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Islamophobia in "Homeland". Can Muslims speak for themselves in the TV series ?

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2017 19 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Kultur und Landeskunde

Leseprobe

Contents

1 Introduction

2 Depiction of Muslim protagonists in Homeland

3 Analyzing Nicolas Brody

4 Depiction of Americans in Homeland

5 Problematic representations in Homeland

6 Résumé

7 Works Cited

1 Introduction

In fall of 2011, many critics celebrated Homeland as the best show of the season. One year later, similar reviews could be read. But since the pilot of the first season of the show, voices of strong disapproval mixed with the applause. These voices did not just criticize some logic errors in the story writing or sloppy acting (justifiably or not) but brought up a serious accusation: Homeland displaying islamophobic representations. As an example, Laila Al-Arian states that the show has the “insidious implication that Muslims, no matter how successful, well-placed and integrated, are a hidden danger to their fellow Americans” (salon.com). I would like to analyze and explore the hints and underlying premises of the show on whether or not islamophobic tendencies and representations can be discovered and, if so, to which extend.

Why is it important to ask these questions? In an article, The Guardian foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont describes the way “‘the other’ – those whom we fear or are suspicious of –“ is depicted in popular films and TV shows can reinforce “cultures of conflict” because “[p]opular culture both informs and echoes our prejudices” (theguardian.com). The show claims to be close to reality and tries to showcase this for example by putting 9/11 witness footage and real politicians such as President Clinton, President Obama (who himself is a fan of the show, cbsnews.com) or Commander Colin Powell into the opening credits, which is an attempt to convey credibility and authenticity to the viewer. But that exactly is why it is important to consider how religious groups, minorities or ethnicities are represented. Popular culture is capable of reinforcing images and prejudices, and a show like Homeland that tries to appear credible to his viewer needs to be sensitive about this. Additionally, islamophobia is indeed a pressing issue. Ramon Grosfoguel argues in the Islamophobia Studies Journal (ISJ) that since 9/11 “anti-Arab racism through an Islamophobic hysteria [escalated] all over the world” (15). One finding in a study about representations of Muslims in the Wall Street Journal was that the terms ‘Muslims’, ‘fanatics’ and ‘terrorists’ are absurdly used as “interchangeable co-words” (Joseph and D’Harlingue 142). These are just two examples that show a glimpse of the complexity and pertinence of islamophobia.

To answer these questions, I will examine how Muslims are depicted or, more precisely, whether they can speak for themselves. The theoretical basis for this is provided by the article Reading Power: Muslims in the War on Terror Discourse by Uzma Jamil published in the ISJ . She argues that after 9/11 Orientalism re-emerged, which she describes as a “hegemonic discourse” that “‘creates’ knowledge about Islam” by claiming the Orient is “incapable of defining itself” and needs to be spoken for.[1] It also establishes a strong dichotomy between the superior west and the “primitive, uncivilized, and violent” Orient and marks it as “something to be either feared or mastered” (32). Is it true that Homeland tells a simplified ‘war on terror’ narrative in which an innocent America has to face an aggressive Orient, as Timo Al-Farooq (freitag.de) puts it? Or are there more facets to the way Islam and its followers – respectively the west, Americans and their flaws – are depicted? It will be helpful to analyze different scenes throughout the TV series to assess the interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims and the depiction of both. Chapters two and three will be concerned about the way Muslim protagonists of the show are portrayed, with the third being a closer look on the main protagonist Nicolas Brody. Analogously, the fourth chapter considers the image of Americans[2] presented in Homeland in a brief analysis . Finally, I will discuss some more problematic observations of how Islam and the handling of it is portrayed. This analysis focuses on the first two seasons.

2 Depiction of Muslim protagonists in Homeland

The first time the viewer is introduced to a Muslim is at the very beginning of the pilot episode: It is Hasan Ibrahim who has worked for Abu Nazir, head of Al-Qaida, as a bomb maker. He was just sentenced to death for bombing dozens of civilians on a market place, but has “intel on an imminent attack on US soil.”[3] For this reason (and this reason only), Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), a CIA operative, tries to at least suspend the sentence so she can get him to talk about his knowledge. Carrie calls David Estes (David Harewood), Deputy Director of the CIA, and drives to the prison Ibrahim is held in. While the viewer listens to the conversation he sees images of the prisoner and of soldiers preparing the gallows. Carrie and David talk about Ibrahim and the imminent execution while the viewer can watch him in his cell. The places Carrie and David are located in could not be more different: Carrie, driving in an old Mercedes, needs to stop her car and has to cover the remaining distance by foot because the street is blocked: honking, yelling and crisscross stopping cars form a heated chaos. The camera work is unsteady and shaky and reflects Carrie’s rush and distress, who is afraid she could lose an important source before getting the intel. David, by contrast, is at a noble party and wears a suit. It is so quiet around him he can almost whisper into the phone. Not only the steady camera, everything about David’s environment is a pleasing contrast to the mess Carrie is in.

Following this, Carrie bribes her way into the prison and is able to get Ibrahim to talk at the last second. In exchange for Carrie’s promise to take care of his family’s safety, he concedes that an American prisoner of war has been turned. This is a key for the following plot. Nicolas Brody (Damian Lewis), who was missing for eight years is rescued in a military operation and returns to the States. However, because of the information Carrie has, she suspects him of working for Nazir from the first moment. She sets up illegal surveillance in his house to prove her suspicions to Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), her personal mentor and high-ranking CIA officer. In the process of surveilling Brody and getting to know him she falls in love with him. Nevertheless, she never completely dismisses her suspicion.

