Wednesday, January 12, 2005

24 Under the Gun

Unless you have been living under a rock lately, you know that Fox's 24 just began its fourth season with a spectacular two-night season premier. Fans of this real-time, action-packed show -- in which Kiefer Sutherland stars as counterterrorism legend Jack Bauer -- were treated to a four-hour kickoff, during which the characters and stage were set for the coming season.

Without revealing anything you have not already seen in commercials, this season finds Bauer attempting to thwart a radical Islamist plot that includes the capture of his boss, Secretary of Defense James Heller (played by William Devane). In the process of doing his job, Bauer stumbles onto a far greater plot that seeks to kill Americans on a mass scale and do damage to the United States, and does everything he can, in maverick Baueresque fashion, to intervene.

Although 24 has touched on Islamic terrorism before, this season's foray into terrorism, and Bauer's fictional efforts to stop it, have drawn the ire of none other than the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The reason? The show has the audacity to claim that radical Islam is a threat, and a very real and very present one at that. Go figure.

An interesting article courtesy of makes the excellent point that, while Hollywood has not shied away from making movies and television shows about terrorism, it has done so in a bland and unconvincing manner. In relatively recent movies like Die Hard and The Sum of All Fears, radical Europeans and neo-Nazis, respectively, were responsible for terrorist attacks within the United States. (It should be noted that the Clancy novel that inspired the latter movie did depict radical Islamist terrorists as the perpetrators of a nuclear detonation on American soil. As usual, Clancy was ahead of the curve.) Other movies (obviously memorable flicks, as I cannot remember their names) have followed that same tired and unrealistic formula. Even earlier seasons of 24, while of the highest caliber and extremely entertaining, made sure that the true "bad guys" were not radical Islamists but rather manipulative European masterminds, who worked from behind the scenes to attack America.

This season of 24 breaks from that trend. It smacks the viewer in the face with what could easily be tomorrow's newspaper headline: sleeper cells within the United States, after spending years innocuously blending into American society, activate and seek to advance an agenda that has as its twin goals the murder of large numbers of Americans and the weakening of the United States government.

CAIR's primary objection to this season is Fox's depiction of a Muslim family that just happens to be a sleeper cell, but what CAIR objects to is also a very real possibility. It would be inappropriate to lapse into stereotypical thinking and accuse all Muslim families of being terrorist sleeper cells, but it would be equally ignorant to believe that such a scenario is beyond the realm of possibility. I would go further and say that it would be inappropriate to ignore the possibility that recent (or perhaps even not-so-recent, depending on the degree of planning) emigrant families from Middle Eastern countries might be the ideal sleeper cells, since (as is the case in the show) family units would arose little suspicion in middle America -- or at least less suspicion than a bunch of twenty-something Muslims rooming together and taking flight lessons.

Only time will tell if other movies and shows follow 24 in broadening the dialogue about terrorism and its source. One thing is certain, however: while it may make some people feel better to not discuss it, broad-based international terrorism in the modern world is the result of radical Islam. That is a fact. If a fictional show has the guts to admit it, the rest of us, residing here in the real world, should have the guts to do so as well.

P.S. On a lighter note: For those of you who do not watch 24 (it is a great show), I encourage you to do so. You may need to track down the first four episodes of the season before watching the rest of it. It is not essential, but it would be helpful. You also do not need to know what happened in past seasons, although that also helps. Someone you know probably has the first four episodes of this season on tape. What are you waiting for? :)


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