“You live in despair for eight years; you can turn to religion, too. And, the King James Bible was not available.” – Nicholas Brody
I was born and raised in a secular family in Turkey, a country that is predominantly Muslim. That is, even though I am not religious myself, I am very familiar with the Islamic traditions, rituals and norms. I am obviously coming out of the culture and have been shaped by it in ways that I am probably not aware of 🙂 Thus, I thought it would be neat to talk about Nicholas Brody, my most favorite fictional character ever on small screen, as a Muslim character in celebration of Eid al-Adha!
Now, I am not an expert, not even close, about Muslim characters on TV shows; however, even if there had been a popular Muslim character on TV before Brody came along, I just don’t think there is any way she or he could beat him on any popularity scale.
Before getting to Brody as a Muslim man, I’d love to talk a bit about the portrayal of Muslims in Homeland in general. Because, I know that some publications, have not particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Islam in the show. To give an example, Salon said “every Muslim on Homeland is a credible threat.” I see their point to an extent, but with all due respect, I disagree.
Firstly, Homeland has portrayed Muslims way better than anything that preceded it — I am looking at you, 24, interestingly brought to us by the same team but at a very different time in America — and I believe even Salon agrees with that assessment.
Secondly, even though I see Salon’s point to an extent, what I think differently is that every Muslim on Homeland is not a credible threat but he or she is “perceived” as a credible threat. Just to give a few examples: Carrie has suspicions about Galvez thanks to his Lebanese roots, or Saul gives a pretty hard time to Farah when she shows up for her very first work day at the CIA in veil. Or, think about the Imam in Caracas who pretends like he would harbor Brody but instead chooses to report him to the police and pays with his life. Galvez, Farah and the Imam in Caracas. These people may be “perceived” as credible threats by Carrie, or Saul, or us, the audience, but then turn out to be decent individuals with the best intentions.
I believe that the perceptions of the CIA agents regarding Muslim characters in Homeland are portrayed quite realistically in the show. These people are trained to be terrorism experts, and they rely on the information they have as well as the statistics — thus their perception of a Muslim individual as a “potential threat.”
As we see those decent people, we, of course, also see the not-so-decent tailor in Gettysburg who prepares and fits the suicide vest for Brody, or Roya Hammad who works for Abu Nazir, or Aileen Morgan the “homegrown” terrorist. In particular, when you look at Roya and Aileen, you see very similar stories, both women believe some injustice is going on in this world, which is true, but they choose the wrong way to deal with it. Neither of them is a Farah. And, people like Farah, Roya and Aileen all exist in this world.
I just think this is yet another good example of the “nuanced” portrayal of good and bad in Homeland that Damian Lewis talks about in an interview with Hunger Magazine:
“There’s a well-pronounced sense of fear in America, a fear of the “other”, and Homeland has largely been a success because it feeds into that. It has also challenged the audience to explore the idea that terrorism, or acts of violence, can be orchestrated by governments, and that it’s not as clear-cut anymore. There’s no clear hero in this show. It has refused to make judgments, and I think it has been brilliantly nuanced and ambiguous.”
TRUE. On both fronts.
First on the fear of the “other”: I agree that the fear of the “other” accounts for the general perception about Islam in American society which I think Homeland depicts brilliantly. I think Jessica is a great representation of this fear that I will talk a bit about later in the post,
Second on the “nuanced” depiction of good and bad: As we have seen the likes of Roya, and Aileen, and of course the big bad wolf Abu Nazir, we have also seen the bad in the U.S. government itself with William Walden cooperating with the CIA to cover the drone attack that killed many school children. We have also seen the corporate men laundering money coming from Iran. If this does not put a question mark into one’s previously clear mind about good and bad, then what does?
Now… Let’s move on to Nicholas Brody and his Muslim faith:
I don’t know if you found out about Brody’s Muslim faith only when you saw Brody praying in the garage but I certainly had my “A-ha” moment earlier in the episode when Brody was shopping for some sort of a rug and a bowl at the shopping mall. Ha… I nudged my husband — “Man, the guy is Muslim.” It was quite obvious that Brody wanted to live his new faith in secret and without his family knowing. He still went to Church with his family, prayed with Chris at night, and then did his own prayer secretly in the garage. But we all knew, and Brody did, too; the family would find out one way or the other at some point and the reaction he would get was what I was most curious about!
