Pakistan inspires Hollywood, but for all the wrong reasons!

Published: November 9, 2012
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Sofia is embittered by the killing of her civilian father ─ a doctor who rushed to aid victims of a drone strike and became a victim of a secondary ‘double-tap’ strike himself. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

As Sofia on the set of Law & Order SVU (1). PHOTO: SCREENSHOT Sofia is embittered by the killing of her civilian father ─ a doctor who rushed to aid victims of a drone strike and became a victim of a secondary ‘double-tap’ strike himself. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Spoiler alert: Contains Law & Order SVU spoilers from episode 299 ‘Acceptable Loss’. Also contains several cringe-worthy face-palm moments.

TV’s new villain is a virginal seductress from Waziristan.

Hollywood is making efforts to humanise militants and would-be terrorists from this part of the world. A recent Stanford-NYU study might have had something to do with this.

Call me masochistic, but I love crime (as long as it’s within fiction). I grew up reading Agatha Christie and have had more than my share of Law & Order shows, whose story-lines are often inspired by actual news reports. SVU marathons sometimes make me sick to my stomach, but there’s something to be said for watching rapists and pedophiles actually get caught and dealt with in a court of law.

So when I recently watched Law & Order SVU’s current season online, I was taken aback by the show’s 299th episode, ‘Acceptable Loss’. It started off with sex trafficking—vulnerable young immigrants from Latin America and Eastern Europe exploited by violent New York pimps into prostitution. But the show’s terrorism side-plot is what really stood out; the villain was an attractive young woman in a clingy mini-dress posing as a prostitute who was actually—wait for it—a gal from Waziristan out to take revenge on the drone strikes by bombing Manhattan.

The premise is admirable; American and international viewers need to know that civilians and rescues workers are being bombed side by side with suspected terrorists. However, the rendering could have been more detailed and even more sympathetic. The character Sofia was oblivious to the plight of the sex workers surrounding her, which I find very hard to believe. Any woman would be moved to tears unless she was a madam herself! For someone with so much anger towards exploited people from the developing world dealt with injustices, she was sure thick-skinned towards her own sex.

There was interestingly no mention of Pakistan on the show. It seems that enough people have heard of Waziristan to know where it is! And, refreshingly, there was not one mention of clichéd rhetoric referring to ‘jihad,’ ‘honour killing’ or ‘the war on terror’. Finally!

According to the story-line, by some miracle, al-Qaeda has expanded their female recruitment beyond a so-called ‘burqa brigade’ and enlisted the help of svelte would-be prostitutes in terrorising NYC.

At first glance, the character Sofia seems like a Victoria’s Secret model in her form-fitting garb that highlights her limbs. You’d think she was Latina with her looks, or Eastern European with her accent; she mostly gets her v’s and t’s right but to our ears, she still sounds a little foreign, a bit like how we’d imagine a non-American vampire.

When you think of a Muslim or Pakistani woman in popular media, she’s usually either subservient and pathetic, or a strong survivor. She is often the victim of stereotypical ignorance and cruelty: either acid-blasted or in danger of being murdered by her nearest and dearest via honour killing.

The guise of a provocative prostitute is at least refreshingly different, given that she’s also a victim of circumstances. Like Gotham City villains in Batman movies, Sofia has undergone a traumatising experience that has caused her to turn dark. In her case, it’s drone attacks in Waziristan that have overturned her ethics.

Sofia is embittered by the killing of her civilian father ─ a doctor who rushed to aid victims of a drone strike and became a victim of a secondary ‘double-tap’ strike himself, like thousands before him.

But hey, it’s okay — Sofia’s only pretending to be a prostitute. She’s still a virgin, of course, because she’s Muslim and there aren’t millions spent on hymenoplasties in Saudi Arabia every year ─ just like all Catholics in the world are celibate unless they’re married and never, ever get a divorce.

