BY MURAT TARIK
DEC 17, 2021 – 1:57 PM GMT+3A still shot from “Homeland” shows Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison.
Islamophobic TV series turned into a tool for disinformation after the Sept. 11 attacks, altering many viewers’ perspectives of Islam. Even worse, several U.S. presidents followed these productions with admiration and many institutions rewarded them
The fact that a religion, with a name even etymologically derived from peace, has been referred to as the equivalent of pure terrorism and bloodshed is one of the most interesting events in history. Islam, which is followed by millions from different cultures and social groups in countless locations around the world, has been exposed to this situation in the last quarter-century. After the Sept. 11 attacks, which served as the spark of this defamation, Muslims had a black mark against them. The real problems were not interpreted in line with the geopolitical, sociological and economic reality, and the world chose to generalize the issue to include all believers. In this context, if you ask someone exposed to disinformation in the West to describe a terrorist, they will offer the stereotypical answer of a man with a turban and a beard. Moreover, an antiscience stance and oppression of women have become synonymous with Islam and Muslims, even if history says otherwise. But did this situation arise only through one-sided news programs?
Sin of cinema
Unfortunately, cinema, the seventh art, has played a growing role in the imprinting of Islamophobia on memories since 2001. Billions of people make sense of the world only by what they see on the screen. Thus, it has been demonstrated over and over how useful art, which is not independent of ideologies, can be.
In fact, Western cinema and TV series have always been biased toward Muslim characters. However, in the 2000s, when the Cold War became a distant memory, Muslims like Arabs, Chechens and Turks were chosen as the villains instead of Russians. While the white Christian man was portrayed as the embodiment of good, Muslims, on the contrary, were presented to the audience as violent and dangerous. Yet even before the Sept. 11 attacks, Muslims were already being portrayed as ignorant, sex-obsessed and aggressive.
‘Service’ of TV series
After 9/11, the main productions that “served” Islamophobia, besides movies, were TV series. Within a few years, series depicting Muslims as dangerous and the bad guys became especially popular. These shows, which helped prepare public opinion for the military interventions of the U.S., tainted minds, just like the occupations did in Islamic geographies.
For example, in the TV series “24” (2001-2010), which focused on the story of Jack Bauer, one of the employees of the American anti-terrorist unit, carried deep traces of Sept. 11 psychology. In the U.S.-made series, a Muslim Turkish family working as a dry cleaner in Los Angeles harbors terrorists, and the terrorists who are presented as Muslims could even be hiding at school, just like the character named “Amira Dudayev” of Chechen descent. Even though the villains changed places from time to time, the thought that “Muslims can never be trusted” was injected into the audience through subtexts. In the series, it was implied that Muslims do everything, they would even kill their own child for their cause. Moreover, after all this, the series was recognized with Emmy and Golden Globe awards.
U.S., the savior
In another U.S.-made TV series, “West Wing” (1999-2006), which deals with the lives and business relations of fictional characters living in the White House, Turkey is presented as a country where women are beheaded for Islamic reasons in the 13th episode of the sixth season, and a U.S. president was sent to the country as the savior. The rules of Islamic law were skewed from an Orientalist viewpoint with extraordinary stories.
In the TV series “Sleeper Cell” (2005-2006), which focused on the activities of an Islamist organization on the American streets, the audience was shown countless times that Arab Americans could be secret terrorists. In the series, which was part of the post-9/11 paranoia, even Western-looking, modern Arabs are portrayed as hidden dangers.
“NCIS: Los Angeles,” which has been covering the adventures of agents G. Callen and Sam Hanna since 2009, has not been very successful in portraying Muslims accurately from time to time, either. The much-discussed series has been accused of reinforcing the notion that “Every Muslim is a potential terrorist,” although it sometimes makes corrections.
Interestingly, even in the historical concept in the TV series “Outlander,” which Turkish Cypriot Metin Hüseyin played a hand in directing, Turks were portrayed as torturers.
Obama, the most popular fan
“Homeland,” which was the favorite TV show of the former “liberal” U.S. President Barack Obama, was, unfortunately, a series where a lot of misinformation about Islam was paraded along with Islamophobia. The series centered around Nicholas Brody, who was recruited after being kidnapped by terrorists in Afghanistan and sent to the U.S. to commit terrorist acts. Honestly, the idea that “Muslims can infiltrate among you and create a hidden danger,” which the series, which ran from 2011 to 2020, imprinted on the minds, was quite influential on people. The idea even had customers in the Middle East.
Although that heavy propaganda has lost momentum after 9/11 in recent years, Islamophobic subtexts in Western TV series have begun taking shape over women’s issues rather than terrorism. VOD platforms, especially Netflix, came to the fore in such productions. Moreover, there were actors from the Islamic world in these TV series. Netflix, which has nearly 210 million subscribers all around the world and tries to portray itself as a “liberal” platform, continues to screen “Elite.” The series deals with the story of the conflict that started with the enrollment of three Muslim youth from the lower classes in an ultra-private school. The series, which depicts the prejudice and discrimination against Muslims at the beginning, highlights the idea that Muslim girls follow their religion only due to external pressure through the character of Nadia in the later parts. Thus, she emphasizes that women will attain real freedoms by living a Western secular life. In the series, the religious girl is made to remove her headscarf and become a regular at nightclubs.
The British-made “Bodyguard” series also brings terrorism to the audience by associating it with women’s issues. In the BBC series, which can be seen on Netflix, the Muslim character named Nadia is initially shown as the “poor” woman who needs to be rescued from her husband, but her terrorist mentality is soon proven! And “Bodyguard” still continues to be awarded by organizations such as the BAFTA and Golden Globes today.
It seems that Islamophobia in Western-based TV series will always exist even if it changes form and argument. Criticism in the media and academies against the stigma remains insufficient.