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"Homeland" Tells It Like It Ain't
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This month, as the main character in the Showtime series Homeland was willingly captured by Iranian guards as part of an elaborate CIA assassination plot, The Associated Press was reporting that real-life American Robert Levinson, kidnapped in Iran nearly seven years ago, had been working for the Agency at the time of his disappearance.

As they say, life imitating art. That is, until the show goes completely off the rails, and our fictional Levinson assassinates the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

From there, Homeland, in its third season, completes its dubious transition from a suspense drama about how a sometimes effective, bi-polar CIA agent in a paranoid post-9/11 national security state reacts to a former Marine Corps POW possibly “turned” by Arab terrorists, to a transparent propaganda vehicle for the same crowd that’s been itching to get Washington into a war with Iran for the last 12 years.

The entire third season of Homeland, which ended with the usual bang on Dec. 15, was so egregious in this regard, that it wouldn’t be surprising if it won an additional award at the Emmys next year – from the US Congress, for services rendered. Not only does the show blatantly insinuate the hard-line foreign policy vision held by both Republican and Democratic hawks on Capitol Hill, it’s a high-definition brief against trusting the Iranians in any nuclear deal – particularly the one congress is close to scuttling right now.

Furthermore, Homeland has shed any claim that it is probing the moral and cultural tensions inherent in US counterterrorism policy. Instead, it is more or less conditioning Americans to accept that US national security is shifting dramatically from conventional war to warfare in the shadows – borderless, warrantless, targeted killing from the sky and from rooftops, secret prisons, massive foreign surveillance. That our protectors might break the rule of law or do repugnant things is just the price we pay for our national security.

One might ask, why care? It’s just a show. But if Aldous Huxley has taught us anything, it’s that television is used as a tool of the powerful (i.e the state, the corporate class) to manipulate cultural norms, values and politics, and has done so for decades. Creator/producer Gideon Raff knew what he was tapping into when he developed the progenitor of Homeland, called Prisoners of War, for the Israeli audience in 2010. He’s doing the same for its reinterpretation, Homeland, which has attracted upwards of two million viewers on Sunday nights for the last three seasons.

Let’s just say, what the drama series 24 did for America’s feelings about torture in the wake of 9/11 (that it’s sometimes necessary in order to save lives), Homeland does for our enduring Muslim biases and punitive impulses. It tests our war weariness by posing an alternative, insidious Iranian threat that can only be met with equal cunning, deception and steely brutality. It tickles our paranoia, but then offers pretty, patriotic people to take the edge off what is clearly a morally and ethically abhorrent display.

“I want you to know that what’s going on here is not okay with me,” says character Peter Quinn, a black ops guy who assassinates anyone on demand, but appears eternally conflicted about it. His few outward protestations are always met with awkward dead silence from the other characters, as though they were put in the script merely to placate the reviewers.

Incidentally, Prisoners of War was sold to 20th Century Fox Television and out of it, Homeland was developed by the former producers of 24, Howard Gordon and Alex Sansa, with help from Raff, an Israeli who spent most of his life in the US, though he served as a paratrooper in the Israeli army for three years.

Raff says he wants to “avoid war and to avoid a nuclear Iran,” but he sure likes to fantasize about both quite a bit. His latest project, a drama called Tyrant, was just sold to FX, another Fox holding. Raff wrote the pilot, which is about “an unassuming American family drawn into the workings of a turbulent Middle Eastern nation.” Another endless cache of cheap tropes, no doubt. Huxley would be impressed.

Season 3: You gotta do what you gotta do

Homeland stars Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, the bearded interim CIA director, and Claire Danes as the super-wired agent Carrie Mathison, who is in love with twitchy POW and sometimes sleeper agent Nicholas Brody, played by Damien Lewis. The cast is rounded out by a devious looking, ethnically vague, Dar Adal, played by F. Murray Abraham, and Rupert Friend playing the aforementioned Quinn, who always follows orders. He even shoots Carrie – a shoulder wound – when she goes off-script during an operation. She always goes off-script during operations. And we love her for it. Any wrong she does is for love of Brody, or love of country.

