Counting the cultural gaffes in Season 4 of Homeland which portrays Pakistan in a very unfamiliar light…
The CIA has just discovered, to its utter shock and disbelief, that the ISI faked the death of Taliban terrorist Haissam Haqqani in a drone attack in Waziristan and then killed Sandy Bachman, CIA agent stationed in Islamabad, to throw them off track. The big question is WHY? Our question, however, is HOW a series, with a mammoth budget and intensive research, could get the details of Pakistan’s landscape so wrong? We’re not talking politics, conspiracies or intrigue; we’re talking cultural guffaws that are very hard to ignore if you want to take the story seriously.
How easy it is to access the US Embassy!
The US Embassy in Islamabad is unapproachable and even the Consulate in Karachi is likened to Guantanamo Bay in terms of its inaccessibility. To be able to hold a protest outside its gates is something that can only happen in fiction. (Episodes 1 & 2: Pilot)
Boy and girl, hand in hand?
When driving through Islamabad, you’re likelier to see two boys walking hand in hand than a well-dressed boy and girl walking through a busy market place with their arms intertwined. This kind of scene can be seen only in fictional representations of the conservative Capital. (Episode 3)
What, no one stares?
Blond and as American as can visibly be, Carrie Mathison is privileged that no one stares at her or any other woman in Homeland’s depiction of Islamabad. (Episode 3)
Where did the pick-pockets go?
When Fara Sherazi follows Ayaan Ibrahim (the medical student with suspected links to the Haqqani network) into a marketplace, her cell phone is visibly jutting out of the back pocket of her tight jeans. Not only does no one stare (impressive, right?) but she doesn’t even lose her phone to random pick-pockets. Homeland’s Pakistan is obviously a safer one when it comes to petty crime. (Episode 4)
Agreed we’re a nation heavily influenced by the Arabs but we write Urdu in Nasta’liq script not the derivative of the Nabataean Aramaic script, which is more Arabic. And yet all shop hoardings and signs are scripted in Arabic-Urdu. (Throughout)
Artificially accented Urdu
Furthermore, the people of Islamabad not only don’t speak Pushto but they also speak Urdu in a heavily accented dialect. It’s partly Arabic influenced and partly Indian Muslim, as the Indian Muslim community of Cape Town, South Africa (where the Season was filmed) has been used as stand-in Pakistanis. They say ‘mere ko’ instead of ‘mujhe’ and ‘pakhaana’ instead of ‘ghusal khaana’ or even ‘bathroom’, a much more frequently used word. I don’t know of any restaurants, no matter how small, that would have staff using the word ‘pakhaana’ as the girl in the tea-room does. (Episode 3)
We have yet to witness it in real life but fantasy has no bounds as fiction loves to portray ISI (female) agents as sexy beings. To cast Nimrat Kaur as Tasneem Qureshi, replete with gorgeous smile and low-cut blouses is an intelligence fantasy that we don’t see coming true any time soon. We also love how the other ISI agents, like Bunran ‘Bunny’ Latif (Art Malik) are well-cultured with perfectly cured British accents.
Pakistan is quite famous for its bus and truck art and that’s an understatement. So the white and blue buses that Ayaan travels in just don’t cut it as Pakistani.
I’m sure you all can add to this: do we, or foreigners all have to cover their head in Islamabad? And is the view from the Amercian Embassy rooftop really the best? Whatever happened to the picturesque Marghalla Hills?