PuffHo: No Muslims should be portrayed as terrorists on television

It would clearly be bigoted, on a TV show about terrorism, to portray only Islamic terrorists. But it would also be tendentious to neglect Muslims on a show about terrorism, pretending that Islamic terrorism simply doesn’t exist. Yet PuffHo (of course) is applauding such a show in its new article: “Here’s why you’ll never see a Muslim terrorist on this TV show“. To wit:

Here’s something we can hopefully all agree on: we’ve seen enough Muslim terrorists on TV.

Whether it’s reinforcing the threat-next-door stereotype *cough “24” cough* or how far too many actors who are or appear to be Middle Eastern have played a terrorist on TV (Kal Penn, Rami Malek, etc.) representations of Muslim people as extremists only fuel Islamophobic and xenophobic sentiments.

To subvert this history of stereotyping and marginalization on-screen, “Quantico” showrunner Josh Safran has made it his mission to never feature a Muslim terrorist in the series, which follows a group of FBI recruits combating incidents of domestic terrorism.

In a New York Times article titled “Can Television Be Fair to Muslims?” featuring excerpts from a roundtable of writers and showrunners of series like “Homeland” and “Quantico,” Safran explains that his series stands in direct defiance of this kind of typecasting.

“For me, it was important to not ever put a Muslim terrorist on our show,” he said. “There hasn’t been one. This year we have the appearance of one — which is a spoiler. But it’s not true.”

Now think about this. If you know the “24” television series, you’ll also know that it was not all about Islamic terrorists; in fact, they’re in the distinct minority. It was about a panoply of terrorists from distinct countries and backgrounds. If you have a show about domestic terrorism in the U.S., it’s almost a form of censorship to leave out a group that has been responsible for several major and deadly episodes of terrorism. Even fears of “Islamophobia” must bow to reality. But the Regressive Left prefers distorting reality rather than portray the true nature of American terrorism, some of which is committed by Muslims.

There’s more:

Safran also said the result of the presidential election was a turning point for the series. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s win, the writers of “Quantico” were at a loss as to how to depict terrorism in this moment of extreme political volatility, leading to a frank conversation with a network head.

“We had this long talk the day after the election, in the writers’ room, about how the show is about terrorism. We were there for hours. We were crying, and it was really tough,” Safran recalled. “How do you go in there and talk about what terrorists are going to do today? You just don’t want to do that. I don’t want to watch a show about terrorism now. I called the network and I said, ‘Can we change the show?’ They said yes. We’re changing the show so that it can represent, in a dark time, more hope.”

What is the “hope” here? That Muslims won’t commit any more acts of terrorism? That hope is vain. To partially quote Richard Feynman, “. . . Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

Then there’s this:

Maybe this will be a case of life imitating art, because even FBI Director James Comey noted in 2015 how the cast of “Quantico” is far more diverse than the overwhelmingly white, male makeup of FBI employees

What the sentence above says is pretty true, but what PuffHo omits is that the FBI is making a big push to diversify its staff. The problem is finding qualified minority employees. As The Marshall project notes,

“The FBI is overwhelmingly white and male among my agent force,” FBI Director James Comey told an audience at Georgetown University last month, Politico reported, after a speech lamenting mistrust between white police and black communities. “I have to change the numbers.”

The bureau is in the midst of a new “targeted” recruiting strategy, says James Turgal, Comey’s new head of personnel. According to Turgal, the agency has expanded the list of schools where it recruits to include dozens of colleges with large minority enrollment. He also sends staff to black, Latino, and Asian organizations that cater to lawyers, MBAs, and other professionals.

Finally, one hopes that Arab Muslims cast on TV shows get to play roles that aren’t going to be clumsily defined by other stereotypes—like the hijab-wearing  Joanna in Bloomers (ironically played by a Hindu actress).

Science fiction has always been ahead of the curve in this sort of thing. Star Trek DS9 cast Siddig El Fadil (a.k.a. Alexander Siddig) as the station’s Doctor Bashir, a young, naive and nerdy scientist who was in no way stereotyped or defined by either his ethnic origins or religion.


Perhaps “showrunners of 2016” should emulate what sci-fi was doing back in 1993, that would be nice.

In the end, we won’t end Islamic terrorism by pretending it doesn’t exist. You can be absolutely sure that the FBI knows this, and is monitoring Muslim groups, websites, and phone traffic to stave off potential terror attacks.

h/t: Grania


  1. Posted December 3, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I’ll HuffPo and PuffHo your Dar al-Terrorist portrayals down.

  2. Kevin
    Posted December 3, 2016 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Most science fiction is ahead of the moral curve. Raise a left hand against the rest of the darkness.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 3, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Ha! Is that an Ursula K Leguin comment?

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted December 3, 2016 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        If it isn’t it should be.

