Much of the criticism of Showtime’s Homeland centers on the representation of Muslim’s within the show. Debates abound whether their representations of Muslims are fair and whether or not the representations matter. Peter Beaumont, for example wrote an essay in the The Guardian that is quite critical of the show’s depiction and argues that negative depictions in media can reinforce negative stereotypes among viewers. Other opinions on the show question whether those producing media actually owe it to audiences to provide a more nuanced depiction. A classmate of mine worked a bit with this concept on a more scholarly level. I highly recommend checking out his blog.
Although the last four episodes of season one do not completely absolve the show runners from their arguably narrow representations of the Muslim community in earlier episodes, the last third of the first season begins to provide additional information around the larger plot that provides explanations behind the impetus for the terror plot that is unraveling. If nothing else, the final four episodes of the first season effectively call into question which party (the terrorists or the USA) is actually standing on higher ground, the Americans or the terrorists? Is there much difference between them?
The loss of Issa at the hands of the U.S. provides a very human rationale behind both Abu Nazir and Nick Brody’s grievances against the U.S. After all, it is revealed through Saul’s research that David Estes, the Vice President, and other high ranking security officials played an integral role in green-lighting the operation that took the life of Issa Nazir and eighty-one other children. The attack was justified by U.S. operatives by saying that Nazir’s hiding among the children was what put them in danger (implying that it was Nazir’s fault and the U.S. used this logic as a method of absolving itself of fault/guilt for the decision they made to drop a bomb). Suddenly Nazir’s position as sinister terrorist and the U.S.’s position as a righteous western state attempting to fight against terrorism are both called into question. Although these episodes further muddy the waters in terms of who should or should not be considered “in the right,” the question becomes, do these episodes finally give voice to and subsequently balance out the representation of the “other” side?
The last four episodes of the first season does more than any other episodes to humanize those that are inclined to commit acts of terrorism against the U.S. Abu Nazir and Brody’s positions as fathers are largely responsible for aligning these two men as two sides of the same coin (so to speak). Brody’s relationship to Nazir’s son becomes something of a stand-in relationship for the children he has at home but is no longer able to see. He comes to love the child of his “enemy” and even seems to gain a respect for Nazir as a father. The pain of Issa’s death helps these two men find common ground, and ultimately, a common enemy. But is that enough to understand these two men’s motivations, or should we still be more suspicious of Nazir even in the moments that he exercises kindness to Brody?
First of all, Nazir is already considered a terrorist prior to the drone attack that took his son’s life. The rationale behind dropping the bomb on that spot was a result of Nazir’s presence and his ties to terrorism. However, for Brody, Issa’s death becomes the catalyst for his radicalization even though he has not had much negative to say regarding the West’s actions in the middle east preceding this event (at least not that we know about). Killing of women and children is often understood as a war time taboo in the west and Brody, up until the point of Issa being killed, is understood by the audience to still be a loyal marine, who would be understandably appalled by any action that would lead to the murder of innocent civilians (particularly children). Therefore it is not entirely surprising that Brody is found questioning the righteousness of the American aims against terrorism in the East. However, is the U.S. correct in taking innocent lives under the guise of protecting our own? Yes, Nazir was already on the U.S.’s radar but perhaps these actions are taking retaliation a bit too far.
Although Issa’s death seems to be the ultimate turning point for Brody’s loyalty, the audience sees that, even before Issa’s death, Brody seems to be experiencing a fairly substantial amount of freedom within his captor’s compound. Perhaps it is critical to consider that Brody was already beginning to feel some compassion for his captor. He clearly loved Abu Nazir’s son and was not necessarily fighting to escape Nazir’s compound, even though he seems to have quite a lot of freedom in movement. Perhaps he was already experiencing some degree of Stockholm Syndrome before Issa was ever even killed. It is just as easy to read this dynamic as a piece of psychological warfare (upon Brody) on the part of Abu Nazir to start the transition of Brody to come to his side. It is quite possible that Issa’s death just helped him along. After all, Tom Walker turned eventually but did not seem to have the connection to Issa or Nazir that Brody had and even mentions to Brody that he came around to cooperating with Nazir more quickly. This begs the question, what was the true turning point for Walker? Was kindness from Abu Nazir something that Walker also experienced and was that enough to “turn” him?
Although these episodes are certainly giving some insight on the motivation behind two American’s turning and allowing the audience to understand how American involvement in the middle east is not necessarily free from fault, the show is still walking a fine line and allowing the audience of the show to interpret several aspects of the show in the way that they wish. However, in an age where Islamophobia is running wild in the West, we must contend with the question of whether this interpretation at the discretion of the beholder is the best way forward. On a grand scale, these episodes seem to suggest that there is not much difference between the east and the west and that the “bad guy” is not necessarily easy to point out. However, there are certain aspects of the way in which Eastern terrorists are depicted that, for those paying attention, there might be some question as to the effectiveness of this “evening out” between the east and west when it comes to fault.