Any wrong the Islamists do, however, is because they hate America, and are inherently evil.

If you get that, you get the underlying premise of Season 3. Gone are matters of conscience, like when Saul gave the Vice President a scolding in Season 1 after discovering a covered-up CIA drone strike on a school that killed 82 children, presumably in Pakistan. That strike is what apparently led to Brody’s Islamic conversion. The implicit question of blowback was there the whole time for further development, but sadly, it went absolutely nowhere.

The transference from a Sunni al Qaeda to Shia Iranian threat all begins in Season 2 when we are supposed to believe that Iranian-backed Hezbollah is helping Abu Nazir – Brody’s former captor, described as a Palestinian refugee-turned-al Qaeda ringleader in Pakistan – fund an elaborate attack in the US.

“In the real world, the animosity and mistrust between the Sunni extremist al-Qaida and Shia Hezbollah is so great that it’s highly unlikely they would ever cooperate,” wrote Laila Al-Arian, in “TV’s most Islamophobic show,” for Salon in 2012.

“But in the world of ‘Homeland,’ Hezbollah, which has never threatened an attack on US soil, is not only a close ally of Abu Nazir, but is able to deploy heavily armed commando units to attack a CIA team in rural Pennsylvania.”

Carrie ends up killing Nazir, but not before he and his Hezbollah friends bomb the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. As al Qaeda fades as an existential threat to the US, on the show and in real life, this fictitious assault on the “homeland” offers a new raison d’etre for the continued proliferation of the Military, Surveillance Industrial Complex (MSIC), and elevates Iran as the new “ultimate enemy” of the United States.

The hawks at the American Enterprise Institute couldn’t have dreamed a better plot device – or a more stereotypical villain. When the chief suspect in the Langley bombing, senior Iranian intelligence officer Majid Javadi, is lured to the states on a pretense, he makes a stop at his ex-wife’s house in Maryland, where he proceeds to stab her in the neck with a broken bottle in front of her grandson. When Javadi is asked why he killed her, he calmly responds, “she betrayed me.”

What’s amazing is that Javadi is never taken into custody – he is instead “turned” and sent back to Tehran as a spy. In fact, though more than 200 Americans died in the Langley bombing, and Saul & Company know who did it, there are no show trials, no open threats of retaliation, no war. The CIA merely sends Quinn out to assassinate each of the remaining suspects, at one point killing a young boy by mistake.

Everyone is expendable, even bi-polar Carrie, who is put in and out of the booby hatch at the CIA’s will. Meanwhile Carrie implores the one Muslim CIA agent on the show to use her family’s home as a safe house for Brody to meet Mossad agents in Tehran, knowing the woman’s uncle would be put in mortal danger. Do it for your brothers and sisters at Langley, Carrie says. Yuck.

Meanwhile, the Israeli intelligence agency gets soft treatment on Homeland. When Saul finds out a Mossad agent is sleeping with his wife to get to him, Saul tosses him into a “dark cell.” But instead of exploring the ramifications of Israeli spies infiltrating CIA’s top leadership, Saul grabs the guy by the lapels and tells him he has to get his friends to help the CIA’s mission in Tehran. Suddenly, the Mossad and Carrie are working together to help Brody assassinate the head of the IRGC, which he manages to do in Episode 11.

Javadi executes Brody publicly in the season finale. Saul is retired. Carrie is carrying Brody’s baby. Ironically, Saul gets credit for ultimately bringing Iran to the negotiating table, meaning, all the illegality, the torture, the assassinations, Brody’s death, pay off. And Carrie and Saul remain the most sympathetic characters because whatever they did, it was for the “right reasons,” and the CIA is ultimately an institution of self-sacrificing patriots. Is this really art imitating life? There’s certainly a bunch of people on Capitol Hill and K Street who’d like us to think so.

