I used to love Homeland until they shot my beloved Beirut in a totally different country, which was Israel! Listen both countries are stunning, but it was just a “basic bi**” mistake. I can’t lie, it pissed me off because the two places don’t look anything alike and filming in Beirut would have been easy. I will be the first to say that Homeland is brilliantly entertaining and artistically and intellectually stimulating. I read the Washington Post article about Homeland being bigoted and this is what I have to say about it. First of all, as a person who was taunted as a Sand N***** at a Georgia high school party once when I was 16, being bigoted is real. It comes from fear and fear comes from ignorance. Ignorance comes from a lack of motivation. A lack of motivation can be corrected by giving the right incentives. The first incentive we can give the creators of Homeland is to explain to them that what they are doing is standing in the way of Homeland being an even better show. The truth is so much more dramatic and interesting. Homeland’s flagship poster has the all-American Carrie Mathison in a red cape surrounded by faceless Muslim women. She is stationed in Pakistan this time around and the picture foreshadows how little the writers are actually trying when it comes to not being offensive and misleading. The audial and visual diversity in any given city in the Middle East is incredible. Homeland has made a lot of the cities look deserted and the people look like sheep.
Think about it. The Middle East (even parts of southwest Asia) is at war because it holds a diversity of philosophies, cultures and socio-economic fortunes that often clash. I remember when I was in law school, I would fantasize about writing for the show instead of being in law school. It is obvious that there is a lack of motivation in depicting the Middle East correctly. If the motivation is money, ratings or some combination of either one catering to a certain population, then I assure you that the narrative of the modern Middle East would call to a much larger group. Liberals and Conservatives, Muslims, Christians, White Americans, Black ones and Arab-Americans would probably all be more attracted to the complex and layered story of the region. Homeland has conflated so much in its pursuit of a good story that it has failed to get the even better one. It has reduced the region into something much less disastrous, complex and beautiful than the pockets of the Middle East truly are.
First of all, the Post correctly points out that there are basic errors all over the place. Laila Al Arian correctly mentions that no one buries the Quran after someone drops it on the ground. Also, Roya Hammad’s character is apparently Palestinian but her first name is a Persian one. Actually, Shiites and Sunnis need to be parsed out and so do the different groups in a better way. The richness of other shows on television nowadays supports the fact that Americans are sophisticated enough to enjoy layered entertainment. Roya’s name situation is atypical, and I would bet a lot of money that the writers weren’t getting creative here. I think my particular hell was the depiction of Hamra Street. For better or worse, Hamra was my summer stomping grounds. Hamra Street, I will have you know, is probably one of the most cosmopolitan pieces of real estate in the entire Middle East. In fact, Hamra has an American University in the neighborhood, it has pubs and restaurants, a very seedy gay bar called Wolf, regular bars, hookah cafes and a plethora of plastic-surgeried women walking around it. It has a Starbucks and a Nando’s too. So, I guess, it’s not perfect, but it is not the place depicted in Homeland either. I have attached my very good friend Eric Hinojosa’s piece called “Beirut at Night.” That will show you Hamra Street, and Beirut in general. Below is how Homeland shows Hamra.
The problem is that Islam is portrayed as a faith that people should be ashamed of. This is obvious when Brody prays secretly or when his wife waves a Quran in his face disgusted or when terrorists decide the best hiding place is the mosque. That is obviously the worst place to hide if you are being chased by a CIA character written by the writers of Homeland. The structure of the show is basically haphazardly mashing all sorts of different stereotypes about Islam, its politicization, Arabs, Muslims and the entire region into one totally corrupt narrative. Again, the show is really good. It is just a little lazy in my very bias opinion. I think another rough spot for me was when Abu Nazir meets with a Hezbollah leader who is beating his wife. The domestic violence is just unnecessary and Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda meeting is also implausible. It is also extremely misleading. It conflates two totally different (religiously, philosophically, organizationally, socio-economically, and in terms of end goal) armed groups in the Middle East. Hezbollah represents a formerly disenfranchised portion of the Shiite community in Lebanon whom has 12 ministers in the government, a military wing, hospitals, a television network and schools. Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is a network of Wahhabist Sunni terrorists scattered in loosely attached groups from Africa to Pakistan. One is Shiite and the other is Sunni. One is Iranian funded and the other got most of its money from Saudi Arabia. In fact, Hezbollah is fighting Al-Qaeda factions in Lebanon and all over Syria as we speak.
Homeland needs a more nuanced approach to its storytelling when it comes to the Middle East. I say this as unemotionally as possible. Its ratings will go up. I get that fiction is fiction, but when you are giving your audience the illusion that you are teaching them something that is in the news then it leads to false confidence about politics.This false confidence is a nefarious cousin of ignorance. Ignorance leads to corruption in holding our officials accountable. This ultimately leads to bad foreign policy. I won’t go further than that. Muslims need to play a more complex role in our consciousness than either terrorist or CIA informer. Not to protect Muslims or non-Muslims–who knows how to do that, but rather to protect the truth as a concept which is good and holy. Truth leads to money too. The fact of the matter is that the Middle East is so much more dramatic and interesting than this basic illegitimacy being forwarded as informative television. I will say it a third time, Homeland is brilliant in a million ways, but it just isn’t as good as it could be.