There’s not a lot to watch on television these days, unless you like game shows, so I have been grateful for Homeland, showing on Channel Four on Sunday nights. I have missed all the big American serials of the past few years, thanks to being in Africa or elsewhere, so this has been a treat. Claire Danes is a wonderful actress, and Damian Lewis is very watchable. We have just had the ninth episode, and this was the one meant to pull the white rabbit out of the hat, but didn’t quite manage the surprise it ought to have done. Plot surprises, good ones at least, are relatively rare. Nothing compares to the plot surprise in The Portrait of a Lady, for example. I imagine that the scriptwriters of Homeland must have spent hours working out the contents of episode nine, but in the end it might have been better if they had all been confined to an out of season hotel in Vermont with copies of The Portrait of a Lady instead.
Brody, our hero, or anti-hero, is a former POW who has been turned by al-Qaeda; as part of this turning he has become a Muslim, something he keeps secret. I find this profoundly unconvincing. Why would a US Marine sergeant embrace Islam? One possible explanation is “Stockholm syndrome”: in other words he has come to identify himself with his captors, a bit like the unfortunate Patty Hearst who joined her kidnappers, but the script nowhere suggests that Islam is some terrorist ideology. I find Brody’s conversion unconvincing because he does not seem anything other than conventionally religious (for an American); nor does the series get to grips with what religion is all about – mind you, it would be some series that did that. Television is rarely the medium for such big issues.
This leads me on to the other question that interests me. How many ordinary Westerners like the fictional Brody have converted to Islam? And why did they do so? What attracted them to this religion that has few, if any, cultural roots in the West?
There have of course been quite a few converts from Islam in the West. There have been a number in Italy, of which Magdi Allam has been a high-profile case; there have been others who have understandably not sought publicity.
But the question that interests me is this: why would a Catholic become a Muslim? And while we are on the topic, what can we do to help Muslims who might want to become Catholics?