  3. E.A. Blair
    Posted December 3, 2016 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Back in the mid-1980s, the toy company Coleco was slammed for putting out a “terrorist” dressed in a thawb and keffiyeh as part of a line of action figures with a counterterrorism theme, so this is nothing new.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 3, 2016 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Is it anti-Semitic for Hollywood to cast Jews as the Purple Gang or in Murder-Inc. roles like Myer Lanski or Bugsy Siegel or Dutch Schultz? Should La Cosa Nostra movies be recast with Scotsmen in the leads, re-titled “Our Thing”? Should Polacks* play the Westies?

    For my money, the best feature film about Muslims and domestic terrorism is The Siege, with Tony Shalhoub as a Muslim FBI agent whose son gets rounded up in a mass Muslim arrest conducted by a general played by Bruce Willis (also starring Annette Bening and Denzel).
    *Generic term for those of Mitteleuropan extraction used by mainline WASP-y types who wouldn’t know the Balkan peninsula from the Baltic Sea.

    • Carl
      Posted December 3, 2016 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      So we have to choose between racism and cultural appropriation? Very droll Ken.

      “Polack” originally referred to Eastern European Jews.

      The Kingdom is my favorite terrorism movie (not domestic however).

    • Carl
      Posted December 3, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      “Scotsmen” is offensive. “Scots” is the correct term. (authority: Sean Connery)

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 3, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        You talkin’ about the guy these guys are goofin’ on?

        Then again, one shouldn’t cross anyone who’s licensed to kill for Queen and Country.

        • Carl
          Posted December 3, 2016 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

          1930 was an excellent vintage for actors.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 3, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

          Touch not the cat bot a glove!

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted December 4, 2016 at 6:38 am | Permalink

            Well played!

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted December 4, 2016 at 7:42 am | Permalink


  5. jay
    Posted December 3, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    The problem is this: I really do NOT believe the FBI is discriminating in minority hiring. So efforts to diversify are artificial percentage balancing games, and diversity through manipulation is more poisonous than lack of diversity. There can be cultural factors more related to culture. As conservative black commentator Thomas Sowell pointed out: he’s never seen a black male ballet dancer, but that doesn’t mean black men can’t dance. Nonetheless, the FBI approach, if indeed it truly simply means marketing itself to minorities, is a reasonable step.

    More disturbing, there has been also a push from the administration to hire more minority police by specifically ignoring things that should really be red flags, like previous conviction for felony. Diversity can be good, but when you lower standards to achieve it, you poison it for everyone.

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 3, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    What if Law and Order had to deal with rape and couldn’t cast men in the role of the rapist? What a weird story that would make.

    And don’t think that people don’t see through things — there was a Canadian TV series about the Avro Arrow, called The Arrow. When I watched it, I kept complaining that there was a female engineer in it and there weren’t any female engineers so what’s going on. I obsessed and obssessed. Then at the series’ conclusion there was a note that the female character “represented all the females that worked on the Arrow”. I found this deceptive. Just admit it – women weren’t supposed to be engineers back then and accurately show that! I thought that was trying to rewrite history.

    One thing about DS9 – Captain Sisko is my favourite Star Fleet captain. He’s flawed, he doesn’t even want the job, he’s dealing with his wife’s death by the Borg and he’s thrust into the role of some sort of prophet with the damn worm hole aliens. My favourite episode is when the worm hole aliens give him a vision of himself living in the 1930s America as a science fiction writer writing about DS-9. Other characters from DS-9 are in his vision. Worf is a black baseball player who is harassed for being black. Sisko isn’t allowed to show up for a picture for his writing because he’s black and that would annoy people. The women are excluded from the photo as well. I so loved that episode and later, Sisko is annoyed that people enjoy a program on the holodeck that takes place in some 1930s era casino because people of colour were excluded and the holodeck doesn’t show that. His friends think he’s weird for thinking it but I totally get it and he gets it because of his worm hole alien vision!

    • pali
      Posted December 3, 2016 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      I tend to view DS9 as Star Trek’s high point in a lot of ways, and diversity of casting is certainly one of them. Counting only the human main characters, and you have the black captain doing a fantastic job raising his black son alone (how he didn’t end up on top of every list of positive black male role models on television in the 90s escapes me), the Arabic doctor, and the Irish engineer – not a single white guy with an American accent among them. Include the non human characters, and the command line’s order is Sisko, Kira, Worf, Dax – black man, woman, black man, woman – while every other white male in the main cast is in heavy makeup playing a nonhuman character. It definitely could’ve used more women of color, but that was about the only point on the diversity checklist it missed; it even had one of TV’s first lesbian kisses.

      Voyager made a fairly noble attempt to replicate this, but I don’t think it managed it quite as well – largely because the show didn’t allow much in the way of long-term character growth for anyone but Seven or the Doctor, so these characters of color often ended up largely sidelined when it came to emotional investment of the viewer. Kim and Chakotay in particular were largely blank slates, and Chakotay’s being a mishmash of Native American cultures rather than from a specific one often ruined any attempt to explore his heritage.

      • compuholio
        Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:59 am | Permalink

        I completely agree that DS9 was the high point for sci-fi series. Yoyager wasn’t bad but DS9 was a hard act to follow.

