Frustrating television

I just finished watching an episode of Criminal Minds that centered around foiling an al-Qaeda terrorist attack in the US. I’ll give them credit: they did their research and got quite a bit right about political, militant Islam and jihadi terrorism. But there were moments of politically correct malarkey –including one outright falsehood– that had me groaning. What were they? Here are the two biggest:

1) During the initial briefing, when someone mentions “holy war,” Dr. Reid says those are two words that never appear together in the Koran. He may be literally right, but the Koran repeatedly talks about jihad –war- “in the cause of Allah.” Call it what you like, that is holy war, and this was an attempt to distance the religion from the acts of its followers, when the truth is much, much murkier.

2) During the interrogation of the prisoner at Guantanamo, reference is made to “the Verse of the Sword.” In a jaw-dropping moment, one of the characters says that it is “just a hadith, not part of the Koran.” This is false on several levels. First, the Verse of the Sword is verse 5 of the ninth chapter of the Koran:

Fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them: seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war).

It is most assuredly not a hadith (“stories of the prophet”). This falsehood looks like another attempt to separate the practitioners of violent jihad from the religion by implying they’re overemphasizing a lesser element, distorting the faith. Far from it: many medieval and modern scholars of mainstream Islamic jurisprudence consider the violent verses of the ninth sura, including the Verse of the Sword, to have abrogated the earlier, more peaceful verses written before Muhammad fled Mecca.

My guess is that some of these changes were required by the network censors (or whatever they call them these days) to take some of the “edge” off the episode. Too bad, because what was a good episode could have become great with some intellectual honesty and courage, representing both sides accurately.

As a writer, I’d find it very frustrating to have carefully researched and documented work bowdlerized just to avoid offending someone. Of course, others may simply be sloppy research. Ah well. With L&I: Criminal Intent going into a tailspin (without D’Onofrio’s character in half the episodes, the show really loses something), Criminal Minds is still the most interesting cop show on TV. For me, anyway.

LINK: More on the Verse of the Sword and it’s place in the modern Islamic world here. For a discussion of the Verse of the Sword arguing that the criticism has been much too facile, go here.


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