ABC’s Quantico and Islamophobia

ABC’s Quantico fits all the parameters for a “diverse” show. There are four actresses who are not white, and two of the actors are playing openly gay characters. One...

ABC’s Quantico fits all the parameters for a “diverse” show. There are four actresses who are not white, and two of the actors are playing openly gay characters. One of the characters even wears hijab! Too bad the premise is pretty Islamophobic from the start. Islamophobia is the dislike and prejudice of Islam and Muslims used as a political force, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Islamophobia also encompasses the actions and practices that attack, exclude or discriminate against Muslims and anything associated with Islam. And for anyone following along, that includes attacks against those who “look” Muslim, mosques, and religious items like the Florida Qu’ran burnings. Additionally, Islamophobia leads to a fear that all Muslims are terrorists and post-9/11 has created tension between Muslims and everyone else in America.
Quantico, which stars Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra as one of many young FBI recruits who goes on to be suspected of masterminding the biggest terror attack on New York City since 9/11, builds on that fear and tension.

Chopra herself stated that she only took the part because she wanted to be cast as an ethnically ambiguous character after turning down characters who were all exotic and hypnotizing. Even so– and this is something she should know after growing up in America– people are still going to pin Alex Parrish down as Indian, or worse as a stand in for Pakistani and Iraqi women who were terrorists in the real world.

Even more unfortunate is that Priyanka Chopra also took a role in Bollywood as Indian boxer Mary Kom, whom she looks nothing like, ultimately perpetuating the same kind of racism that Hollywood is guilty of when casting ambiguous Asians. Chopra wore prosthetic eyelids and had makeup done by Hollywood artists to look more like Kom who is from Manipur!

So Chopra’s assertion that the role was free from stereotypes does nothing to assuage my worries about this show being the usual stereotypical dramas like Homeland or 24. Additionally Chopra did not live in America as an adult and has no idea what kind of racism Muslims and South Asians currently face. Her only frame of reference is from when she was young and before 9/11.

At least there’s comfort in knowing that hijab-wearing Nimah isn’t the first suspect of the terrorist attack on New York City. Though I wonder just how many Muslims choose freely to join the FBI in the first place, considering the FBI’s wonderful Islamophobic training. Apparently, charity, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a “funding mechanism for combat.” It has to be obvious why Muslims and South Asians are wary about the show.

Quantico will be just as action-packed and thrilling as what ABC is likely competing against– that is, shows like The Blacklist and now The Player— but nothing about it is exciting to me. It is worse knowing that the only way I will get to see a hijab-wearing character is if they join an organization that has had a hand in destroying the lives of many Muslims, both abroad and at home, because of terrible training and understandings of Islam.

Maybe in a month, when Quantico airs, none of this will matter and the show will actually be really good and not portray all Muslims as terrorists and suspects. I’m not holding out hope.

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Shahar

Hello! I’m Shahar, a Muslim feminist with Sufi influence. I have feelings about everything from social justice and politics to fairy tales and fashion. Mostly I just watch ridiculous amounts of TV and tumblr about media issues and representation.

  • T. C.

    The show itself is not Islamophobic. Or, at the very least, we can’t make the assumption that it is based on the limited footage and information we have.

    I am pretty sure the writers, directors, producers, and the network people are aware of all of the potential problems of the storyline they are telling. ABC is a major network and television has seen a lot of progress in recent years. I have a lot of faith that this is going to be told in a very careful way.

    It does look like they are going to have people accusing Alex (Chopra) of the terrorist attack, but I am certain that she didn’t do it. Additionally, I doubt that the *only* reason she’s being accused is her race. Other reasons that they suspect her are going to be introduced. It’s not like we know everything from the 3 minuet trailer we have right now. She was probably set up by one of her recruitmates. Perhaps that person, the real terrorist, is Islamophobic, but that does not make the show Islamophobic.

    The show is, hopefully, going to be shedding some light on some issues that America is facing, and will actually help to increase awareness of Islam.

    • Shahar

      Aaah, I wrote this long reply and it got eaten. in short, I appreciate you commenting on the article! While I agree that there has been progress in recent years, a show about terrorism no matter how well planned in our cultural setting will always utilize and build upon islamophobic and often used stereotypes. There’s a reason they’re setting the attack in NYC, not the middle of a random city. If the show doesn’t suck that’s awesome! But as someone who is Muslim and visibly so, it’s disconcerting to see what they have given us. The newest trailers are all focusing on Chopra’s Alex as some sort of character who focuses only on sex and even if Nimah’s character is used to “enlighten” the viewers about Islam, the show is also being made for a very specific audience.

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