Anti-Racist Critiques of “Homeland”

HOMELAND (Season 4)As upsetting as it is to hear about the Islamophobic TV show “Homeland,” it is encouraging to see so many anti-racist critiques being written about it. I mentioned this in my previous post, but media is a powerful force in our society that shapes people’s attitudes, perceptions, social norms, prejudices, etc. Constantly seeing demonizing images of Muslims in media are an assault on our humanity and they contribute profoundly to the apathy we see when Muslims are killed, tortured, bullied, and discriminated against. It is obvious at this point that the writers and producers are not concerned about how these images have a serious impact on the lives of Muslims, but I’m hopeful that these critiques by Muslims and non-Muslim allies will increase in number.

I decided to collect critiques of the show and post them on here. I will try to keep updating this post if I come across any more articles, but please feel free to share any additional links in the comments! Keep the critiques coming and let’s put them on blast on our blogs, tumblrs, twitter accounts, Facebook pages, etc. Below are excerpts from the articles, which can be read in full via the links provided.

I’ll start with the most recent article:

3 horrific inaccuracies in Homeland‘s depiction of Islamabad by Fatima Shakeel:

As I watched the premiere episode, my anticipation over seeing my hometown as the setting of a critically acclaimed American television show quickly fizzled as I watched Carrie Mathison and her fellow CIA agents arrive in a wild, filthy, menacing land that looked nothing like the place I’ve lived in my entire life. The show’s clear lack of homework on Pakistan is astounding; the setting, the characters, and the language that Homeland tries to pass off as “local” are all foreign to me.

[...]

Homeland consistently botches the most fundamental aspects of Urdu conversation, in ways that are both painful and hilarious to anyone who actually speaks it… The English accents are just as inauthentic. In real life, Pakistani English sounds nothing like the oft-caricatured Indian English accent. On Homeland, however, Pakistani characters speaking in English sound either like Apu from The Simpsons or like the carpet merchant singing the opening song of Disney’s Aladdin.

I find it hard to believe that the show’s producers couldn’t find a single native Urdu speaker or any Pakistani actors. At the very least, why not hire a language consultant? If Game of Thrones can hire a linguist to properly construct believable, fictional languages like Valyrian and Dothraki, why can’t Homeland hire somebody to check the basics of a real-world language?

A ‘Homeland’ We Pakistanis Don’t Recognize by Bina Shah:

Pakistan has long been said to have an image problem, a kind way to say that the world sees us one-dimensionally — as a country of terrorists and extremists, conservatives who enslave women and stone them to death, and tricky scoundrels who hate Americans and lie pathologically to our supposed allies. In Pakistan, we’ve long attributed the ubiquity of these images to what we believe is biased journalism, originating among mainstream American journalists who care little for depth and accuracy.

[...]

[T]he season’s first hour, in which Carrie also goes to Islamabad, offers up a hundred little clues that tell me this isn’t the country where I grew up, or live. When a tribal boy examines the dead in his village, I hear everyone speaking Urdu, not the region’s Pashto. Protesters gather across from the American Embassy in Islamabad, when in reality the embassy is hidden inside a diplomatic enclave to which public access is extremely limited. I find out later that the season was filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, with its Indian Muslim community standing in for Pakistanis.

I realize afterward that I’ve been creating a test, for the creators of “Homeland” and all who would sell an imagined image of Pakistan: If this isn’t really Pakistan, and these aren’t really Pakistanis, then how they see us isn’t really true.

A verse in the Quran says, “Behold, we have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.” Even after everything that’s happened between us, we in Pakistan still want you to know us, not as you imagine us, but as we really are: flawed, struggling, complex, human. All of us, in the outside world as well as in Pakistan, need art — film and television, story and song — that closes that gap between representation and reality, instead of prying the two further apart.

TV’s Most Islamophobic Show by Laila Al-Arian:

All the standard stereotypes about Islam and Muslims are reinforced, and it is demonstrated ad nauseam that anyone marked as “Muslim” by race or creed can never be trusted, all via the deceptively unsophisticated bureau-jargon of the government’s top spies.

[...]

“Homeland” leaves little doubt that, regardless of the other red herring motivations of justice and psychological manipulation, it is being Muslim that makes someone dangerous.  Brody is able to resist Abu Nazir’s machinations when he wants, and his desire to avenge Issa ultimately is overcome by his love for his own daughter.  But nothing can rid him of his Muslimness, and so, like a child molester, he will always be a threat to the audience. When his wife discovers Brody is a Muslim who has been praying in that most sinister of man-caves, the garage, she tears through its contents like she is looking for his kiddie-porn stash. When she finds his Quran, she points angrily at it, shouting, “These are the people who tortured you!”  These are the people who, if they found out Brody’s daughter was having sex, “would stone her to death in a soccer stadium!” She thought that Brody had put all the “crazy stuff” behind him, but he can only look sheepish and ashamed. The Quran, the sacred text of billions of people throughout history, is nothing more or less than terrorism and medieval justice embodied. Brody had it all, his wife implies: white, a hero, a family man, but he threw it all away by becoming a Muslim.

