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Guerilla Graffiti: Sabotaging Homeland

March 24, 2018


“Homeland is racist”


Same message from another angle


1) “We didn’t resist so he conquered us on a donkey;” 2) “The situation is not to be trusted;”  3) “This show does not represent the view of the artists”



“Homeland is not a series”


“Homeland is a joke, and it didn’t make us laugh” (left); “Against the red, blue and purple devil” (this is a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood made by an Egyptian general)


Homeland is a watermellon” (i.e. Homeland is silly”)



“#Black lives matter” (This is actually in English, with the words transliterated into Arabic)


“Freedom, now in 3D”


“1001 calamities”


“ready to die”


“There is no ‘Homeland'”


“Repetition teaches Bashar.” This is a word play on a widespread aphorism, “repetition teaches the donkey,” which means both that even a donkey can learn if you repeat the lesson enough times, but also, if someone is not learning from past mistakes, they may be stupider than a donkey. It is also a play on words because humaar, donkey, is alliterative with the name Bashar)





Guerilla Graffiti

So how did this happen?

Homeland’s Dramaturgy

Loosely based on the Israeli television show Hatufim (Gottlieb 2013), the show has been controversial from the start–but critical reception to the show by media scholars has not been as universally negative as among those of us who study the Middle East.

As an American drama about the consequences of war both on American society, and those fighting on belaf of that society, Homeland has been seen as a powerfully critical voice.

Some scholars have praised Homeland for:

  • emphasizing that the trauma of war does not disappear when combatants return home, or victims escape the war zone
  • demonstrating the ways collateral damage by drone strikes helps recruit terrorists
  • representing the bipolar extremes that have characterized America’s war on terror.
  • subverting the conventions of the male-oriented espionage thriller by putting a woman in the role that would usually be occupied by a man
  • portraying the ways Americans feel the need to hide mental illness because of the consequences they could face having them treated (Rouleau 2014)

Note that all of these put the dramatic value of the show on the American characters. The Arab characters are reduced to semiotic actants that create the situations through which the protagonists get to act out these themes.

The graffiti, by directly addressing the viewing audience, puts forward Arabs as having agency. Their capacity for this to work is limited, of course, by the ability of the audience to understand Arabic and thus be addressed. Hence the artists deliberate “coming out” about what they’ve done; the act was briefly reported in media, with translations of many of the phrases made available.

Critiquing Homeland

As an American drama about the Middle East, Homeland is not so well-favored.

James Castonguay argues that Homeland not very subtly promotes regressive ideologies and repressive politics in the US.

Homeland is a complicit validation of these post-9/11 insecurities that in turn contributes to the public acceptance of arguments in favor of increasing homeland security at the expense of individual rights


Upon its debut in 2011, Homeland quickly moved to a position of cultural prominence, becoming the kind of program that anchors middle-class taste formations and cultural literacies while earning numerous accolades and drawing record-setting audiences for the cable network. More significantly for our purposes, and as the following essays indicate, Home-land is a dense, polysemic text that provides rich grist for readings in relation to class, gender, and genre. Notably, the series has been analyzed as both a straightforward articulation of and a subversive critique of US foreign policy and the national security mind-set after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For some, it progressively interrogates the role of women in governmental and political regimes; for others, it works to hold in place conservative repressions regarding homeland security profiteering (Negra and Lagerway 2015).

Heba Amin, in her statement, located the artists’ critique firmly in Castonguay’s camp:

What’s wrong with Homeland’s political message? The very first season of “Homeland” explained to the American public that Al Qaida is actually an Iranian venture. According to the storyline, they are not only closely tied to Hezbollah, but Al Qaida even sought revenge against the US on behalf of Iran. This dangerous phantasm has become mainstream ‘knowledge’ in the US and has been repeated as fact by many mass media outlets. Five seasons later, the plot has come a long way, but the thinly veiled propaganda is no less blatant.


We talk a lot in the social sciences about intersectionality–the ways that cultural categorizations such as age, caste, class, education, gender, race, religious community, sexual orientation, and other distinctions intersect in particular social contexts to create unique experiences of social belonging, alienation, discrimination, oppression and so forth.

But here’s my question: will the graffiti will be ‎digitally altered or erased for future telecasts of the episode?

And if they leave it, will it be because they respect the act of artistic sabotage, or just because they assume most of the audience doesn’t care?

After all, it’s just written in Arabic.


Castonguay, James. 2015. Fictions of Terror: Complexity, Complicity and Insecurity in Homeland. Cinema Journal 54(4): 139-145.
Owen Gottlieb 2013. Media Studies Orientations for Israel Education: Lessons from In Treatment, Homeland, and Z-Cars. Journal of Jewish Education 79(1): 49-69.
Kamin, Debra. 2013. Homeland in the Holy Land. Foreign Policy 199: 82-84.
Negra, Diane and Jorie Lagerway. 2015. Analyzing Homeland: Introduction. Cinema Journal 54(4): 126-131
Rouleau, Joelle. 2014. Keep It Right – Homeland: The Female Body, Disability, and Nation Journal of Disability Studies 10(1/2) (accessed 22 Oct. 2015)
Salamandra, Christa. 2015. A New Old Damascus:Authenticity and Distinction in Urban Syria. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
—–. 2012. “The Muhannad Effect! Media Panic, Melodrama and the Arab Female Gaze” Anthropological Quarterly 85(1):
—–. 1998. Moustache Hairs Lost: Ramadan Television Serials and the Construction of Identity in Damascus, Syria. Visual Anthropology 10: 227-246.
4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2018 6:53 pm

    I was just wondering if you had written anything about our little hack, as I was looking for a 2013 article about the randomness of the Egyptian legal system i had once cited. Learned “semiotic actant”. Thanks!

    • May 19, 2018 3:41 am

      The thanks go to you and your colleagues for a brilliantly funny and interesting act of semiotic sabotage, Caram. Thanks for commenting.

  2. May 20, 2018 1:00 am

    Thank you for keeping at it. The thoughtful and ongoing perspective you provide here creates more meaning in the long run, and does not require sabotage.


  1. Hacking the Homeland Hack | CONNECTED in CAIRO

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