Homeland, TV’s Most Islamophobic Show
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I started watching “Homeland” because I was bored. All of my favorite shows were coming to a (season’s) end, and I needed something new to watch. I’m drawn to smart scripted dramas, but I was immediately suspicious of the show when I learned that its creators were also the ones behind “24,” the Fox drama that somehow became the chief piece of evidence for the effectiveness of torture and was a favorite of Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh. But I kept an open mind and was riveted by the first episode, which laid out the intriguing mystery: Is Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody the POW who’s been turned against his country by al-Qaida and its leader, the nefarious Abu Nazir? Soon CIA agent Carrie Mathison is seen spying on Brody and family in scenes reminiscent of the Stasi’s voyeurism in the Academy Award-winning film “The Lives of Others.” But as we learn more about Brody’s back story, the plot becomes increasingly absurd and insidiously Islamophobic. All the standard stereotypes about Islam and Muslims are reinforced, and it is demonstrated ad nauseam that anyone marked as “Muslim” by race or creed can never be trusted, all via the deceptively unsophisticated bureau-jargon of the government’s top spies. Here are four major, problematic areas (among many others. I couldn’t even get to the oversexed Saudi prince and his international harem):
1. What are Brody’s motivations?
The central conceit of the show is that a white, telegenic American hero in the heart of the nation’s capital can really be a Muslim terrorist. Presumably, Brody’s motivations are a key element of this story. But his character is such an awful pastiche of American fears and pseudo-psychology that only an audience conditioned by the Islamophobic, anti-Arab tropes in our media could find him consistent. Why is Brody so committed (sometimes) to carrying out his terrorist mission for deranged mass-killer Abu Nazir? Abu Nazir certainly played good cop to Brody’s Iraqi/Afghan (well they’re all Muslim) torturers, giving him a Ben Hur-like drink of cool water after a ruthless beating. Brody explains that his affections for Abu Nazir emerged because he alone had provided him with kindness during his ordeal, served, of course, with a solid number of mind games when Abu Nazir has Brody beat his American comrade to death (or so he thinks). Stockholm syndrome? Check.
Or is he out for justice, committed to avenging the death of young Issa? Entrusted to Brody for his English-language training, Issa apparently won a place in the stoic Marine’s heart. When a U.S. drone strike kills Issa and dozens of other children and, still worse, when the U.S. vice-president denies the incident on TV, Brody realizes that he and Abu Nazir share the same mission: revenge. Are we really supposed to believe that a Marine sniper inured to the brutalities of war would be pushed over the edge by the killing of civilians or a politician’s lie? The whole war in Iraq was based on political deceptions and defended with denials. Moreover, anywhere between 150,000 to 1 million Iraqis were killed in the war. But I guess Issa was one Muslim boy too far.
Or, most consistently, is Brody a terrorist because he’s Muslim? When being fitted by his terrorist tailor for his suicide bomb vest, Brody shifts into a morbid trance and reflects on how, when a suicide bomber detonates himself, his head is blown off and up, often remaining unharmed and reflecting his state of spiritual tranquility. “People will see you as you truly are,” the tailor remarks in Arabic. So Brody is truly a Muslim terrorist, despite his character’s conflicts?