisted that its appeal is that its “action is grounded in a political reality”. Reviewers have also praised the “credibility” of a programme whose fans include the president of the United States.
The reality is that what Homeland portrays is a peculiar view of the Islamic world, one rooted, perhaps, in its genesis as an Israeli drama, where the view of the surrounding neighbourhood is more paranoid and defensive. It matters for this reason. Popular culture both informs and echoes our prejudices. (When in doubt, blame it on da JOOOOOOOS!)
How we portray the “other” – those whom we fear or are suspicious of – reinforces cultures of conflict. Indeed, popular literature, plays, films and television have often been crude in their representation of perceived enemies – Jews, Germans, communists, Irish “terrorists” and now Muslims, amplifying concerns that may be based in some reality like the phenomenon of al-Qaida terrorism to represent it as some vague, universal truth.
In some respects the negative portrayal of Arabs in US film and TV dramas is not a new phenomenon, as documented by academic Jack Shaheen in his studies The TV Arab and Reel Bad Arabs where he has argued that historically Arabs in US dramas have, since the 1920s, been depicted as one of the “3 B’s: bombers, belly dancers or billionaires.”
Indeed, when there are inherent biases in the way that TV portrays groups and individuals – as in Homeland – they seem to reflect widespread and widely held attitudes. In other words, TV drama such as Homeland not only reflects cultural and social anxieties at any given time, it reflects back those anxieties, reinforcing and shaping them.
What is intriguing is that Homeland seems out of step with trends in characterisation post-9/11, in US TV and film at least. After a period when – as even Howard Gordon, the executive producer of 24, admitted in 2009 – the trend for depicting Muslims as terrorists seemed to be in decline, it sticks out like a sore thumb. (It was exactly when Gordon STOPPED focusing on Muslim terrorists, that the hit show 24’s ratings dropped like a stone and soon thereafter, the show was cancelled)
That coincided, too, with emerging criticism from both Muslim advocacy groups in the US over depiction of Muslims in drama as well as the refusal by actors to play “sinister” Arabs.
Perhaps, in the end, Homeland will surprise and conclude with a more challenging and nuanced picture of Islam and the Arab world that goes beyond the stereotypes. I am not holding my breath.