“Homeland” is the most bigoted show on television by Laura Durkay:

It’s easy to argue that “Homeland” is just a TV show, a thriller that naturally demands diabolical villains and high stakes. But these same stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims are used politically to justify actions in the real world — U.S. wars, covert operations and drone strikes; CIA detention and torture; racist policing, domestic surveillance and militarized borders. In this context, “Homeland” is not just mindless entertainment, but a device that perpetuates racist ideas that have real consequences for ordinary people’s lives.

“Homeland,” Obama’s Show by Joseph Massad (thanks to RenKiss for sharing this):

Homeland’s plot is hardly original. Its story is borrowed from the world of fiction and reality. While the plot resembles that of the 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate, and the anxiety about the enemy within, the drone attacks that kill hundreds of innocent children (and hundreds more innocent adult civilians) have been a real Obama specialty for years, extending from Pakistan to Afghanistan and Yemen.

Watch this clip of Deepa Kumar talking about “Homeland”:

Margalla

Lovers on a honeymoon,
full of life and celebration,
smiles in new bloom.

Sad hearts journeying
to a dear one’s funeral,
open arms awaiting.

A younger brother hopeful
for the job interview ahead,
a bright future on the horizon.

A flight carrying 152 stories,
passengers, attendants, pilots,
human beings like you and me.

Dreams, hopes, and reunions,
all terribly lost
in a tragedy I will not describe.

Family, friends, Loved ones
mourning in agony
while the rest of the world moves on.

Your suffering, we cannot understand,
but here, some strangers across the ocean
are weeping and praying for your sorrows.

May Angels attend to your broken hearts,
hug you at night, kiss away your tears,
bless you with dreams
of your lost ones gathering
in the garden of souls.

How fragile this existence is.
How tragic the loss
and how unfair.

I want our prayers
to bring them back to life.

~ Jehanzeb

Senseless Drone Attacks on Pakistan: Obama’s Real Science-Fiction War

drone

Yesterday, June 24th, over 80 people were killed after a U.S. drone fired missiles at the funeral of a suspected commander of the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan.  Pakistani officials reported that the Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, escaped the attack while the majority of those killed were civilians.  Al-Jazeera English reports the following:

Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said: “There are reports that Mehsud himself was at the congregational prayer and escaped the attack.

However, we are told that a number of people present at that particular moment were [also] killed. There were unconfirmed reports that the death toll is much higher because a number of the bodies are badly mutilated.

However, Qari Hussain, a close associate of Mehsud, denied reports that Mehsud had a close call and said many of the dead were civilians.

“Baitullah Mehsud was at a secret place at the time of the American missile attack, and the attack killed only five of our colleagues, and the remaining 45 slain men were villagers,” he told The Associated Press news agency.

There is some dispute over the causality numbers — some say over 45, some say over 65, some say over 80 — but does the exact number really matter when we’re (1) talking about human life and (2) what has now become a frequent routine sweep for U.S. drone attacks in the region?  Since President Obama’s inauguration in January, he has authorized regular attacks from unmanned U.S. predator drones on Pakistan, which has amounted to over 150 people.  As Jeremy Scahill writes in his article, Obama’s Undeclared War Against Pakistan Continues, Despite His Attempt to Downplay It,” that “Since 2006, U.S. drone strikes have killed 687 people (as of April). That amounts to about 38 deaths a month just from drone attacks.”

Last weekend, Obama sat down with Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, and stated that the U.S. has “no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan.”  He also mentioned that he knows how to cook some Pakistani dishes like qeema and daal, and expressed his appreciation for Urdu poetry.  Are these comments meant to soften the reality of U.S. operations inside of Pakistan?  Although Obama denies U.S. military presence in Pakistan, The New York Times reported the following in February:

American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.

The drones are remotely-piloted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) which have been used a great deal in Iraq and Afghanistan.  What doesn’t seem to be discussed is that there is a lot of racism and ethnocentrism embedded in these drone strikes.  As Scahill comments, “the only difference between using these attack drones and using actual US soldiers on the ground is that the soldiers are living beings. These drones sanitize war and reduce the US death toll while still unleashing military hell disproportionately on civilians.”  In other words, the drone attacks tell us that human life is only important if it is American. When innocent Pakistanis are killed, all the Obama administration can say is they “regret it” because they have that privilege.

We’ve all seen it before in science fiction films and novels.  Robot armies and unmanned vehicles are deployed by nations with disproportionate military power (namely the United States) to protect their own civilians, but never showing the same concern for human beings in other countries.  Eventually, what happens is the machines take over and end up waging an indiscriminate war against all of humanity.  Remember Skynet from the Terminator series:  Cyborgs and machines built initially to protect Americans against “foreign threats” develop a system/mind of their own and become humanity’s worse enemy.  No, I am not suggesting that machines are going to take over the world in such dramatic fashion, but metaphorically, it’s already happening and right now, it’s benefiting the military superpower.  Imagine what would happen if another nation used these same drones to attack a town in the United States?  How would the U.S. react to that?