Shows like this use cheap thrills and suspense to peddle government policy, the way it is, and the way powerful interests hope it will be. In this case, policies that encourage continued hostilities with, and the degradation of, Iran. That’s not just entertainment. That’s propaganda.


Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for, a regular contributor to, and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Media, CIA 
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  1. Duglarri says:

    More deconstruction of this type is badly needed in American media. Take for example “House Of Cards”. I got stuck just the other day on just the second episode: a nominated candidate for Secretary of State is taken down because he penned an editorial decades before that referred to the “illegal occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza. When the editorial is revealed everyone on the show freaks out. “Anti-semite!” the ADL is shown to be shouting.

    No one mentions that the official position of the United States – and the whole world- actually happens to be exactly this: that the occupation is illegal. But the show represents this as a terrible, awful, politically inexcusable mistake. This is the world according to the mainstream media.

    It’s a bubble, and media does matter. Thanks for the great article, Kelley.

    Should throw a “spoilers ahead” in there, though! They shot Brody? Too bad. He was great in Band of Brothers.

  2. As the first comment states; more deconstructionism of this type is needed, and this was an excellent example of what is needed. Ignoramuses always say, why care? So thanks for reminding us of Huxley’s insight of how television is used, with this, and 24, as a couple of the more blatant examples. It seems to me this sort of show is simply a more sophisticated form of what was once called “agitprop,” as it was called when communists used this technique. But just as we did with the Soviet’s torture techniques, propagandists such as the producers of this show have taken their crude practices to an entirely higher level of sophistication while disguising them better as “entertainment.” Thanks for peeling back the layers of deception.

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Isn’t just about every TV show and movie a kind of propaganda for the government? The cops are always heroic, with fine speeches about protecting and serving. That awful “Blue Bloods” comes to mind. Every arrest involves a dozen SWAT members breaking down a door, with massive firepower, even if it is just to ask questions of a suspect. We see this so often on TV that we come to view that as a normal part of life. A specialty of the old “CSI:Miami” was to abuse a suspect and when the heroic cops found out that he wasn’t their man, they would never apologize for their accusations and misbehavior. Anyone who criticizes our foreign policy or questions the right of the feds to spy on us is made to be the bad guys, and the safety of our country is secured by the ever heroic FBI, CIA, the military, or local police. They don’t need jackboots on the street when we grow up to know our place through the indoctrination we receive through “entertainment”.

  4. Dane says:

    Any pretense of national loyalty was thrown out the door with this series.
    Don’t be loyal to the United States of America or your reward will be a red rope and a construction crane. That is the message. Strategy trumps loyalty, control is the ultimate good. Look out for yourself. Betray your superiors. We are goin’ down.
    We are an ugly people with no redeeming qualities on this show. It is the Survivor show only with a Gee-ohh political twist. I can live with the lies on the consultant show House of Lies because that is what the series is about, but to see the US portrayed in such a strategy-above-all manner is not pleasant.

  5. For better or worse, to be American means we are all Israelis now. If only we had never been anti-Semitic for all those decades of the early 20th century, we would not have to make up for it now by blindly following policies that are driven by Jewish paranoia and revenge – against those evildoers who no longer exist, except by imagined proxy.

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Propaganda from your own government is bad enough, but propaganda on behalf of a foreign country?

  7. MoT says:

    As one commenter mentioned in the CSI show, as in so many others, the cops will routinely abuse and rough people up, reaking all so many eggs to make their propaganda cake, but will never apologize or make restitution for damages. This is typical since, in their twisted minds, the ends justify any means. And the US is not unique in this since I remember a certain Inspector Lynley on British TV who with his partner would do exactly the same thing, corral and abuse “suspects” who were innocent, but the self-righteous rat would never say he was wrong. This is the mentality being promoted through “entertainment” but is in itself a direct reflection of the police-state we currently live in even here in America. When nearly ten times as many innocent people get killed just by coming in contact with cops alone, as opposed to the dead “hero” cop figures pushed to propagandize how supposedly dangerous their job is, you begin to realize that there’s something seriously screwed up in this country. It’s reflected from the bottom all the way to the top. From your local yokel to foreign policy from the rabid dogs in the white house it’s flat out a sickness.