At the beginning of the second episode, Brody, in a retrospect, trenches a grave for Tom Walker (Chris Chalk), his sniper team member and fellow captive. Brody is made believe that he hit Tom to death, which is a major trauma Brody suffers from. Even after years he has nightmares. Jessica (Morena Baccarin), his wife, tells him that in his dream he was shouting in Arabic and grabbed her arms violently. Wherever Brody was held captive, it is pictured as a dirty, dry and hostile landscape. In this scene, he is sweating and bleeding. One of the guards is constantly yelling commands and threatens Brody with a gun. Towards the end of the episode, when Brody, again in a retrospect, discovers he can leave the cell, the environment he and his guards are located in is shown as dry, hot and rugged.

In episode five, Brody is praying in his garage; while his voice continues, the scene cuts to an abduction in Islamabad. Again, violence, weapons and dust are subtly connected to the Arabic language. The kidnapped person is Afsal Hamid, one of the guards who used to abuse and torture Brody. He is brought to the States to be interrogated by Saul. In the first session, Hamid does not speak a word. Instead, Saul is fed information by Brody as they talk. He ends up answering every single question on his own. It is not that Hamid does not know the English language; Brody knows that “they all spoke some English.”[4] Of course, answering all the questions is part of an interrogation technique; it is still notable that in this scene, which fills eight full minutes of the episode and is only interrupted by short flashbacks, Hamid has not said one word. When Saul and Carrie later return to see whether he wrote down information, the first thing he says is: “I don’t know anything.”[5]

For the time being, these scenes from the first few episodes seem to confirm the suspicion that a western hegemonic discourse is at work here which does not let Muslims speak for themselves and depicts a primitive, dirty version of them and the places they apparently live in. On the one hand, they almost never talk and if they do it is mostly yelling. Scenes in which Arabic is spoken are connoted with violence. On the other hand, the Americans are the ones that speak, and they speak to or about Muslims, without them being able or willing to respond. Additionally, every place shown and connected to the Middle Eastern setting is portrayed as dry, hot, rugged and unpleasant, with people in it that still live in tribalistic, uncivilized and underdeveloped circumstances (cf. Samman 119).

It will be fruitful to look at other scenes in which some other perspectives can be seen and other voices can be heard. I will argue that Homeland actually does let Muslims speak. As a matter of fact, a whole range of different Muslims with the most diverse motives, desires and backgrounds appear in the plot. For one, there is Danny Galvez (Hrach Titizian), a CIA analyst. Not only is he American, well-respected and on the inside with top secret operations concerning highest security threats. He also does not make a secret of being Muslim because there is no need for it. After two innocent people were shot in a mosque (which community cooperates with the local Catholic church in a refugee program) by FBI agents in pursuit of Tom Walker, Carrie and Galvez visit Rafan Gohar (Sammy Sheik), the mosque’s Imam who welcomes them with the words: “Another government official here to suggest that if we weren’t all guilty in one way or another, none of this would have happened, right?”[6] Whereupon Danny tries to build common ground and responds in Arabic that he is Muslim, too, suggesting that Gohar’s accusation (that government officials are prejudiced and suspicious of Muslims) is unfounded. In other words: If the accusation was justified, Danny would not be working for the CIA.

Another example is Saudi Prince Farid Bin Abbud (Amir Arison). In the short appearance over the course of just two episodes, it remains unclear whether he is working with Nazir or if his assistant, Latif Bin Walid (Alok Tewari) is managing money transfers into the US without his employer’s knowledge.[7] However, what becomes clear is that Abbud enjoys his wealth, and he does so in the west. Also, he enjoys western women, modern technology and luxury like yachts or valuable necklaces. He is the opposite of being primitive, dirty or uncivilized. Similar things can be said about Saudi ambassador Mansour Al-Zahrani (Ramsey Faragallah). He gets trapped in an involuntary interrogation with Carrie and Saul. Carrie learns that Al-Zahrani’s reason to help Nazir is money: He lived beyond his means while having no savings and great debt. But his main motive is to make sure his family can stay in America and that his daughter is able to finish her degree at Yale University. He would not care if news of him being gay or of his debts became public. However, Al-Zahrani wants to avoid at all costs that his family gets deported to Saudi Arabia, which would mean life within narrow bounds for the women and the end to his daughter’s career. Like Prince Abbud, he enjoys life in the west and does not want to do without the amenities of living in Washington. He is willing to betray Nazir and to give Walker away, as long as he can maintain the lives of his family in the west. For Al-Zahrani, Nazir’s cause is just a means to an end. While he is not willing to betray his homeland, Saudi Arabia, he is not very hesitant to switch sides, from Nazir to the CIA, for the sake of his family.

[...]


[1] ISJ writers often refer to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak who in her essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” questioned “fixed essences or truths” set by western standards and argued that “the subaltern must be represented by others because the subaltern is incapable of representing herself” (Bjoernaas 83)

[2] There are American Muslims in Homeland. Those will already in the second chapter specifically be mentioned.

[3] S01E01, min. 0

[4] S01E05, min. 20

[5] S01E05, min. 30

[6] S01E09, min. 9

[7] Although a meeting takes place between Abbud and Nazir it cannot be finally clarified if Abbud actually is a supporter and if he knows about Walid’s doing. After all, his upset reaction to his employee’s death is real.

Details

Seiten
19
Jahr
2017
ISBN (eBook)
9783668481459
ISBN (Buch)
9783668481466
Dateigröße
545 KB
Sprache
Deutsch
Katalognummer
v369188
Institution / Hochschule
Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg – Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Note
1,7
Schlagworte
TV series Islamophobia Kulturwissenschaft Islamophobie Islam Muslime Repräsentationskritik

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Titel: Islamophobia in "Homeland". Can Muslims speak for themselves in the TV series ?