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Ed West: Homeland made for great TV but then liberals were always good at fiction


Damian Lewis stars in Homeland

Damian Lewis stars in Homeland

Damian Lewis stars in Homeland

WE are destined to have to wait for a second series of Homeland. After a turbulent middle, I was gripped, the thing helped along by a very strong cast.

The temptation to over-act when playing the mentally ill is very strong, but Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison is compelling; meanwhile, Damian Lewis’ Marine sergeant Nicholas Brody is sympathetic and fascinating, and Mandy Patinkin, Morena Baccarin and David Harewood all put in strong performances.

But the final episode reinforced the impression that the whole premise of the programme is false, a world imagined by television liberals but which does not exist in reality.

Firstly, the idea that a US Marine from small-town America might convert to Islam, even under such conditions: has this ever happened? Stockholm syndrome, if that’s what it is, is exceptionally unusual for men in uniform (at least volunteers), because their mindset upon capture is different to that of a civilian or reporter.

There have been kidnap victims who have converted to Islam – Yvonne Ridley, for instance – but soldiers? It seems improbable. Sgt Brody comes from small-town America and is a churchgoing Christian. Again, Western converts to Islam tend to be atheists or agnostics from non-religious or very lightly religious families, or they have lost their Christianity: they’re looking for a spiritual dimension to their life. Islam typically attracts two types of people – angry young men in prison, and highly intelligent, thoughtful middle-class types. It seems to be especially attractive to educated, liberal women, a strange but understandable trend.

Sgt Brody is motivated by the death of his captor Abu Nazir’s son Issa in a US drone strike on a school which killed 80 children, and which was authorised by the US vice-president. No such attack has ever taken place, as far as we know; drone strikes have killed plenty of children – 150 in Pakistan alone – but there has never been an attack so deadly, nor one on a school as far as I know (although wedding parties have been attacked). In fact, according to Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, the US turned down a chance to kill Osama Bin Laden a couple of years before 9/11 because the risk of civilian casualties was too high.

Perhaps Homeland is a sign that, after the Bush years, and the often nakedly anti-Arab sentiment of American public life, US racial politics – prickly, tedious and hypocritical – has caught up with the war on terror. Race politics has a dulling effect on drama, as whodunnits are difficult in racially conscious societies; so in Homeland, for instance, we just know that, whatever happens, it’s not going to end with a Wasp goodie facing black and Arab baddies (as it appeared to be at one point).

In reality, of course, sometimes it is just that way; this week the US government revealed a plot to blow up airliners to mark the anniversary of Bin Laden’s death. The culprits were not blue-eyed men from red states, you’ll be astonished to learn, but Yemenis. In real life, unlike in dramas made by television folks, crime and terrorism is quite predictable and follows trends.

My mother came back from holiday last week, arriving at half eleven at night, where she had to spend an hour getting through airport security. Of course a 68-year-old white woman could have been an al-Qaeda operative, just as a US Marine could be a terrorist – after all, it happens on television.

Not that I won’t be drooling over the prospect of season two. The problem is that liberals are just so good at making dramas – perhaps because their entire worldview is a fiction.