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Homeland’s debt to Milton

Are Al-Qaeda like Milton’s Satan, beyond reason, or are they motivated by something more accessible to our understanding?

By on Monday, 17 December 2012

2011 Summer TCA Tour - Day 9 - Los Angeles


So, Abu Nazir is dead. If you have been watching the second series of Homeland, on Channel Four, you will know what I mean. There is one more episode to go, which will hopefully provide a climax to the second season. There is to be a third season, but, with Abu Nazir dead, I do not think that is such a good idea. Best to quit when ahead. But I doubt that good advice will be taken.

Those of you who have been following up to now will know that Abu Nazir is the terrorist mastermind who has been threatening a second Nine Eleven-style attack on America. His son was killed in a drone attack, which partly explains his animosity to the Americans. But only partly. This latest episode took the motivation theme much further, and we were told that Abu Nazir was engaged in a never-ending war with America, one in which the casualties could make no difference to him, not the damage done.

It was at this point that a bell rang, and I turned to my Milton:

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
That Glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deifie his power,
Who from the terrour of this Arm so late
Doubted his Empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall; since by Fate the strength of Gods
And this Empyreal substance cannot fail,
Since through experience of this great event
In Arms not worse, in foresight much advanc’t,
We may with more successful hope resolve
To wage by force or guile eternal Warr
Irreconcileable, to our grand Foe,
Who now triumphs, and in th’ excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav’n.

This is the conclusion of Satan’s first speech in the epic poem, spoken to his chief counsellor Beelzebub, as they both languish in hell, just after their expulsion from heaven.  I think it represents the mindset of Abu Nazir rather well. The terrorists in Homeland are not motivated by any ideology, but simply by immortal hate and the determination never to admit that they are beaten. Ideologies are subject to change. Hate can endure for a very long time.

I would not be surprised if the scriptwriters had Milton’s Satan in their minds when writing yesterday’s episode. But, while the parallel may be true in the context of the drama, what about real life? Are the Taliban and Al-Qaeda like Milton’s Satan, beyond reason, or are they motivated by something more accessible to our understanding?

  • Lazarus

    The big difference I think (I’m relying on memory here!) is that Abu Nazir when speaking to Carrie Mathison envisaged an eventual victory when the rather pampered US was defeated by his persistence. Satan only envisages ‘not to be overcome’. Satan knows that his only victory is to refuse to bow the knee (hence his characteristic sin of pride) in a world which will go on being governed by God. Abu Nazir believes he will, eventually, change the world to his liking.

  • Richard Collins

    Islamists are beyond reasoning in the Christian sense. The Qu’ran is quite explicit in the way they regard Jesus Christ Ch 4: 157 (from memory). They believe that He was a prophet but only a man. He was not crucified on the cross but subject to a nifty piece of sleight of hand and His place taken by an unfortunate substitute.
    Islam is not a rational or logical faith. It relies heavily on quite stark and bloodthirsty compulsions trussed up within a complex emotional base.

  • Mack

    Well said.  Thank you.

  • shieldsheafson

    An act of the will, not the intellect, eh?  Bit like Ivan Karamazov.

  • Herman U. Ticke

    A great deal of what is shown on TV is not fit to be seen
    by a Catholic.

    This applies to the BBC as well as the
    others, and to advertisements as much as, or more
    than, to programs.
    It can apply to sport. The background feeling that
    anything “sporty” must be wholesome is a pagan

    Often enough unsuitable stuff can be
    shown on “family viewing” slots early
    in the evening.

    The occasional program can be safely viewed
    preferably pre-recorded or iPlayered so you can control
    unexpected unsuitable bits.
    For example an erudite discussion of the history of
    geology seems to require an occasional close up
    of women wearing bikinis on the beach in Rio.

    According to IMDB this also applies to Homeland.

    So why is a Conciliar presbyter even considering it?

    If you want to hear a properly consecrated Catholic bishop
    preach on this topic go to
    and select “Motion Pictures (12 Minutes)”