October 13, 2012

Muslims As the "Other" In Popular Culture

Peter Beaumont wonders whether the television series "Homeland" oversteps the bounds in its efforts to present entertaining television. In particular, he is concerned about the image of Muslims on the show.He writes in part:

I admit I have no idea how the story arcs in Homeland will develop and what surprises are in store. What I do know is how both Arabs and Islamists have been portrayed thus far as violent fanatics, some of whom are powerful and influential infiltrators. As someone who has spent much time in the Middle East, I find the depictions not only crude and childish but offensive. There is more to it than the portrayal of individuals. For Homeland presents an odd and unbelievable image of relationships between countries and identities in the region, where Palestinians, Iraqis, Saudis all share an agenda regardless of background, culture and history. Should any of this matter in a fictional series? The answer is yes.
The reality is that what Homeland portrays is a peculiar view of the Islamic world, one rooted, perhaps, in its genesis as an Israeli drama, where the view of the surrounding neighbourhood is more paranoid and defensive. It matters for this reason. Popular culture both informs and echoes our prejudices. How we portray the "other" – those whom we fear or are suspicious of – reinforces cultures of conflict. In some respects it has always been thus. The author and journalist Robert Winder detailed in his book Bloody Foreigners how Charles Dickens, in creating the character of Fagin for Oliver Twist, refashioned a real social problem. The boys' "rookeries" were run by Italian gangmasters in Clerkenwell's Little Italy, but in keeping with contemporary suspicion and hostility to Jews Dickens made Fagin Jewish – something he later regretted. Indeed, popular literature, plays, films and television have often been crude in their representation of perceived enemies – Jews, Germans, communists, Irish "terrorists" and now Muslims, amplifying concerns that may be based in some reality like the phenomenon of al-Qaida terrorism to represent it as some vague, universal truth.

More here from Mr. Beaumont's article in the Guardian.

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