Muslims Are Out There: I wanted to believe, but after 20 years of being a fan The X-Files falls into Hollywood’s Typical Islamophobia
Waiting for a new episode of The X-Files, is like waiting for Santa Claus: a mixture of impatience, excitement and bliss. For this long-running science-fiction show, Chris Carter the creator of the show is our Santa Claus, the maestro of a paranormal and unexplained activities symphony. But Santa sometimes disappoints you by bringing you the wrong gift, and you are left sad, disappointed and sometimes disgusted. Well that is exactly what happened after watching the penultimate episode of season 10 of the series, Babylon.
The show opens with a terrorist attack which occurs in an art gallery in Texas that has exhibited artwork potentially offensive to Muslims (how original) and Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully seek some way to communicate with Shiraz, the comatose surviving terrorist in order to prevent a future attack. To be fair, I was not particularly worried about this pretty cliché story. The X-Files has always been known for being a very clever, subtle show, and Chris Carter himself was writing it, so I was waiting for this episode with great expectations and had some idea how the story might go. I imagined a storyline involving Mulder and Scully trying to explain what led these two persons to commit such a horrendous criminal act, I was expecting deep religious and political analysis and arguments, I was expecting something related to the power of suggestion (brilliantly done in the episode Pusher for example), or something more religious oriented like the episodes Kaddish or All Souls. Religion occupies a central place in The X-Files (replace aliens with God and you will basically have the essence of The X-Files) and its motto I Want to Believe reflects pretty well the mantra of the show. To make things short: I was expecting something mind-blowing, dark, mysterious, creepy and awesome. Alas, all my expectations were shattered during the five first minutes.
I will spare you my opinion on the whole episode, which was a mix of Homeland, South Park and NCIS on crack. Let’s go back for one second on the list of clichés delivered by Babylon regarding Muslims.
First of all, this episode aimed to be funny, and I really do not think that issues related to terrorism should be taken lightly, even more when no background is given. Violent extremism is not funny. Go and ask parents of kids who have been radicalized (whether far right-wing or religious extremism) if they feel like joking about it. People have been killed and lives have been ruined: this is not fodder for comedy. I am shocked that Chris Carter had the guts to do this. Irony is that I am sure it was not done on purpose (at least, I will give him the benefit of doubt). It was just careless, and the consequences of such a storyline were not pondered. At a time when Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz et al. are playing the anti-Muslim sentiment card to win the hearts of million’s of Americans, it goes without saying that this kind of storyline adds fuel to the flame.
Let’s review the storyline: two so-called Muslim gentlemen decided to blow up an art gallery in Texas that exhibited drawings of Prophet Muhammed. This terrible situation was certainly inspired by the Draw Muhammad Day contest in Texas last year. When you start such a storyline, you are expected to at least try to understand the situation behind it and try to understand the process that led a young man to blindly follow and take someone’s life. I was expecting something more, at least that is what I expected from someone with the pedigree of Chris Carter. Well, another huge disappointment: nothing happened, literally nothing. All we had was the recitation of the surah (a chapter of the Qu’ran) Ta-Ha (Chapter No. 20), which was recited first by prophet Moses, who had difficulties speaking and had to visit Pharaoh.
He said: “O my Lord! Open for me my chest.”
“And ease my task for me;”
“And loosen the knot from my tongue,”
“That they understand my speech.”
Please, someone explain to me the connection between a prayer aimed to ease someone at being able to express himself and a terrorist attack? Guess what? There is none. I really do not know what led Carter to choose this prayer. And that is exactly the problem: no explanation was given at all. It was just recited randomly, for no reason. But when you are an avid watcher of The X-Files, you just don’t miss details. Any detail is a clue to understand the story, the case and the investigation. Everything is done on purpose. But here? Nothing. Nada. Rien. I feel like Carter just opened the Qu’ran and randomly chose a prayer that sounded cool enough to be included in a widely viewed show on FOX and recited by two suicide-bombers. Thank you, I am sure that Carter gave enough material to feed all bigots and professional trolls in the comments section for a few months.
Furthermore: please explain me why on Earth, every time Muslims are involved in a storyline, they have to speak Arabic?
A) Just because you are Muslim does not imply you speak Arabic. The majority of Muslims are not even Arabs. Of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, more than 200 million are actually from Indonesia. So can we just stop with the stereotypes please? Muslims are the most diverse religious group in the world, one would hope this diversity could be reflected on screen.
B) Those terrorists in the episode are Americans. So why are they even speaking Arabic? May I also remind Carter that most domestic acts of terrorism are committed by locals, who speak the language of the country where they were raised? So please, why weren’t they speaking ENGLISH? Typical Hollywood cliché: you are tagged a Muslim hence you cannot speak English (or do it with difficulties), you wear a beard and a kufi (Muslim cap) and recite random prayers (probably after purchasing Islam for Dummies).
The irony of all of this is that the faith of the terrorists did not even matter to the storyline. Everything was so disconnected and random that both individuals could have been part of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the results would have been the same. My second guess is that Chris Carter wanted to use the absurd to reveal the absurdity of fear mongers and this constant dangerous targeting of Muslim communities. The best example I can give is this nurse –a person who is supposed to protect and save lives- who tried to kill Shiraz. Like Shiraz, she was also brainwashed by the far-right wing as well as Fox News. Let’s underline the fact that she was ready to commit a murder based on her own fears of “the other.” What is the difference between Shiraz and this nurse? Unfortunately, what could have been a good opportunity to finally dig a bit into the story to reveal the complexity of the various shapes of radicalization was interrupted by a very out-of-character Mulder, who was about to get high on mushrooms in order to communicate with Shiraz.
Radicalization cannot be reduced to simplistic storylines on whether God exists or not. You want to do something on radicalization (with a hint of paranormal): by all means, go ahead. But at least, do some background research beforehand and please, for God’s sake (no pun intended), hire a competent advisor. As for the rest of the story: nothing much to say. Mulder of course mentioned “Muslim terrorists” (sic) which is now the norm in Hollywood. Let’s say that I expected something a bit more from a character who supposedly holds a PhD in psychology from Oxford University. Oh well, I guess that degrees don’t often make reasonable people, right?
In his address to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, President Barack Obama called on television networks to ‘have Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security’. Well, there is still a long road to ride. To cite Dana Scully who was the only person left sane and reasonable ‘Not all Muslims are extremists certainly…This sounds like torture to me’. Thank you Scully, but I feel sad that:
a) She felt the needs to even say this. Actually I feel (but I might be wrong) that it was not even scripted and was all Gillian Anderson improvisation.
b) Damages are done. Intention is good, but it is too late.
Babylon is absolutely off the rails and a mess from beginning to end. What could have been a deep reflection on religion, God, freedom and power became a farce that perpetuated the stereotypes about Muslims and immigrants. I sincerely believe Hollywood has a major role to play in empowering minorities, reinforcing diversity and in their own way, countering any form of violence by giving a voice to the voiceless. But this kind of storyline clearly does not help the cause. So after all these years of watching this show I wanted to believe, but The X-Files deceived, inveigled and obfuscated me in the end.
 Mehdi Hasan ‘What the Jihadists Who Bought ‘Islam For Dummies’ on Amazon Tell Us About Radicalisation’ Huffington Post, 21 August 2014: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/jihadist-radicalisation-islam-for-dummies_b_5697160.html
 The President Speaks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRRVdVqAjdw