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Homeland, TV’s Most Islamophobic Show

With its portraits of Brody and Roya Hammad, "Homeland" warns that Muslims are a hidden danger to fellow Americans.

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Similarly, it’s hard to take the show seriously, as an Arabic speaker, when the name of the boy whose death Brody is so semi-committed to avenging is mangled by everyone from Brody to the boy’s father himself (one Abu Nazir).  Issa, the Arabic name for Jesus, is pronounced Eee-sa, not Eye-sa. And Roya is a name common with Iranians, not Arabs.

Meanwhile, after Jessica throws Brody’s copy of the Quran in a fit, the episode bizarrely ends with Brody burying the holy book, telling his daughter he had to so because it had been “desecrated.”  Thankfully, for Muslim suburban homeowners and urban garden-patch keepers everywhere, a copy of the Quran cannot be so horribly desecrated by touching the floor that it has to be enclosed in clay.

Perhaps this may seem like nitpicking to some, but part of the show’s appeal is that it is supposed to reflect the reality of the world we live in (the opening credits cut between references to 9/11, the Pan Am bombing and footage of Colin Powell testifying before the U.N.). Part of its sell is that we’re supposed to feel like it all really could happen. But for anyone who knows anything about the Middle East or even the world outside the U.S., these mistakes are glaring. Given the show’s popularity and presumably generous budget, one would think there could at least be a line item for an Arab cultural consultant.

Another absurd and perhaps much more important mistake the show makes is in conflating the goals and intentions of various Arab, Middle Eastern and Islamist groups from al-Qaida to Hezbollah, without providing any context about their backgrounds or motivations. In the real world, the animosity and mistrust between the Sunni extremist al-Qaida and Shia Hezbollah is so great that it’s highly unlikely they would ever cooperate. But in the world of “Homeland,” Hezbollah, which has never threatened an attack on U.S. soil, is not only a close ally of Abu Nazir, but is able to deploy heavily armed commando units to attack a CIA team in rural Pennsylvania.

Then there’s the show’s portrayal of the cosmopolitan city of Beirut. The upscale neighborhood of Hamra’s streets are lined with cafes, nightclubs and European clothing stores like H &M. But in “Homeland,” you enter a Taliban den-like place where men in checkered headdresses and women in full hijab shop in ancient souks and machine-gun-wielding thugs roam the streets. While in reality Beirut is the plastic surgery capital of the Middle East and fake (and some real) blondes are a common sight, in “Homeland” Carrie is forced to become a brunette and wear brown contact lenses during her trip there to avoid detection. The portrayal so angered Lebanese officials that they threatened a lawsuit.

Najla Said, a New York-based Arab American actress, auditioned for the role of Roya months ago. She was troubled enough by the Beirut episode that she emailed her friend,”Homeland” star Mandy Patinkin, who plays veteran CIA agent Saul Berenson. “I think I’d actually call it bad research, coupled with orientalist fantasies,” she wrote. “What they have ended up with is just a complete mockery of the ‘culture’ of that city.” She said Patinkin promised to relay her observations to the producers. Said told me that she is concerned that the inaccuracies in “Homeland,” which is based on an Israeli show (“Hatufim” or “Prisoners of War”) and has a number of Israelis on its team including the show’s creator and writer Gideon Raff, will only “foster misunderstanding” and lead Arabs to say, “See everyone hates us.”

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