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‘Homeland’ Is Obviously Anti-Semitic

Warning: spoiler alerts galore

Zach Novetsky
December 18, 2012
Homeland's Saul Berenson(FanPop)
Homeland's Saul Berenson(FanPop)

Anyone who watched the season finale of Homeland will now understand that the show is insidiously anti-Semitic. All along, it has been Saul Berenson, the show’s lone Jew, who crafted an elaborate plot to secure power for himself at the expense of American lives and the national security of the United States.

It was Saul who passed the razor blade to Afsal Hamid, one of Brody’s guards when he was in captivity, to avoid the CIA interrogation; it was Saul who failed the polygraph when he was asked about this razor blade incident (Those sneaky, cunning Jews are even able to avoid polygraph detection!); and it was Saul who helped Aileen Morgan kill herself by “forgetting” his eyeglasses in the room of the supermax facility.

As the final episode ends, Saul stands in the midst of his victim’s bodies and recites the Kaddish–-the Jewish mourner’s blessing. The message, then, is clear: Saul, the caricature Jew (e.g. the beard, the nose, the spectacles), should never have been trusted. This is what happens when Jews get power.

I could go on but I think you get the point. The point, however, is not that Homeland is anti-Semitic (of course it isn’t!), but that it is a show with enough depth and layers for someone to concoct a totally inaccurate interpretation of what the show really is about. This is where Laila al-Arian comes in.

Earlier this week, Laila al-Arian wrote a pedantic article on Homeland’s Muslim problem for Salon titled, “TV’s most Islamophobic show.” In it, she attempts to argue that Homeland is “insidiously Islamophobic;” that the “standard stereotypes about Islam and Muslims are reinforced;” and that the show demonstrates that Muslims can never be trusted. We must, however, be watching different shows.

Ignoring Al-Arian’s nitpicking points about the many mistakes Homeland makes when it comes to Islam and Arab culture (on which she is, largely, correct), her thesis boils down to her belief that Homeland “leaves little doubt that…it is being Muslim that makes someone dangerous” and “that Muslim terrorists are lurking under every stone, especially in places of power and influence.” But her thesis is really a straw man for the obvious fact that it is not any character’s belief in Islam that makes them dangerous, but rather their membership in al-Qaeda.

Al-Arian cannot even fathom this. Indeed, the only time she mentions al-Qaeda is in a fleeting reference at the beginning of her article and later, when she bemoans the show’s unwillingness to “provide context” about the “backgrounds or motivations” of the terrorist groups depicted on the show. (Al-Arian can only bring herself to call them “Islamist groups,” even though the two she mentions––al-Qaeda and Hezbollah––are US designated terrorist organizations.)

Al-Arian’s desire for context is insatiable to the point of being absurd. For example, she stomps her feet in anger when the television show discusses Roya Hammad’s Palestinian parents, but does not explain how they became refugees. Why this totally irrelevant detail would benefit the show’s artistic direction, al-Arian does not say. But al-Arian, herself, would benefit from viewing statements in context.

When discussing how Homeland endorses the racial profiling of “dark-skinned” individuals, al-Arian quotes Saul calling racial profiling, “actual profiling.” Al-Arian, though, wrote this article before the final episode. Now that Saul is the prime suspect, doesn’t his demand to profile dark-skinned individuals make sense? Doesn’t it show that he supports the practice because it would allow him to slip through the system? Doesn’t that make the exact opposite case: that racial profiling doesn’t work?

There is another example of failed racial profiling that al-Arian does not mention. Carrie accuses Galvez, her longtime coworker and friend, of being the CIA mole simply because he is Muslim. When Galvez was confronted and forcefully pulled from his car by his injured arm, solely because he was Muslim, did any viewer not cringe? Al-Arian must have not mentioned Galvez at all because it directly contradicts her thesis that the show portrays all Muslims as dangerous.

Al-Arian’s strongest example of the show’s Islamophobia is equally wrongheaded. When Brody’s wife discovers that he is a Muslim, she points angrily at his Quran and shouts, “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!”

Yes, this statement is obviously Islamophobic. But in the context of the episode, the viewer sympathizes with Brody, not his wife! It is Brody’s wife and her statements that repulse the viewer. If we were meant to sympathize with Brody’s wife, she would be a more likable character, not someone in an adulterous relationship with her husband’s best friend.

Part of the genius of Homeland is that by making an All-American war hero into a terrorist, it does exactly the opposite of what al-Arian condemns: Homeland challenges the stereotypes of who is a terrorist. Brody’s conversion to Islam is a red herring. Islam, itself, is a red herring. If the show was Islamophobic, Brody’s martyr tape would focus on Islam. It does not even mention the word Islam. Instead, Brody explicitly states political reasons for his terrorism: “This is about justice for 82 children whose deaths were never acknowledged and whose murder is a stain on the soul of this nation.”

Homeland also challenges conventional notions of terrorism by forcing the viewer to confront terrorists who are morally and emotionally complex, who struggle not only with mundane issues but also with fundamental moral questions of whether terrorism is actually ever justified. These larger, more fundamental themes, however, were totally lost on al-Arian.

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