“I don’t know if a guy like Darwyn is out there somewhere in the U.S. But I sure hope so. Talk about wish fulfillment.” While Hollywood continues to spin politically correct fantasies like this, the real-life FBI is facing the fallout of trying to make wishes come true without sufficient attention to the realities of the case.
From the New Duranty Times, with thanks to Jerry Gordon:
LOS ANGELES – The two members of the Islamic terrorist cell pulled up to the curb at the airport and quickly exited their Cadillac Escalade.
As one hustled a passenger – a biochemist from a local university – out of the backseat and into the terminal, his destination Vancouver but his intentions unknown, the other nervously picked up a pay phone. He was alerting his supervisor at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The scene, acted out before cameras at Los Angeles International Airport on a recent morning, was for a Showtime series called “Sleeper Cell,” which is scheduled to have its premiere later this year and is, in many respects, unlike any other program that has been produced for American television.
The lead character is an undercover F.B.I. agent who has managed to infiltrate a Southern California sleeper cell largely because he is a practicing Muslim. The character, Darwyn, is the first major role created on an American series – whether before or after the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings – that depicts a Muslim as a hero seeking to check the intentions of terrorists.
That the production has such a high gloss of credibility – at least in terms of the prayers that Darwyn utters, the ways he interprets the Koran and his struggles to reconcile his religion with his daily life – is a function of the creative team supporting it: three of those playing prominent roles behind the scenes are themselves Muslims. And having been raised on a steady diet of Arab bad guys – whether on shows like “JAG” or “24,” or movies like the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “True Lies” – they say they welcomed the opportunity to put a character on television who looked like them, shared their values and sought to save the day….
Among the creative risks being undertaken by the producers, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, is that “Sleeper Cell” also seeks to imagine the motivations and ordinary lives of a handful of Muslims seeking to do Americans great harm. They are shown huddling not in far-away caves but, in a page ripped from “The Sopranos,” in such quintessentially American venues as a park (for a child’s birthday picnic) and a bowling alley.
The leader of the cell, an intermittently personable figure named Farik, is depicted in the first episode as a closeted adherent of a violent strain of Islam who has found cover in a synagogue, where he is accepted as Jewish and harmless.
Later, he is shown rousting his subordinates out of bed and herding them into a van, where he quizzes them about the driving directions to several potential bombing targets. These include two California nuclear power plants, the Rose Bowl, U.C.L.A. and the airport.
Executives for both Showtime and “Sleeper Cell” acknowledge that such scenes will make many viewers uncomfortable. But they contend that only by dramatizing the menace that Darwyn is up against can they depict the size of the task he has chosen to undertake.
“We’re showing a Muslim F.B.I. agent, someone who is devout, who is so motivated by both his patriotism as well as his sincere faith as a Muslim that he has to stop these criminals who are abusing his faith,” said Kamran Pasha, a writer on the series and a Muslim, who was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and grew up in Borough Park, Brooklyn. “Of course the risk always is, even if we show a positive Muslim hero, some people may walk away just thinking their average, next-door neighbor is a sleeper cell member.”
“The very portrayal of an American Muslim working with the government will be controversial,” added Mr. Pasha, 33, a Dartmouth graduate whose major was religion. “Muslims will say, ‘That’s a bit of a fantasy – there aren’t that many Muslims being allowed to advance in the United States government to play this role.’ Non-Muslims will say, ‘Could that guy really exist?’ “…
“Sleeper Cell” was brought to Showtime by two producers – one Jewish, the other raised Protestant – whose prior knowledge of the Muslim world did not extend much beyond “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam” and whose previous television credits were limited to a little-seen Fox series about a supernatural detective called “Brimstone.”…
While acknowledging that they cannot be sure whether there are such cells operating in America, the producers have assembled a kitchen cabinet of consultants who might best imagine such a world. One is a retired F.B.I. agent with undercover experience, while another is a biological and chemical weapons expert.
But it is the Muslims working on the production – some of whom wear kufis, or knit skullcaps, on the set, and break for regular prayer – that set it apart. It was their presence, for example, that helped persuade the leaders of a Southern California mosque to permit cameras inside to record a scene for the series’s fourth episode. In it, a Muslim scholar tries to persuade one of the cell members that he is perverting a passage of the Koran in an attempt to justify violence.
More fantasy. We will thus see this being done on television and think, that is what is happening in real life. But where is it happening? What mosques in America have programs to refute the jihadist interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah?
Abdallah Omeish, 30, a documentary filmmaker working as a production assistant on “Sleeper Cell,” said his involvement with the program had prompted an obvious question among some fellow Muslims: “How could you work on a show that has Muslim terrorists?”
Yeah, how can you participate in this racist claptrap? After all, it isn’t as if there are any Muslim terrorists in real life.
“I’m looking at the bigger picture,” said Mr. Omeish, who was born in Tripoli and brought up in Northern Virginia. “This show is definitely going to open up dialogue.”
Such conversations are already taking place, at least on the program’s set. After filming one morning last month at the airport, the actors and technical crew broke for lunch in an open-air canteen set up in a parking lot. Over salads and pink lemonade, several impromptu, ecumenical conversations were taking place.
At the end of one picnic table was Oded Fehr, 34, an Israeli-born actor recognizable from “The Mummy” and the comedy “Deuce Bigalow” who is Jewish and who portrays Farik, the lead villain in “Sleeper Cell.” He was joined by Mr. Omeish and Michael Ealy, another familiar actor (“Barbershop” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God”), who plays Darwyn. Mr. Ealy, 31, was raised Baptist in Maryland.
Each emphasized that he had learned much about the other’s faith.
“You learn there are peace-loving souls in every religion,” said Mr. Fehr, who once served in the Israeli military. “We have to respect and strengthen the peace-believers, and hopefully find a way turn the terrorists.”
Of course there are peace-loving souls in every religion, and I am all for respecting and strengthening the peace-believers. I do not believe that that can be done without realistically assessing how it is that those who do not believe in peace can have gained the intellectual and theological ascendancy among the adherents of a religious faith. I don’t believe that pretending that that isn’t happening, or denying that any elements of the faith itself may have helped this happen, will help make any progress at all.
In that sense, the production, for all its violence – including the Sopranoesque rubout of a cell member by his fellow crew – is perhaps most ambitious for the idealism that courses through it.
“I don’t know if a guy like Darwyn is out there somewhere in the U.S.,” said Mr. Voris, a creator of the show. “But I sure hope so. Talk about wish fulfillment.”