Why Berlin graffiti artists hacked ‘racist’ Homeland

When a trio of Berlin-based graffiti artists were approached to add realistic Arabic-language graffiti to sets for War On Terror TV series Homeland, they jumped at the chance to undermine what they call the show's "stereotypical and racist" portrayal of the Middle East.

Why Berlin graffiti artists hacked 'racist' Homeland
Claire Danes walking past graffiti on the set of Homeland reading "Homeland is racist". Photo: Screenshot/Showtime

“It was clear from the beginning that they had no idea of this culture,” long-time graffiti artist Don Karl – alias Stone – told The Local.

Homeland's producers had got in touch with the street art veteran hoping to commission him to graffiti the walls of a refugee-camp scene set in Lebanon.

“Since the 80s, I've worked a lot on lettering, and Arabic calligraphy has always been an important theme,” Stone explained.

“I started doing projects and workshops in Beirut and worked with artists, then it broadened out into research.”

Stone literally wrote the book on Arabic Graffiti, with the latest edition of his eponymous work published in early 2013.

And he was shocked to find that the producers of a world-renowned show, famous for its supposed accuracy, had “no idea about the culture” they were trying to portray.

“They just wanted Arabic script on the walls and didn't care if it was accurate,” he said. “Just like the whole series, it was very shallow – that was our criticism.”

Making the set their own

With fellow artists Heba Amin and Caram Kapp, Stone set about decorating the walls of the refugee camp set – in reality a former animal-feed factory in the outskirts of Berlin – with their own brand of messaging.

“This situation is not to be trusted,” they sprayed across one wall. “This show does not represent the views of the artists” on another.

Top: we didn’t resist, so he conquered us riding on a donkey; bottom: The situation is not to be trusted; left: This show does not represent the views of the artists. Photos: courtesy of the artists

In other tags they went further, writing that “Homeland is watermelon [Arabic slang for a sham]”, and “There is no Homeland”.

Left: There is no Homeland (mafeesh Homeland), right: Homeland is watermelon (al watan bateekh) (watermelon is a word often used to indicate that something is a sham or not to be taken seriously). Photos courtesy of the artists.

One tag prominently visible in shot as star Claire Danes walks past reads simply “Homeland is racist”.

Claire Danes walking past graffiti on the set of Homeland reading “Homeland is racist”. Photo: Screenshot/Showtime

Once the episode was broadcast in the USA on Sunday night, the three finally revealed how they had undermined it in a blog post.

“In their eyes, Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East, a poster image dehumanizing an entire region to human-less figures in black burkas and moreover, this season, to refugees,” they wrote.

'Totally false picture'

“Homeland has been so successful and claims to portray the truth, but it shows a totally false picture of the region,” Stone said.

“It marks the consciousness of a whole nation… Fox News has already reported on things that happened in the series as if they were fact, it has a big impact.”

What was really important for the three artists was to break into the cycle of “stereotypical and racist portrayal of Arabic and other Middle Eastern cultures. It's typically Hollywood, it's been there since the beginning,” Stone said.

“Whenever it's about the Islamic world it's about terror and terrorism.”

In fact, across the Islamic world this week Stone has been watching a different atmosphere take hold, as people viewed the sabotaged scenes of Homeland, “laughed about it and felt Schadenfreude.”

“We got feedback from the Middle East and Arab world that people are happy about it, and that was one of our aims.

“We hope to strengthen people's consciousness that it's not realistic – but that it's more than just an entertaining TV series,” he concluded.

SEE ALSO: How well does Homeland get Germany?

Jörg Luyken contributed research


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Anti-Semitism ‘massive problem’ in Germany, says Jewish leader on terror attack anniversary

On the second anniversary of a far-right terror attack at a German synagogue, the German Jewish Council has warned that the government needs to make more efforts to stop the spread of anti-Semitism online.

Anti-Semitism 'massive problem' in Germany, says Jewish leader on terror attack anniversary
A star of David on the roof of the Halle synagogue. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

Two years after a terrorist attack in the east German town of Halle that left two people dead, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews, said that more needed to be done in the fight against anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism.

“The spread and incitement of hate, for example in the form of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories via social media, is a massive problem,” Schuster told DPA.

On October 9th 2019, a heavily armed right-wing extremist called Stephan Balliet tried to enter the Halle city synagogue on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

When he failed to do so, he shot a 40-year-old passerby. He later killed a 20-year-old man at a kebab shop. While trying to escape, the 28-year-old injured several people before he was caught by the police.

The city of Halle is commemorating the event on Saturday, with wreaths to be laid at the scene of the crime. Reiner Haseloff, state leader of Saxony-Anhalt, is expected to attend.

Balliet was sentenced to life in prison in 2020 by the Naumburg Higher Regional Court. His sentence will be followed by preventive detention.

Funs for synagogue security

While praising the German government for introducing a law that makes social media companies responsible for hateful content posted on their sites, Schuster said that the legislation needed to be extended to messenger services such as Telegram.

“We must do everything we can to ensure that the internet is not a lawless space,” he said.

According to Schuster, the German government reacted quickly after the Halle attack by providing money to improve security at Jewish institutions.

This was an important step, he said. “However, there is still much to be done at the political and social level to combat growing anti-Semitism.”

SEE ALSO: Four held over foiled ‘Islamist’ attack on German synagogue