Homeland, Showtime’s highest-rated drama, returns to edify American viewers about jihadist motivation this month. A Hollywood-style take on a POW turned Muslim subversive, the producers call it “an exploration of terrorism, intelligence analysis, and paranoia in the post-9/11 era.” Though Homeland makes for titillating television, viewers should beware of its questionable political agenda and puerile take on radicalization.
Homeland is based on the Israeli Prisoners of War (POW), a wrenching examination of three captive soldiers and the complexities of their re-entry into the world. Homeland’s Muslim subversive, U.S. Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, is an awkward amalgamation of three prisoners profoundly contrasted in POW who have different demeanors and return to different family realities (one in a coffin). In lieu of these riveting characters, Homeland features paranoid CIA agent “crazy Carrie” Mathison, and the tired theme of U.S. government malfeasance. In the end, Homeland bears little resemblance to POW, where national security implications play (thus far) a secondary role. In fact, the whole idea of Homeland’s turned-Muslim subversive may have been plucked from the last few minutes of the Israeli POW’s season finale.
The characterization of Brody and his path to radicalization is rife with “teachable” moments rendered in a persona with whom Americans can readily identify. The premise is that, after years of barbaric torture, Brody is given a luxurious bath that somehow washes away his identity as an American soldier with a wife and kids. He then embraces Islam and befriends his torturer’s son.
Brody bonds with the boy, and pursuant to the boy’s death from an errant U.S. missile, Brody pledges allegiance to his bin Laden-like terrorist father, Abu Nazir. Why Brody should blame the United States rather than the father, a targeted terror mastermind with few qualms about exposing his child to harm, is never explained. Yet co-producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa ask us to accept that this is what animates Brody’s path of revenge. Ironically, in reality several U.S. strikes against Osama bin Laden were aborted for fear of collateral damage.