Lebanon is seeking to take legal action against the award-winning American television series Homeland for its portrayal of Beirut as a city riven with terrorists.
In the eagerly awaited econd episode of the second season of the CIA thriller millions of viewers tuned in to watch as the protagonists hunted terrorists through the narrow, dirty and dangerous streets of “Beirut”.
But Fady Abboud, Lebanon’s minister of tourism, who has spent a small fortune trying to revive the country’s reputation as the Paris of the Middle East, expressed outrage at the “serious misrepresentation” of the city.
“We are following the case legally. I raised this at the cabinet meeting and the president asked the minister for justice and the minister of communications to see what can be done,” said Mr Abboud.
“I am calling on all young Lebanese adults to do what they need to do; to write blogs, to call the BBC and CNN to try to raise awareness that Beirut is not a city of Kalashnikov and war.”
The Homeland episode’s title, Beirut is back, appropriates a phrase that has often been used in newspapers in recent years to describe the city’s resurgence as a vibrant capital. The New York Times ranks Beirut as a must-see destination and Lonely Planet lists it as one of the 10 greatest comeback cities in the world.
Residents expressed bafflement at the episode’s description of modern day “Hamra Street”. What in the programme is a shoddy quarter where gunmen leap from cars and harass terrified women is actually a busy commercial centre of top-brand Western clothing chains and boutiques.
In the show, Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, continuously dons the hair-covering hijab, but women in the part of Beirut where the scene is reportedly set are more often seen patrolling the street in skin-tight jeans, bouffant hair and Jimmy Choos. “The Lebanese are intelligent enough to use such a thing to our advantage,” said Mr Abboud. “I am calling on youths to splice images of the war-torn Hamra of Homeland with the real street.
“They should display it in Skybar,” he added referring to one of Beirut’s sophisticated and expensive nightclubs that comes complete with valet to park the Porsches and Jaguars in which the clientele tend to arrive.
To add insult to injury for the Lebanese tourism ministry, Beirut is back is filmed in neighbouring Israel, a country with which Lebanon technically is still at war. A short documentary by Showtime, the channel behind Homeland, on how the episode was made, shows the programme filmed in several locations across Israel, including the city of Haifa.
Tom Fletcher, the British ambassador to Lebanon, who has campaigned for Westerners to reassess their perception of the country told Executive, the Lebanese magazine that broke the story that “Homeland is one of life’s joys, but Lebanon tends to get a rough time from filmmakers – I’d encourage people to see the real Beirut.”
Showtime did not return a request for comment.