First, there were spears, then swords, then arrows, then catapults, then gunpowder, then rifles, then canons, then automatic weapons, then fighter aircraft, then missiles, then the atom bomb, and now we have unmanned aerial vehicles.  What’s next?  Android soldiers?  As much as we can appreciate human innovation and technological advancement in things like the internet and telecommunication, why is that most of our government spending is invested in military technology?  Think about all the things we could be doing with that money instead of killing other human beings.  Think about all the people we could feed, shelter, and educate.  Most of us living in the west take our privilege for granted and don’t realize that we have a privilege to pursue our dreams and ambitions.  Others, like the 3 million people displaced in Swat, have other priorities in their lives before they can even worry about anything else.

And what kind of reaction are these drone attacks going to create from Pakistanis?  How does this benefit Pakistan’s attitudes towards the United States?  Pulse Media has an excellent post which includes Democracy Now’s interview with Imran Khan, a very outspoken activist and critic of both, the Pakistani government and U.S. foreign policy.  Here’s an important excerpt:

AMY GOODMAN: Imran Khan, you were in Washington at the time that US lawmakers voted for funding the expanded war in Afghanistan. The US is planning a massive diplomatic presence in Pakistan. I think President Obama asked something like three-quarters of a billion dollars, $736 million, to build a new US embassy, as well as permanent housing for US officials in Islamabad. What is the effect of this? And what is the effect of the expanded war in Afghanistan on Pakistan?

IMRAN KHAN: Well, there was no terrorism in Pakistan, we had no suicide bombing in Pakistan, ’til Pakistan sent its troops on—under pressure from the US. Musharraf, General Musharraf, capitulated under the pressure and sent Pakistani troops into the tribal area and Waziristan. So it was that that resulted in what was the new phenomenon: the Pakistani Taliban. We had no militant Taliban in Pakistan, until we got in—we were forced into this US war on terror by a military dictator, not by the people of Pakistan. And people never owned this war. People always thought that this is not our war, and quite rightly, because we did not have any terrorism in Pakistan, as subsequently grew.

The more operations we did, the more reaction came. And suddenly, as now, we have thirty Taliban groups. I mean, these groups call themselves Taliban, but basically these are radicalized people, these are extremists. And extremism is growing in Pakistan, the more we are being engulfed in this war, which is based in, basically, Afghanistan. So, as long as the US troops are in Afghanistan, I’m afraid there’s no peace in Pakistan either, because the tribal areas are basically—there’s no border there, so the Pashtuns are split between—on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we have, you know, this movement across the border. And, you know, to send a—think that the Pakistan army is going to stop it—I think Pakistan army itself is going to be stuck in this quagmire, the same as the US in Afghanistan.

Imran Khan makes a crucial point that I always find myself making when I discuss how the current crisis in Pakistan evolved.  Following the attacks of September 11th, George W. Bush gave countries like Pakistan an ultimatum, “you’re either with us or against us.”  In that respect, Pakistan was pigeon-holed into military cooperation with the United States and as a result of fighting Taliban and militant forces in the North West Frontier Province, hostility and antagonism towards the Pakistani government increased.  The Taliban forces have invaded Pakistan, not because this was something rooted in their ideology, but because the Taliban consider the Pakistani government complicit with the war crimes of the United States.

President Obama, who has criticized U.S. foreign policy in other countries, oddly does not enlighten Americans about the current struggles in Paksitan.  He does not seem to worry about the inevitable backlash from the Taliban, militants, or even the civilians who just lost their Loved ones.  If Obama is willing to engage in diplomatic relations with other Muslim countries like Iran and Palestine, then why isn’t the same true for Pakistan and Afghanistan?  The President assured Pakistanis that their country’s sovereignty will not be violated, but the truth of the matter is that the drone strikes are violating their sovereignty.  So what is Obama’s purpose in Pakistan?  Jeremy Scahill reveals some disturbing facts about America’s plans in Afghanistan and Pakistan:

It is clear—and has been for a long time— that the Obama administration is radically expanding the US war in Afghanistan deeply into Pakistan. Whether it is through US military trainers (that’s what they were called in Vietnam too), drone attacks or commando raids inside the country, the US is militarily entrenched in Pakistan. It makes Obama’s comment that “[W]e have no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan” simply unbelievable.

For a sense of how significant US operations are and will continue to be for years and years to come, just look at the US plan to build an almost $1 billion massive US “embassy” in Islamabad, which is reportedly modeled after the imperial city they call a US embassy in Baghdad. As we know very clearly from Iraq, such a complex will result in an immediate surge in the deployment of US soldiers, mercenaries and other contractors.

Are you enjoying your qeema and daal, Mr. President?