And, I was right — the reactions Brody has got from the three women in his life; namely, Carrie, Jess and Dana, about his new faith are all fascinating in their own right.
Carrie is almost amused when she asks “You’re a Muslim?” We don’t know much about Carrie’s faith, my hunch is that she is probably not religious at all, and in particular hearing a middle-of-the-road American guy converting to Islam of all religions sounds funny to her. She gets serious though in the next moment probably because she is thinking it is NOW even more likely that Brody is that turned-POW that her asset had told her about. Again: Her perceptions are driven by information and statistics — you know, Carrie is always working!
Jess is scandalized. She is in shock. She is in disbelief. She just cannot believe that the man she married, probably in a church, has now become a Muslim — essentially sharing a religion with those who tortured him for years. In her outrage, Jess throws the Quran onto the floor
Brody: “That’s not supposed to touch the floor.”
Jess: “Did you just actually say that?”
The guilty look on Brody’s face, as if he did something wrong, at that moment is SAD — which also tells why he has not told Jess earlier.
Jess does not even want to hear what Brody has to say. “ I thought you put all that crazy stuff behind you.” She just finds this unacceptable. “This cannot happen.” She also obviously thinks of the potential implications of this “crazy stuff” on Brody’s political career – a concern that I would sympathize with. Well, think about the 2008 US Presidential Campaign.
Dana, on the other hand, understands Brody. Dana is young. She has not yet developed biases about the “other.” She is perceptive. She is curious. She is much more open-minded than her mom and ready to accept her dad’s new faith thinking that it may, in fact, help heal his deep wounds.
As someone that lost her dad at a very young age, I am a complete sucker for loving dad-daughter relations on screen, but regardless of that, Dana helping her dad burying the Quran – desecrated when thrown on the floor by Jess earlier in the day – is almost poetic attesting to the strong bond between Brody and Dana… And, much later, after her dad “bombed the CIA” Dana going to the garage and trying Brody’s prayer rug to see if it has any magical powers to heal her deep wounds is one of the most heart-breaking scenes in the entire series.
Now… We know Damian Lewis chooses his jobs carefully, and it is not surprising to me at all that he was very careful in his talks with Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon to make sure that he would not play a character who finds Allah and becomes a terrorist.
Damian Lewis tells on Jonathan Ross:
So, how did Damian prepare to play a Muslim?
“Well, my research is pretty conventional. I’m not an out-and-out method actor, but I do like to stay in character a lot during filming. I don’t need to go and live in Iraq for three months to embed myself – well I can’t, I’ve got a family! – but I certainly spoke to a lot of Muslims, and here in London I went to the London Central Mosque, and I read the Koran and its teachings.”
I can tell Damian practiced with someone that knew what he was doing, because he does extremely well with ablution — the obligatory washing ritual before Islamic prayer — in particular the details with hand washing.
Damian highlights how he feels about his character, or any character he brings to life for that matter, on the Jonathan Ross show:
“Acting is like advocacy… you advocate for your character, you believe and trust and love your character…”
So he loved Brody and gave us a man, who has, in fact, found some inner peace in his faith.
A good example is from Season 3 Episode 3 The Tower of David: Brody hearing the call to prayer in Caracas. He is practically living in hell at the time. On the run. Shot at the border, operated on by a doctor with limited equipment. Alone. No family. No friends. He is running up and down the stairs in the tower trying to gain the strength he lost. And… he hears the call to prayer. It may be his only connection to life at that moment. The only familiarity he feels in a city that he is ALL ALONE. He closes his eyes and just “lives there” for a second. His faith gives him some inner peace and, I believe, a little hope, to keep going in the middle of darkness.
Why do I love this scene? It’s probably because I feel exactly the same when I hear the call to prayer. I have already told you, I am not religious, but the call to prayer, in particular, the morning prayer on a cool and dark morning, when I am still in my sleep, gives me some inner peace that I just cannot put into words: a feeling like I am not alone in this world and everything will be okay, and Damian Lewis in that very scene just makes me feel THAT.
Damian Lewis concurs about the inner peace:
“In spite of the fact that Brody was prepared to blow everybody up in a suicide mission, his faith always provided a very personal source of nourishment. We always depicted his faith in an intimate, personal and very sincere way, and a lot of people I’ve spoken to have been thankful for that.”
I am certainly one of them 🙂