In defense of “Homeland” (spoiler alert!)

I’ve encountered the argument that Homeland is Islamophobic among friends and on the interwebs. And while I do think there are certain elements of the show that can be read as anti-Muslim, I also think the show should be credited for exposing and critiquing the very Islamophobia it may perpetuate. This doesn’t mean the show is perfect. And Laila Al-Aryan rightly calls out Homeland for “getting it wrong” (mispronouncing names, giving Arab characters Iranian names, or fictitious names, misrepresenting Beirut)  But I would even argue that, overall, Homeland is more sympathetic to Muslims than phobic of them. And in a country where anti-Islam and homeland defense are national obsessions of both policy makers and the public, this is significant.

The subject of the show, Islamic terrorists, makes it easy to write it off as Islamophobic from the get-go. But I think that we have to acknowledge that a show can be about Islamic terrorists without being Islamophobic per se because Islamic terrorists exist. The danger and Islamophobic addendum to this would be the inisistance that all terrorists are Muslim and all Muslims are terrorists. The show doesn’t make either argument.

Yes, there are bad Muslim characters on Homeland. But there are also bad non-Muslim characters. And part of what makes these non-Muslim characters bad is their atitude and behavior towards Muslims.  It is the director of the CIA and the Vice-President, after all, who order and cover up the drone strike that kills 82 innocent children. The CIA is portrayed as dishonest and sinister largely because  of its actions against Muslims in general and its attempted action against Nicholas Brody, a Muslim. On a symbolic level, the show demonstrates the CIA’s immorality through the character of the CIA director, David Estes. And it’s hardly subtle. When Peter (“shwing”) Quinn threatens to return to Estes’s house unless calls off Brody’s assassination, he reminds the CIA head, “I kill bad guys.” Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson are indeed symapthetic characters who work at the CIA, but they are the exception to the rule and constantly oppose the CIA’s official line and leadership. The Vice-President is also portrayed as evil. We see him as an immoral person in the dishonest and irresponsible way he deals with his son’s hit and run, but also in the way he orders and then denies the drone strike. Through his character, the show further demonizes killing of Muslim civilians.

Unlike the bad non-Muslim characters, who have no traumatic back story to make us sympathize with them, the bad Muslim characters are humanized in a way that makes what they do understandable. We feel no sympathy for the Vice President or the CIA director. We do, however, feel sympathetic, on some level, towards Abu Nazir and Roya Hammad. We know that Hammad and Nazir come from a family of refugees and the show manages a dig at the Israeli occupation by even acknowledging the existence of refugees. The show takes a great risk by making terrorism at all conceivable. We understand, on a gut level, Abu Nazir’s anger and pain and we expreience the drone strike that kills his son as immoral, tragic and unjustifiable. We see it as that much more hypocritical when the U.S. denies it even happened.

Islam is actually shown as a beautiful religion. The scene in which Brody is praying in the woods is extremely serene and tranquil. It is shot beautifully and his praying is hypnotic. Even the prayer delivered when Abu Nazir is buried at sea sounds  beautiful. When Brody’s wife attacks him for having a Koran, she comes off as ignorant and hysterical, not rational and symapthetic. We experience her physical attack on the Koran viscerally.

Homeland challenges the effectiveness and morality of racial profiling. The show overtly demonstrates the practice of racial profiling when Carrie, trying to figure out where Nazir is hiding, thinks a CIA operative named Galvez is hiding him because “he is Muslim.” Not only is Galvez not hiding Nazir, but he is suffering from broken stitches he incurred during an attack by Abu Nazir. This Muslim on Muslim attack further complicates Muslim identity and rejects the notion that all Muslims are a monolith. When Galvez is roughly and forcibly removed from his car he is further hurt and we see on a literal level how racial profiling is not just inaccurate but damaging.

Even if Homeland is Islamophobic on some levels, it exposes and criticizes  the anti-Muslim foreign and domestic policy of the United States in a way no other show has.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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