Sofia doesn’t bat an eyelid when women around her get exploited, beaten and raped, but she’d never get a real tattoo because she’s a good Muslim (face-palm!). Of course, no one in the Muslim world has ever gotten a tattoo either; we just stick to henna.

I asked actor Evgeniya Radilova in an exclusive interview, who played Sofia, if there was anything in the story-line that she found perplexing.

“Is there anything that you’d change in hindsight, or provide as advice to the show’s writers or producers?”

She replied, “I think that the writer for Law & Order and many other big TV Shows, Ed Zuckerman did a phenomenal job in this complex story. Unfortunately, the show is only one hour long and there is not enough time to see the whole journey of these characters. But Ed Zuckerman picks the most important moment and tells a beautiful and very meaningful story.”

A blog post on warcosts.com states:

“…The U.S. government does not officially recognize drone use by the CIA in those countries” (that is Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia). “Shows like SVU provide a media spotlight to expose the effects of what has happened and puts the topic on the minds of the public.”

So yes, on one hand, we’re glad it’s finally part of popular media.

On the other hand, we wish the writers did just a little more research…like asking us!

Dialogues from three key scenes:

Characters:

Sofia (Evgeniya Radilova)

Lieutenant Alexandra ‘Alex’ Eames from the City/Federal Homeland Task Force (Kathryn Erbe)

Detective Olivia ‘Liv’ Benson of the NYPD’s Manhattan Special Victims Unit (Mariska Hargitay)

Capturing Sofia in an apartment building:

Lt. Eames captures Sofia and smudges her tattoo with her saliva-laden thumb, proving it to be fake.

Lt. Eames: “Did you know that tattoos were forbidden in Islam?”

(Face-palm moment)

The team enters a room where a Faisal Shahzad lookalike posing as a John (played by Shehryar ‘Shezi’ Sardar) is trying to detonate explosives. He’s knocked down and captured by Det. Nick Amaro (Danny Pino).

Sofia’s interrogation at Homeland Security:

Sofia: “I keep telling you, I don’t know about bombs. I was just there to have sex!”

(Face-palm yet again; no woman in Pakistan would ever admit to that. She’d rather admit to bombing!)

Lt. Eames: “No. See, Sofia, we’re way past that. We can have you examined, and when we do, we’re going to find out you’re a virgin, aren’t we?”

(Face-palm once more!)

Sofia: “How can a wh*re be a virgin!”

Det. Benson: “She can’t…It must have been awful for you, living in that house.”

Lt. Eames: “I’m sure you had a good reason. What happened to you?”

Sofia: “You know what happened to me.”

Lt. Eames: “No, I don’t. I want to understand. What happened, did it happen to you? To someone in your family? You’re from Waziristan. Which village? Don’t you think people should know? They call you a terrorist. Don’t you think they should understand? Don’t you want them to understand?”

Sofia: “My father was a doctor. A drone struck some people near where we lived. My father went to help, to tend the wounded. He was not a fighter. He was trying to save lives, stop the bleeding. And then, another drone hit. Your government targets the rescuers. It is standard policy. My father, he was blown into pieces. We buried the ones we could find.”

Det. Benson: “So you came here.”

Sofia: “This is where the drones came from.”

Det. Benson: “And you hid among girls who were being raped, who were enslaved. And you let that happen.”

Sofia: “I was sorry for them. But there are so many people to be sorry for.”

Benson and Eames unwinding at a bar:

Det. Benson: “It’s a rough story about the father.”

Lt. Eames: “They all have a reason. Something.”

Det. Benson: “And that’s how you break ‘em? Get ‘em to tell their story?”

Lt. Eames: “Isn’t that how you do it?”

More storylines incorporating Pakistan:

The Last Resort

Medium: TV drama series on the ABC network, currently in its first season.

