I've caught most of Showtime's Sleeper Cell. The 10-hour miniseries follows an Al Qaeda terrorist group in Los Angeles and the FBI agent who infiltrates it. Permit me to get my complaints out of the way. The show suffers from too much exposition. In a desperate bid to cater to the whims of the politically correct, the terror cell has fewer Arabs than non-Arab Muslims. This includes a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Californian; a French ex-skinhead; a Bosnian and a Black American Muslim. And to take advantage of being on cable, the nudity and premarital sex is more fitting of the Sopranos than a show about Muslims.
On a less shallow note, the show has highlighted something that I wish reporters and editors would pay attention to. Apart from the artistic merits or lack thereof, it provides a valuable news service by showing the difference between the violent Islam of the terrorists and the Islam of the FBI agent.
At a time when every politician repeats the mantra that Islam is a religion of peace, even the most culturally unaware American knows that the September 11 hijackers were Muslim, the July 7 London bombers were Muslim, the Madrid bombers were Muslim, the kids who rioted in Paris earlier this fall were Muslim, Osama bin Laden is Muslim, etc.
People aren't stupid. Or, if they are, they still understand that there is something that all these folks have in common. What Sleeper Cell does is show various interpretations of Islam. And with the current climate, learning more about Islam is good.
Which brings me to the media analysis. Detroit Free Press writer David Crumm wrote about Sleeper Cell last week before it debuted. His story describing the show and community reaction to it is genuinely interesting:
In the first hour alone, the troubling images include a Muslim father killing his teenaged daughter for sleeping with a boyfriend and Muslims burying a friend, who they believe has betrayed them, to his neck and stoning him to death as he screams for mercy.
The Free Press hosted a screening this week for Alawan, two other adults and a religiously diverse group of seven seniors from Salem High School in Canton.
Afterward, all three adults called the series disturbing and said they hope no one sees it. But all of the students said they'll recommend it to friends, mainly because of a key detail that appeared to mean much more to them than to the adults.
The teenagers noticed that "Sleeper Cell" is the first major TV series with a Muslim hero. Darwyn al-Sayeed (played by actor Michael Ealy) joins the terrorist cell, but viewers find out that he is an FBI agent trying to stop the terrorists.
Crumm's story doesn't just take national story and make it local, it doesn't just find a new and creative way of reviewing television, it is also illuminating. It would be interesting for other reporters to look at how youth and adults react to seeing Muslim heros in various media.