Does it matter if Homeland is “the most bigoted program on TV”?

HOMELAND (Season 4)

The American television series “Homeland” is wildly popular in Canada. Hundreds of thousands watch CIA agent Carrie Mathison in her continual fight to save western liberal democracy from evil Arab forces motivated by hate and religion. Does this matter to those who want Canada to have a balanced policy with respect to Israel/Palestine? You bet it does. See my article.

One of the unspoken obstacles we face in trying to have a rational conversation about Israel/Palestine in Canada is that many Canadians have a deep uneasiness about Arabs (and about Islam).

Among other things, we are uncomfortable with headscarves, long beards, the important role of religion and the unequal legal status of women, (even though all of this was very prevalent in all Christian countries until a century or two ago). There is also a concern over an apparent link between Islam and terrorism, both in the Middle East and in the West.

(In contrast to this discomfort with Arabs and Muslims, Canadians know that most Jews in Canada have thoroughly embraced the liberal and egalitarian views of western society. From there it is easy to believe that the Jewish State of Israel is an embattled bastion of liberalism surrounded by the dark forces of Islamic religious obscurantism.)

Fearing the “other” is of course, the basis of racism, and it exists in every society in the world. In most liberal societies it is recognized as a bad thing, and governments and civil institutions spend considerable efforts to eliminate or reduce it.

But there are forces in Canada (and in the USA) actively promoting fear of Arabs (and Muslims), sometimes called “Arabophobia”, or “Islamophobia”.

The current frenzy around the threat posed to the west by the “Islamic State” or ISIL is a recent element. No doubt their gruesome practices are abominable. But how much of a threat they pose to Canadians is not clear.

Fear of Arabs is also a strong feature of popular culture from film to television. The very popular US television series “Homeland”, now in its 4th season,  is a good example.  Its exciting mix of adventure, in which good white guys (and gals) fight evil and misogynist Arab (or Muslim) men is addictive. But it also “the most bigoted show on TV” according to a recent article in the Washington Post, actively encouraging a fear of Arabs/Muslims. The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, dismissed Homeland as a series about “hysterical CIA agents in a hysterical country”.

The Islamophobia of Homeland is not a pure coincidence. The US program is based on a popular Israeli series Hatufim (English title: Prisoners of War), later transplanted to the USA. In fact, a former Israeli paratrooper is one of the major consultants on the series. Hardly surprising, therefore that Palestinians figure prominently among the bad guys.

What can we do about it? Not much, except perhaps watch a couple of episodes, so that when it comes up in conversation we know something about it. Anybody got a better idea?

4 comments

  1. It is obvious that there are bad guys among every religion and nation, the generalization and the stigma makes the difference between introducing facts to the public versus racism. Can the Arabs/Muslims one day succeed to convince the West that Islamophobia=Antisemitism ?!

  2. Hi Peter,

    I am not sure why are you and other journalists so surprised by the bigotry of this TV show. Perhaps, because it is rated the number 1 TV show and it is the hottest right now. I have read similar articles that talks about the TV show and how it demonizes Arabs and Muslims.

    Hamra Street (the street in Season 2 portrayed in a very bad way) is a very well known street in Beirut and our apartment was minutes away from it. It is very modern, has lots of American brand coffee shops (Starbucks), malls, movie theaters and the American University of Beirut is at the end of this street. It is also an amazing place to get a very tasty falafel or Shawarma sandwich. Oh I forgot, and lots of eye candies wearing mini skirts 🙂

    Portraying Muslims in Movies and TV shows has been there since way before Homeland. There are tons of movies like The Siege, True Lies, Executive decisions……etc that shows Muslims as evil. These movies were made way before 9/11.

    Edward Said, a Palestinian intellectual, has written extensively about this in his book :

    http://www.amazon.ca/Orientalism-Edward-W-Said/dp/039474067X

    Here is also an interview with him about the book:

    You might find this interesting, Netenyahu visited hollywood when he came to the US last March I think. Tons of Hollywood stars welcomed him as if he is the U.S. President not Obama.

    On the bright side, there is a Jewish Hollywood producer that made a film in 2010 called “Miral”, it actually talks about the Nakba days and the suffering of the Palestinians.

    You should check it out:

    Miral
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1366409/

    Ofcourse, some people didn’t like that movie too much ….

    Thanks,
    Fadi

  3. I’d also recommend reading Islamaphobia and the Politics of Empire by Dr. Deepa Kumar, a professor of Media and Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University. The Real News has just done an excellent five-part interview with her about Islamaphobia that covers Homeland as well as Bill Maher’s increasingly racist and crazy remarks about Muslim terrorists. You can find it at http://therealnews.com. It would help if everybody would post the links on their Facebook and Twitter accounts to get wider circulation of her ideas and analyses. I think they’re very good in helping us all confront how our attitudes are influenced and framed by popular media.

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