Premise: In the pilot episode, a US submarine crew takes refuge on an island after refusing to launch a nuclear missile attack on Pakistan. A later episode shows a plot twist which results in the brutal bombing of Pakistan: 2 missiles detonate, killing 8.5 million of us (shudder). The upside: we’re not the villains.

SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden

Medium: A documentary-style made-for-TV film containing interviews and archival footage. Produced by the Weinstein Company for the National Geographic Channel. Accused of increasing support for Obama by including presidential footage and broadcasting it two days before the presidential election.

Premise: Director John Stockwell blogs on the Daily Beast:

“The movie focuses on the men and women in the intelligence community who tracked and located Osama bin Laden, the local nationals in Pakistan who assisted us at great cost to their own safety, and the highly skilled members of SEAL Team Six who brought the world’s most wanted man to justice.”

Zero Dark Thirty

Medium: Motion picture produced by Sony Pictures and directed by producer-director Katherine Bigelow. For theatrical release in January, in time for the Oscars.

Premise: A grittier take on the gazillion dollar manhunt for the elusive OBL. Bigelow explains the title in an email interview with Entertainment Weekly:

It’s a military term for 30 minutes after midnight, and it refers also to the darkness and secrecy that cloaked the entire decade long mission.”

Read more by Laaleen here or follow her on Twitter @laaleen

laleen.khan

Laaleen Khan

An international columnist and media consultant who Tweets @laaleen

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • tahir

    first of all try to humanise cia and govt of americaRecommend

  • Parvez

    When I saw Laaleen Khan, I said ‘ this I must read’. Now I have read it and say ‘ She should write more often, so that she does not have to make it so long ‘.Recommend

  • TheSage

    American media’s way of subtly programming viewers into believing that you can no longer simply spot a terrorist through a beard or a burqa. They have become craftier. Trust no Muslim.Recommend

  • Ayesha Pervez

    While the central idea is interesting … the blog is …. too long :/Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/laaleenspage Laaleen

    @Parvez, @Ayesha Pervez, the length isn’t longer than some of my previous & most popular posts. Just wanted include the scene descriptions and dialogue along with giving it more context, especially enough for hate commenters to hate it a little less…Thank you for reading and appreciating it though :)Recommend

  • http://msn jamaima

    Raw cia mossad funded Thaliban,Shia Sunni,Siyasi thanzeemai,Mqm – Anp k Badmashan,Rayees khandan kai bigray tommy aulad jo apne fakhashi ki zaroriyat ko poora karne kaeliya adhee mujrim jo be hain sabko pakar kai nanga karke jalaa do aag mai sabke samne jaise kai karachi mai khotha tha mujrimo ko rangay khaatho pakar kai jo aub nahi ho raha jiske waja se jaraim mai din ba din izafa horaha hai – Kpk kai tribal areas-Karachi-Baluchistan mai.
    Why? No al qaida,no taliban,no terrorism,no mossad trained osama bin laden,no wars,no violence,no instability,no mess,was there in syria, jordan, kashmir, yemen, iraq,afghanistan, palestine, iraq, iran ,kuwait, egypt, pakistan,turkey,sham before 911 useless propaganda unsolved mysterious conspiracy theory to provoke wars to invade free states to destroy peace of peaceful world how to divide and rule and capture their resources, oil hunger, getting hold of superpower usa and miss use their economy,media, armed and all other forces ,specially cia ,and their technology,for sure credit goes to zionist jews and their evil minds rather than nobel cunning award should be granted,surprising for all universe a small israel got tight unity rule the nations whatever way they want while big wide huge russia,china, still don’t have unity inside.GOD bless this earth to give them rid of parasites living and enjoying peace in heavens and forcing others in hells extreme discrimination why?Recommend

  • howdoyouknow

    “When you think of a Muslim or Pakistani woman in popular media, she’s usually either subservient and pathetic, or a strong survivor.”

