Is Homeland Racist?

Originally posted in The Morningside Post

Showtime’s Homeland, the multiple-award winning drama about the politics and personnel of counter-terrorism operations, has rightly received critical acclaim for the outstanding performances of its lead actors and suspenseful screenwriting. However, as a socio-cultural commentary, Homeland is typically stereotypical in its portrayal of Muslims.

American pop-culture has not been kind in its portrayals of Muslims, well before 9/11. Even in a movie as innocuous as Back to the Future, Marty McFly and Doc Brown had to evade gunfire from Libyan terrorists.

Jack Shaheen, the author of Reel Bad Arabs and a former CBS News consultant in the Middle East, has studied how Arabs are portrayed in the media. According to Shaheen, Arabs are usually portrayed as “bombers, belly dancers or billionaires.” For the most part, those roles aptly describe Homeland’s Muslims.

The show follows Carrie, a CIA operative, who suspects that a recently rescued American POW, Brody, has “turned” and begun working for his former captors.  While Brody is a national hero, Carrie suspects—rightly—that he is a sleeper agent working for Abu Nazir, a fictionalized derivative of Osama bin Laden. Carrie, and the audience, develops further suspicions of Brody’s intentions upon the revelation that he has converted to Islam during his imprisonment.

The terrorist network that Sergeant Brody supposedly works for is remarkably diverse financially and nationally, if not religiously. In the Homeland universe, Iraqi prisoners, Saudi princes, Muslim-American professors, Palestinian extremists, Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah and Sunni Al Qaeda are all somehow linked in a grand pan-Islamic plot to attack American soil. By ignoring the very real differences within the Muslim world, Homeland tends to vacillate between political insensitivity and laughable unrealism.

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