        DS9 has always been my favorite sci-fi series. The characters were simply great. But my favorite character has always been Garak.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 5, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

          I quite enjoyed the Vorta since they were so sycophantic when they addressed the Founders. I always want to do the same subservient gesture when dealing with corporate founders. 😀

          • Posted December 5, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

            You’d have to clone yourself and tinker with your clone’s DNA, first 😉

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 3, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Muslim Terrorist! That’s about as rare as a one dollar bill. Whoops.

  8. Posted December 3, 2016 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I binge watched Homeland last year. It doesn’t seem to pull any punches with portraying Islamists.

  9. Posted December 3, 2016 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    “Even fears of “Islamophobia” must bow to reality. But the Regressive Left prefers distorting reality rather than portray the true nature of American terrorism, some of which is committed by Muslims.”

    OK while I obviously agree in principle that we can’t as a society ignore Islamic terrorism, given that we have a right wing that overemphasizes (IMO) it, while ignoring right wing extremism, and given that we have now have a president that has said he’s going to be responding to it in an insanely excessive way, is it so bad for Hollywood to ignore it to create some balance?

    • Posted December 3, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      I mean do we have a problem in this nation with people not being paranoid enough about Islamic terrorism, arguably a paranoia that elected Trump? Does it need more highlighting by the entertainment industry?

      • Carl
        Posted December 3, 2016 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know about highlighting, but the current administration and the losing candidate seem to bend over backward in not naming Islamic terrorism. What has Sam Harris been warning about all this time?

        The entertainment industry will behave as usual. I hope the rest of us will speak honestly and accurately.

        • Posted December 4, 2016 at 12:34 am | Permalink

          “What has Sam Harris been warning about all this time?”

          I suspect Sam will be spending more time warning us about Trump, and less about Islam. The right wing is now a far bigger problem in this country than Islam is. In fact global warming denial, and Trumps impact on scotus are singularly bigger problems than Islam.

          • Diane G.
            Posted December 4, 2016 at 1:05 am | Permalink

            Plus he’s already irritating China…

            • Posted December 4, 2016 at 1:12 am | Permalink

              “Plus he’s already irritating China…”

              Yeah I was just pointing out the two things that came immediately to mind that I think are already unquestionably bigger problems. There are many more that are potentially bigger.

  10. Diane G.
    Posted December 3, 2016 at 8:45 pm | Permalink


  11. nicky
    Posted December 3, 2016 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Hyenas are much maligned. No hyena should be portrayed as a killing meat-eater, since there are lions, wild dogs and cheetahs too.
    (The difference, of course, is he 70% Ayaan referred to)

  12. Posted December 3, 2016 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Alexander Siddig played Bashir as an English man because he was raised in England and his mother is English – which is why he is occasionally dressed in a James Bond tux. I think Malcolm McDowell (from A Clockwork Orange) is his uncle.

    Quantico is going to have a hard time balancing an ethnically diverse cast against excluding Islamic terrorism: the reason that the FBI is becoming more ethnically diverse isn’t because it is a liberal institution, it is because it needs people from the same background as the terrorists.

    There’s no point hiring Arabic speakers to investigate white supremacists. If that’s the demographic they want to build the stories around they have to cast blue-eyed blonds.

    Some brown-skinned guy isn’t going to infiltrate a bunch of rednecks no matter how large a swastika you tattoo onto his forehead.

  13. Posted December 4, 2016 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    “Doctor Bashir, a young, naive and nerdy scientist who was in no way stereotyped or defined by either his ethnic origins or religion.”

    You make it sound as though Bashir was an Arab Muslim. He was neither. I suppose you must mean Siddig el Fadil. But he is as much English as Sudanese and he is not a Muslim. At least he was not when he acted in DS9 and he was not in 2001. He may have converted since then.

    Of course Muslims would claim that he is a Muslim simply because his father was a Muslim, but surely you do not follow that rule.

    • Posted December 4, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      He didn’t play Bashir as Arabic any more than Patrick Stewart played Jean Luc Picard as French.

      I’m not sure nation states exist as such in Star Trek’s future. Does culture still map onto geography when you can instantaneously zap your particles to the other side of the world?

      • Posted December 5, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Except that Patrick Stewart – or rather the scriptwriters for his character – *did* portray Picard as French, at least after a fashion. (And one interested in Shakespeare and Homer, etc., so he’s sort of pan-European.) But it doesn’t matter either, because (for example) Riker is not terribly American in his interests either – despite being Alaskan, for example. (He does get to show some knowledge of American history that his crewmates lack at one point, for example.) Humanity before details.

        As for Bashir, the character is English in a lot of ways, like the actor, but a lot of the time it simply *doesn’t matter*. I don’t think he’s ever referred to as an Arab, though I know they apparently had a very difficult time casting an Arab actress to play his mother.

        *That’s* the (legitimate) point behind a lot of TOS’s Uhura’s presence too, and I think the way to go: we’ll just have her around and most of the time don’t draw attention to her race (or her sex, which was also remarkable at the time – “black female astronaut???”) because she’s a human being, and that’s what matters.

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