What came first, the chicken or the egg ?
Lebanon’s Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud threatened to sue the producers of American television series Homeland on October 19, 2012 for their negative depiction of Beirut as a violent city in Season 2. Considering the fact that a fatal car bombing in Beirut happened just hours after this statement, it is hard to tell whether the recent episodes of Homeland caused unrest or if the violence in Beirut inspired these gory media representations.
Before getting into the mechanics of the USA-Lebanon-Israel love/hate triangle, an explanation of the show is needed. Homeland is based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War and has an Israeli co-creator, Gideon Raff. The Emmy Award winning series features CIA agent Carrie Mathison and Nick Brody, a U.S. Marine and ex-POW in Iraq that returns to his family after 8 years in captivity under US-identified terrorist Abu Nazir.
The American government and the public revere Brody as a war hero and all-around great guy, but his new life is anything but picture perfect. Brody has to deal with a bunch of first world problems, one of them being that Carrie thinks he is secretly working for the American enemy in the Middle East. In the recent episode ‘Beirut is Back’, Carrie heads to Beirut to take down the head honcho of Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim organisation that Homeland shows as allied with terrorists in Al-Qaeda.
Now, about the charges.
First and foremost, Mr. Abboud claims that Homeland is misrepresenting Beirut because the recent episodes were filmed in Jaffa, a multi-ethnic neighborhood in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel, and not in Lebanon. Although Israel borders Lebanon, the two have had an icy rapport ever since 1982 when Israel occupied the country and raged war against neighboring Syria. Jaffa is a mixed urban area, so the producers of Homeland were able to make it look like Beirut. Still, Lebanon wants nothing to do with Israel, and to think that Tel Aviv got film-time and Beirut didn’t drives them up the wall. Gideon Raff and others from the show say that they were not allowed to film in Beirut, so Jaffa was their next best option.
What’s more, the key scene in this episode is meant to portray Hamra Street in West Beirut. Abboud says that Hamra is actually a lively boulevard with bookshops and cafés, far from the boiling cesspit that the viewers of Homeland have seen on their screens. Although this statement may be true, a car bombing killed 80 people in Beirut on the same day as this threat and injured hundreds more. Gruesome photos of the attack can be found at www.citizenside.com.
The United States government is Israel’s number one ally. Aside from providing millions in aid each year to Benjamin Netenyahu’s government, Obama has not explicitly denounced any of the current havoc in the Middle East, being too preoccupied with the upcoming elections, the Libyan conflict, and continuing to say that he will pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. To Lebanon, the United States is another face of the two-headed political dragon.
Homeland lets people view Lebanon in through the eyes of CIA agents. That is to say, this country is not war-torn and full of suffering people, but terrorist-infested and rife with political extremism. This image of a “non-secure zone” is exactly what the Minister of Tourism is working to dispel. The fact that the show was filmed in Israel and is based on an Israeli television series reinforces the real-world political ties that influence American media representations of the Middle East.
Is Beirut really so dangerous all the time, or is Homeland exaggerating on preconceived notions to gain inexperienced viewers by appealing to their Islamophobia ? For someone that has never been to Lebanon, these images are stored in their subconscious, generating prejudice, propagating the discourse of “terrorism”, and potentially discouraging tourism in the region.
For critical thinkers, the show is fiction, and Lebanon is an unknown place with a complicated story to tell. For the Lebanese insurgents fighting against Hezbollah’s domination of Lebanon’s government, the representation is somewhat accurate in portraying the volatile atmosphere of a place that is oft misunderstood and rarely explained–in short, their very own homeland.
Note: This piece was also published in the Citizenside blog. You can find the original here.