Season Four of the Showtime terrorism drama Homeland wrapped up its final episode recently, and the verdict is in – Pakistan, our purported ally against Islamic terrorism, is not pleased.
If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it features actress Claire Danes in an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning role as bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison, whose beat is Islamic terrorism. In fact, in the most recent season she has been promoted – or condemned, depending on your viewpoint – to station chief in Islamabad.
I’ve written about Homeland before for FrontPage Mag, at the close of the critically acclaimed show’s first season. After an interesting premise and gripping start, the show disappointed me with its moral equivalence which the filmmakers drew between us and the Islamic terrorists. That’s par for the course from Hollywood, but disappointing nonetheless.
The next two seasons struggled to find its sea legs, but Season Four put Carrie front and center in the belly of the beast, in Pakistan. And that ultimately did not go over well with officials there, who complained about the depiction of Islamabad (although the show’s scenes of the capital were actually filmed in Cape Town, South Africa): “Maligning a country that has been a close partner and ally of the U.S.,” said Pakistan Embassy spokesman Nadeem Hotiana, “is a disservice not only to the security interests of the U.S. but also to the people of the U.S.”
“Islamabad is a quiet, picturesque city with beautiful mountains and lush greenery,” another source said. “In Homeland, it’s portrayed as a grimy hellhole and war zone where shootouts and bombs go off with dead bodies scattered around. Nothing is further from the truth.”
Methinks they doth protest too much. First of all, Homeland is a terrorism drama, not a tourist travelogue, so naturally it’s going to emphasize the dramatic over the picturesque. Second, it’s not that far from the truth. While Islamabad no doubt has some beautiful greenery, this list of terrorism-related incidents in Islamabad in 2014 alone suggests that the city is no sleepy vacation town. It includes dozens of deaths in explosions and militant attacks, hundreds of injuries in protest clashes and hundreds of arrests of terrorist plotters.
Pakistani diplomats also had a problem with the actors’ incorrect Urdu accents and other linguistic nitpicking, but their biggest irritation is that Homeland suggests that Pakistan may not be the trusted ally against the terrorists that its officials would like us to believe: “Repeated insinuations that an intelligence agency of Pakistan is complicit in protecting the terrorists at the expense of innocent Pakistani civilians,” said one source, “is not only absurd but also an insult to the ultimate sacrifices of the thousands of Pakistani security personnel in the war against terrorism... Homeland makes it seem that Pakistan has contempt for Americans and its values and principles. That is not true.”
Or maybe it is. The Freedom Center’s own Robert Spencer wrote last year that Pakistan is not our ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism: “The Pakistanis have been aiding the same jihadists that the U.S. government has been giving them billions of dollars to fight,” Spencer wrote. Not only did we learn, for example, that “the head of the Pakistani government’s spy service knew the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, but also that so did many other top officials in the Pakistani government” – just as they are aware that jihad terror leader Hafiz Saeed, on whom the U.S. has placed a $10 million bounty, lives openly and comfortably there.
Spencer went on to relate how casually Pakistani officials took their role in the “war on terror” – until the U.S. successfully killed a Taliban leader with a drone. Then, “the Pakistani government was furious, and summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest. The Pakistani foreign minister… warned that ‘every aspect’ of Pakistan’s relationship with Washington would be reexamined.”
Additionally, Pakistan’s Abbottabad Commission denounced the United States as “arrogant” and said that the killing of bin Laden was the “greatest humiliation” Pakistan had suffered since the 1971 declaration of independence by what is now Bangladesh.
Last summer, Spencer continued, the Associated Press reported that “critics worry that [Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz] Sharif, who is known to be personally very religious, is soft on Islamic extremism and won’t crack down on militants that pose a serious threat to Pakistan and other countries — chief among them the Taliban and al-Qaida-linked groups.” So much for Pakistan having our back.
As for the show’s espionage authenticity: two former CIA agents, writing for the Daily Beast, assessed Homeland from a spy’s point of view and confirmed that it “rings true”; it correctly presents “the mission, intensity, pace, contradictions and complexity of a CIA station engaged in deadly battle with [an] implacable terrorist...” They praised the show also for shining an “uncomfortable and uncompromising light on the moral and practical dilemmas” faced by the CIA in the war on jihad.
The agents pointed out several ways in which Carrie’s work accurately reflects what actual CIA station chiefs face:
1) Her attempts at dealing with a duplicitous host government and liaison service. “In reality, there is no such thing as a ‘friendly’ intelligence service. ISI, however, is the poster child for ‘duplicitous’”;
2) Her effort to turn an individual inside ISI against his own government. “This is the heart of the agent recruitment process that is the lifeblood of CIA today,” the agents wrote;
3) The show depicts the CIA officers as acutely aware of, and wrestling with, “the potential moral hazards of their work”;
4) One agent’s PTSD triggers an explosive overreaction that reflects the extreme stresses that can plague CIA officers after an overseas assignment;
5) Carrie’s concern about the reliability and accuracy of her sources.
Although Homeland doesn’t draw the moral lines in the “war on terror” as clearly as I would like, if it’s getting details like that correct, and irking our corrupt and questionable Pakistani “ally,” then the show must be doing something right.
(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 1/19/15)