Are the cast, crew and fans of “Homeland” -- Showtime’s television series about a brilliant but neurotic CIA agent – Islamophobes?
That’s the implication of articles published this month in both the Washington Post and the New York Times. In the Times, Bina Shah, a Pakistani “contributing opinion writer,” complains that “Homeland,” much of which is set in Pakistan this season, demonstrates yet again 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.”
And the problem is not just “Homeland,” she writes, it’s not even just Hollywood, but also “biased journalism, originating among mainstream American journalists who care little for depth and accuracy.”
She notes that in “Homeland” and various feature films that use Pakistan as a backdrop (e.g. “A Mighty Heart,” about the kidnapping and murder of reporter Daniel Pearl, and “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the killing of Osama bin Laden) she has “seen India’s signature homemade Ambassador cars traveling down Pakistani streets; actors who play tribal Pashtuns but look Bihari; Western women wearing chadors where they don’t have to, or going around bareheaded when they should be covered.” In one scene in “Homeland,” set in Pakistan’s tribal areas, she hears “everyone speaking Urdu, not the region’s Pashto.”
That’s it? That’s the bias? Seriously?
Ms. Shah quotes from the Post piece by Laura Durkay, identified as a “filmmaker and activist” whose “writing has appeared in AlterNet, Gay City News, and Socialist Worker, among others.” Ms. Durkay charges that “Homeland” is the “most bigoted show on television,” and that it “perpetuates racist ideas.”
She, too, fails to provide any evidence, instead asserting that the series “has churned out Islamophobic stereotypes as if its writers were getting paid by the cliché.” She calls the show’s heroine a “blonde, white Red Riding Hood lost in a forest of faceless Muslim wolves.”
Full disclosure: I am a “Homeland” fan. The show has a fast-paced, ripped-from-the-headlines plot and intriguing characters. Among them: Fara Sherazi who is an Iranian-born, observant Muslim -- and CIA agent. She’s smart and beautiful to boot. This season there also is a young Pakistani survivor of a drone attack that killed innocent celebrants at a wedding. He wants to return to his medical studies and not get involved in the war between the jihadis and Americans.
Does that sound Islamophobic, racist or bigoted to you? Or does it sound like Ms. Shah and Ms. Durkay are attempting to enforce “political correctness” – hurling the usual epithets to suppress views with which they disagree. Ms. Durkay is adamant that “Homeland” presents “a Frankenstein-monster global terrorist threat that simply doesn’t exist.” Victims of the 41 jihadi terrorist groups now operating in two dozen countries will be relieved to learn that Mr. Durkay, “filmmaker and activist,” has arrived at that conclusion.
This little disinformation campaign comes at an interesting moment. Farahnaz Ispahani, a former member of the Pakistani parliament, and Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, warned last week that Pakistan now “abounds with violent sectarian and Islamist groups” and that there is a real risk that “the world’s second largest – and only nuclear-armed – Muslim country” is undergoing a process of “Talibanization.”
C. Christine Fair, a scholar at Georgetown University, has just published “Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War.” Pakistan, she writes, “seems to be on an interminable downward spiral.” She adds: “Pakistani terrorists, operating under the banner of the Pakistani Taliban have killed thousands, if not tens of thousands of Pakistanis.” Nevertheless, the government “has remained committed to using Islamist proxies as tools of foreign policy and Islamism as a tool of domestic politics.”
Among those proxies: the Afghan Taliban, the al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani Network, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, accused of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai and believed by many – including Arif Jamal, Pakistani-born author of a well-regarded new book on the LeT -- to be closely linked with Pakistani intelligence. Professor Fair concludes that “the world should prepare for a Pakistan that is ever more dangerous.”
Last year, former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani published “Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.” Critical of both American and Pakistani policies, Mr. Haqqani describes Pakistan as an “angry” nation with deceptive rulers. He does not rule out the possibility that it will become a failed state.
I first visited Pakistan 31 years ago. I met many hospitable and engaging people. I became not a Pakistanophobe but a Pakistanophile – returning to the country about a year later to trek in the northern reaches of the land, home to eight of the ten tallest mountains in the world. I was privileged to explore such fabled spots as Hunza, Gilgit and the Swat Valley.
Five years ago this month, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, I visited a different and certainly more perilous country. Terrorist attacks were occurring with alarming frequency. I was warned not to linger in public lest someone identify me as an American and alert attackers.
Another of Ms. Shah’s grievances: Homeland “was filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, with its Indian Muslim community standing in for Pakistanis.” I would suggest that the likely explanation was security – not anti-Pakistani bigotry.
A revealing fact: In 1947, religious minorities constituted 23% Of Pakistan’s population. Today, it’s 3%. That said, even on my most recent visit, I did meet many Pakistanis who were warm and welcoming – and distressed by the rise of intolerance and jihadism in their country.
Such people understand that many factors are contributing to the deteriorating image of their homeland. “Homeland” is not among them.