An episode of the American TV show “Homeland” is titled “Beirut is Back.” No, it’s not the comeback we’d want: that of the city that is slowly but surely getting back on its feet, it is that of terrorism. Supposedly, the events portrayed were centered around Hezbollah and CIA. The main character was in Beirut to kill a Hezbollah agent who worked with Al Qaeda. That’s enough for me to put the entire things in the realms of fiction. But for your regular American Joe, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda are probably working together. They don’t know that the animosity between both groups is unsurmountable.
The entire episode was shot in Haifa. Because the Israeli city apparently can serve as a dummy for ours. Ila ma ba3da Haifa, anyone? The TV show producers didn’t even bother getting their setting to resemble Beirut – they just went with it. Their audience wouldn’t care.
So over the course of an hour, Homeland turned Beirut, Hamra Street basically, into a terrorist city where foreigners are abducted for just being foreigners, where women wear veils to go out on the streets and where it is very unsafe to basically do anything.
Based on all the above, the Lebanese government has decided to file charges against Homeland. Details can be found here.
My opinion regarding this is two-folds.
On one hand, the portrayal of Hamra Street as a terrorist nest is not only wrong, it’s silly. What I’m beyond certain of is that Hamra is probably the most liberal part of all Beirut. It is where the socialist hipster activists gather every day to try and change the world over many drinks in the Alleyway after their classes at the American University of Beirut (AUB), the country’s leading university. There’s nothing in Hamra that fits in the idea of Homeland’s producers. Except the fact that it’s in their idea of Beirut.
Moreover, the mere idea that they filmed a Beirut-based episode in an Israeli city is an insult. If they put in the effort to drag all their crew all the way to the Middle East, then they may as well have filmed in Beirut and not in Lebanon’s enemy country.
On the other hand, the minister of tourism is worried that this episode would harm tourism by affecting American conceptions of the country. He’s probably right. But what the minister doesn’t know is that for most Americans Beirut is still the war-torn city where a bomb goes off every few minutes and they don’t need Homeland to tell them otherwise. Their mainstream media does a pretty good job at keeping our capital and country with the reputation that we have. I would have liked for a TV show to show Beirut in a good light but the effect would be too limited.
Moreover, it’s not like his government was doing a great job (until recently) at calming the tensions in the streets. Some demented person wants to block the roads with tires? Fine with us. Some family’s military wing wants to kidnap innocent people? You go ahead. Some angry religious people want to torch down a restaurant? Just give us some food first. And even though these are very restricted incidences that only affect a very, very minute portion of the country, it is not the impression others get. We try to explain how we go out every day despite all of these things to foreigners but we may as well be talking to a wall. Our government also wasn’t active against such events until it was too late. Sure, they managed to round up those who did those things later on. And they’ve agreed that they won’t let anyone block roads anymore. But the damage was already done.
However, all in all, I have to agree with the lawsuit on one principle. I don’t care if Homeland wants to trash Beirut and further cement the stereotypes of their targeted audience about my capital… as long as they literally pay up for it. It’s not up to them to change the stereotypes towards Beirut, it’s up to us. Let them come over to Beirut, enjoy the city they are bringing down, portray it as an Al Qaeda zone while the director’s gaze wanders to the nearest cleavage he could find over at Hamra street. And let them pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars in doing so. So while Americans panic over their actors and actresses going to such a place, we’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.