    Sana Bucha, Naseem Zehra, Sherry Rehman, Hina Rabbani Khar – all in media gaze and certainly do not fit the bill.
    When I think of Bollywood Muslim heroines – Nargis, WAheeda Rehman, Madhubala, Zeenat Aman, Parveen Babai, Shabana Azmi, KAtrina Kaif, director Farah Khan, entrepreneur Shehnaaz Hussain – also these words do not come to my mind.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/laaleenspage Laaleen

    @howdoyouknow: Sorry if you found this sentence misleading, but let me clarify: misleading sentence, it’s not meant in reference to ACTUAL WOMEN at all! It refers to FICTITIOUS female characters in mainstream Hollywood movies and TV shows.Recommend

  • Mahlia

    Very witty. Loved the face palm moments especially.Recommend

  • http://www.legaladvice.pk leader

    the world’s most dangerous city Karachi is another inspiration :pRecommend

  • Jawariya

    Well images can change. The native americans for instance were not always protraited posivitively in hollywood. Luckily that has changed. In fact one of the regulars on SUV was of native american hertige.

    Similarily I hope Pakistan will be viewed in a better light in nearest future. But pakistanis will need to work on their image too – and push it forward. Arabs have done so successfully and now it is so popular being arab that they are cast in hollywood in positive roles.

    Even comic books,

    So there you have it. A little effort can go a long way. With time.

    I quite enjoy reading your articles, Lahleen and hope you can venture out to more international publications too and show how Pakistani women can also be funny, witting while intelligent and critical in their work.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/laaleenspage Laaleen

    @Jawariya: Thanks for the feedback :) I contribute to a bunch of print & digital publications, there are links on my FB page (https://www.facebook.com/laaleenspage) and Twitter feed (@laaleen) Recommend

  • abhi

    poor hollywood doesn’t know that if such women of strong character could really exist inwaziristan she will probably first revolt against talibans before going to plan a terrorist attack against ciaRecommend

  • http://www.paktelecom.net Abeera Khalid

    Nice, the idea of this post is great and unique styleRecommend

  • Iyan, USA

    @howdoyouknow:

    The title says Pakistan. The article is meant to be Pakistan specific to draw attention a particular phenomenon.. It does not say Muslim or Bollywood. So why are you confusing things? Recommend

  • howdoyouknow

    @Iyan, USA: “@howdoyouknow:
    The title says Pakistan. The article is meant to be Pakistan specific to draw attention a particular phenomenon.. It does not say Muslim or Bollywood. So why are you confusing things?

    I was not responding to the title. I was responding to the specific lines in the blog which did refer to Muslim or Pakistani women. SO i quoted both Pakistani and Indian Muslim women in my response. The author understood what I was saying and responded appropriately. For your reference again, the specific lines in the blog that I was responding to

    ““When you think of a Muslim or Pakistani woman in popular media, she’s usually either subservient and pathetic, or a strong survivor.”

    Please read my whole post again.Recommend

  • Ambreen

    I just saw the episode of Law and Order on the NBC website. I think it has its flaws. Nevertheless, the subject of drones which the US public is shielded against by the media and the government is brought to light as is the fact that these drone attacks are killing innocent civilians. Why can’t we ever appreciate the positivity in any gesture? Recommend

  • Nobody

    Nice piece. Enjoyed the read. I, too, enjoyed that episode of Law & Order: SVU because I love that show and for the exposure to drone attacks – a much needed approach in western media.
    Off topic and not the main focal point of your piece: The part about a Pakistani woman preferring to admit to being part of an attack v. admitting to being there for sex. If you get caught by western officials, you’d rather admit to sexual indiscretions than the former. Aside from that, I had the same reactionary eye roll for some parts of the show. Regardless of how much they portray Pakistanis and Muslims and attempt to be a bit more accurate in their portrayal, those wtf moments always creep in whether it’s absurd dialogue or ridiculous plot.
    I long for the day when Muslims are portrayed as something OTHER than terrorists or victims. Recommend