Last night I watched Homeland on my laptop, streamed in by Amazon for $1.99. It is an unconvincing potboiler implausible on too many levels to count. Last night’s storyline bent over every which way from Sunday to insure Islam’s place among the smiling aspects of life.
“And they call us terrorists,” mourns the terrorist chief whose adorable young son was just killed by a drone attack. Scriptwriters huff and puff to insure we sympathize with this grave, mild-seeming incendiary. The local (somewhere in Fairfax County VA) imam is Mother Teresa in a kufi and caftan. A lady operative chides her CIA colleague for keeping his shoes on—at a murder scene!—in a mosque. A wanted terrorist must be found, not to save American lives but to keep Americans from shooting up the Muslim community. Mosques will burn unless the plot is foiled.
No impolite misgivings allowed. It is all so self-admiring in its refusal to decide which side it is on. On those grounds alone, the show’s popularity worries me.
This is an art blog, I know. So shouldn’t we just stick to art, the stuff piling up in museums and hawked at art fairs? It is tempting, and safer, to keep the focus narrow. But art is made and viewed within a larger cultural context. That context supplies—or denies—value not only to artists and schools of art, but also to particular ideological approaches. These include images and symbols circulating outside gallery culture. Our experience of art is contingent on our grasp of larger realities. One of these is history. And history, as philosopher Jacques Ellul was fond of reminding us, is not an inoffensive discipline.
Last night’s Homeland episode dramatized the principle dear to pundit hearts: Muslims are entitled to “the benefit of the doubt.” But which Muslims, please? Ones you know personally? Ones who provide you with an objective reason, based in lived reality, for extending trust toward them as individuals? Or are they simply that disembodied, romanticized abstraction, Muslims-in-General? It is precisely the benefit of the doubt, granted blindly toward Muslims-in-General, that set the stage for the Fort Hood massacre.
Militant Islam is at war with its neighbors all across the globe. It is one thing to grant credence to the good will of your own Muslim neighbor, whom you meet, greet and speak with. You have some grasp of whether that person chooses to integrate or wishes to remake America in Islam’s image of the universal caliphate. You know what this individual thinks of honor killings, wife beating and the execution of homosexuals. You know his attitude toward Jews and Israel’s right to survival. You are able to ask if your neighbor believes Muslims can serve in the U.S. military or if, like Private First Class Nasser Jason Abdo, he considers Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood murderer, a hero. You have at least some foundation for trusting your Muslim neighbor’s commitment to an egalitarian, peaceable Islam compatible with democratic principles. You can begin to gauge the sincerity, perhaps even heroism, of his rejection of efforts to use democratic processes to undermine our freedoms and democracy itself.
Love of neighbor is a function of charity. Caritas. It is not a squeamish denial of unwelcome realities in the name of manners, moral vanity, or any other guise intellectual dhimmitude might dress in. When it comes to giving assurances of good will, both history and current global realities place the burden of proof on Muslims themselves.
We do not serve ourselves—nor the ultimate well-being of our Muslim neighbors—by refusing to insist upon a self-critical attitude among Muslims. Instead of obsequious concern for Muslim sensibilities, we should seek a recasting of traditional Muslim mentalities. The desacralization of jihad is one place to start. Recognition of the secular nature of political power (“Grant unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”) and abolition of the institutionalized concept of dhimmi is another. Anything less acquiesces in an obliterating force that believes itself destined to turn our own civilization into a graveyard.