  8. dsmith says:

    An interesting note about demonizing Iran, this as Ms. V points out, has not just started. Over the holidays I watched a few minutes of Die Hard With A Vengeance, a movie made almost twenty years ago. In the movie I was somewhat amazed to hear dialog painting, guess who, Iranians as terrorist co- conspirators.

  9. You are missing the whole point. Propaganda? It is like saying that all the Shakespeare plays are propaganda. Come on. This is a sort of Graham Green spy movie, so well done I would also say Shakespearean. I was glued to this show from the start. We are all smart to know the difference with fact and fiction. Unless you are paranoid.
    To me it feels very real as well, the way the CIA operates is well exposed and they way we use drones also well exposed. Where is the propaganda there?
    Most of all this is drama, really well acted, well developed, mostly credible.
    Almost anything TV can be seen as propaganda, or selling cars and gadgets.
    Try to enjoy this magnificent series, nothing like it around, including movies.
    And also don’t be a spoiler. I think Vlahos is full of it and very one sided.
    Jut read headlines and it sound pretty real to me. Dirty hands all around as Sartre once stated.

  10. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    State propaganda filters out in all shapes and sizes.
    It emits from textbooks in government schools, from the frozen pens of government-trained journalists, to Hollywood and beyond.

  11. ‘Homeland’ is derived from a series (Hatufim – the Abducted) that appeared on Israeli TV. That might explain the precedence of ‘hebrew’ characters Saul, and his co-commander Dar, who keep the CIA focussed on the ubiquitous ‘terror’ faced by somebody. The other CIA characters – save for the mentally-imbalanced star, are bumbling putzes when it comes to having what it takes to off the evil – or punch them in the kisser.

    It also explains the on-going concern with concupiscence which is a necessary part of the job for those engaged in the ‘defence of freedumb’. If nothing else the regular porking ensures a suitable parental guidance warning and, hopefully, augmented ratings. Having watched it religiously, I think we’re all the better knowing how successfully the the resources are deployed that keep us all safe.

    I hope Saul can find a way to cope with his Maisy schtupping the opposition, after all she really seems to care for him. We can only imagine how he stinks.

  12. I, for one, am NOT Israeli; never was; never will be. Israel is the USA’s mortal enemy; and, when I say USA, I mean the nation itself, We the People. The USG is not the USA; it’s just a government, and a bad one at that.

    Israel has its dirty fingers in just about every facet of the lives of every American, and this is totally unacceptable. The silver lining in all of this is that the US population is waking up, albeit, slowly. The most astute of us see what’s going on all around us; the accusing fingers are pointing at Tel Aviv; and, already, organizations are beginning to boycott the Zionist Entity for its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and atrocities against the Palestinian people – Christian and Muslim alike.

    The series Homeland doesn’t portray American patriotism in a good light; Zionism regards it as ultranationalism, which it hates.

  13. Andor says:

    From the very beginning I was watching these series as a textbook on Israeli propaganda. We all know the Hazbara operating on liberal sites and “correcting” the “wrongdoings” of the commenting American masses ))
    But Hazbara is just too obvious, so now we have Hollywood turned into Israwood, our TV serving out Israeli propaganda by our elected representatives, by our presidents, by screenwriters, and our newspapers serving the same masters…
    The ending of the third season was simply awful! Hanging Brody, Carry accepting it “for the good of the country”, and overall seeming acceptance of the premise that the ends justify the means is so blatantly immoral that there is no way the fourth season can somehow develop some redeeming quality.
    It is immoral, insidious and extremely dangerous trend I observe in the Israeli led corruption of conscience of the people…

  14. I am still hoping Brody is okay. After all the scene was faked no? The actor is still around no?
    anything can be faked nowadays. Read today about more drones. this is real, not propaganda.
    The Nazis had a policy formal of telling lies, making it big enough they will believe you, Goebbels said this and he was formally head of the department of Propaganda.
    Homeland is not propaganda. It is about as real as you can get.

  15. Charles Rotmil: “You are missing the whole point. Propaganda? It is like saying that all the Shakespeare plays are propaganda. Come on. This is a sort of Graham Green spy movie, so well done I would also say Shakespearean. I was glued to this show from the start. We are all smart to know the difference with fact and fiction. Unless you are paranoid.”

    No, it’s not like saying Shakespeare plays are propaganda. Shakespeare plays were written four hundred years ago. Those plays–especially the histories–may have been pro-Tudor propaganda, but that is an academic point now. We can enjoy them at a remove from his toadying to royal authority which, towards the end of QEI’s reign was looking quite authoritarian indeed.

    Propaganda that actually affects the political dynamics of this day and attempts to push the Israeli line on the Middle East has an utterly different impact on us. Likening “Homeland” to Leni Riefenstahl or Sergei Eisenstein would start to get closer to the mark. In any case, the use of mass culture to drive the US into more wars for Israel is a phenomenon worthy of sustained scrutiny and intense criticism. Good to see that Kelly Vlahos is on the job.

  16. This review is complete rubbish. It completely misidentifies the basic problem with Homeland.

    For the first two series, the terrorist mastermind is a character called Abu Nazir. He’s depicted as a sophisticated, cultured gentleman terrorist. Like Ernst Stavro Blofeld as portrayed by Charles Gray.

    The problem is, as the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Nazir’s direct real-life equivalent was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian recovering alcoholic street thug. Think “Chopper” Reid crossed with David Koresh. Al-Zarqawi devoted far more of his energy into massacring Shiites than he did beheading Americans (though he personally beheaded two Americans on video using a Stanley knife). Needless to say, the Sunni-Shia enmity was completely ignored by the “Homeland” writers.

    A low-IQ, testosterone-fuelled loser like Al-Zarqawi is unlikely to also be a solemn, dignified, art-connoisseur Bond villain with a shark pool in his volcano. But this is the truth of Islamic terrorism: it’s mostly carried out by idiots – even if “our” idiots sometimes allow “their” idiots to get lucky.

    Even in Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s style of hardcore Twelver Shi’a Islam has little appeal to sophisticated middle class Persians. He’s too boorishly plebeian. My Iranian friends tell me he’s basically a redneck hick. Think Archie Bunker crossed with James Charles Kopp.

    The “Homeland” writers give us an Iranian spymaster, Akbari; a cross between Don Corleone and Karla (from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). But again, he just doesn’t feel drawn from life. The kind of people who hold such jobs in Iran cut their teeth murdering Iranian communists and fighting the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. They’re now wealthy semi-corrupt bruisers. See the Iranian comedy, “Marmoulak” (“The Lizard”), about a small-time crook who impersonates a mullah, to get some feel of how things really are there.

    It’s not impossible to create realistic Iranian and Iraqi characters. But I suspect our PC culture makes us wary of depicting non-white stupidity, boorishness and corruption truthfully. So writers opt for Vodemort-style gentleman villains instead.

    “Four Lions” is – by a long way – the most accurate fictional depiction of Islamic terrorism, and the type of person who engages in it.

  17. Huh. And here I thought I was just watching a TV show.

    Considering how unrealistic the show is in so many aspects, I doubt it’s value as effective propaganda. In the world of ‘Homeland,’ The CIA is like a super police force, performing domestic terrorism duties that normally would be handled by the FBI. CIA agents are practically Law and Order cops on this program; showing up at crime scenes and taking over police investigations…. If you are really threatened by this show as propaganda, just remember it’s on a premium channel that only a tiny fraction of the country is paying for, let alone watching this series. Don’t worry, Homeland won’t be plunging us into WWIII.

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