Monday, April 21, 2014

Law & Order: SVU - S15E17 - More Anti-Muslim Tropes & Support of Police Misconduct

Most people will remember Law & Order: Special Victims Unit S15E17 Criminal Stories because Alec Baldwin is the guest star. As always in the Law & Order franchise, there is a gruesome crime which forms the background for the episode. In this case, an Indian Muslima named Heba is raped by her brother's corporate bigwig boss and colleague in his office after a charity dinner in which she volunteered. She lies and claims that men shouting anti-Muslim slurs raped her in Central Park. Because of Heba's lies, the case against the perpetrators weakens. Alec Baldwin's character is a reporter, and he publishes a story about the bigwig's father's influence in publicizing Heba's initial lies to the police. Some of the jurors read this story, and the judge declares a mistrial.

This episode continues Law & Order's perpetual humiliation of its repeat community advocate character Reverend Curtis Scott, played by Leslie Odom, Jr, who accuses the police of leaking details of the case to Alec Baldwin's character. As in S15E10 Amaro's One-Eighty, where Detective Amaro shoots an unarmed teenager from Djibouti, Reverend Scott and the demonstrators fail to gain an apology from the NYPD or win redress for Heba. And, yes, Alec Baldwin's character confronts Reverend Scott and accuses Heba of being another Tawana Brawley, a "Tawanabe."

The first anti-Muslim trope is that Heba lies because her family would not support her against her brother's employers. It's not clear to me whether it was because she thought they would be scared of opposing a powerful family or that they thought the brother's career is more important than her safety and well-being. So the family are either cowards or extreme misogynists.

The worst part of the episode is that the family declines to pursue the prosecution of the perpetrators in exchange for an undisclosed settlement that will allow Heba's brother to go to business school to get an MBA. When I first started watching the episode, my fear was that one of the male members of the family would kill the accused out of some perceived "honor" violation. In fact, victims' relatives killing the accused perpetrators on the steps of the courthouse is a frequent Law & Order device. But I must credit the episode's writers. Accepting a monetary award as compensation for Heba's rape is far uglier behavior from a victim's relatives than any revenge killing.

Another annoying thing is how Heba's name is pronounced. Assuming it is the common name هبة, it is simply two, equally unstressed short syllables. Yet, nearly all the actors were pronouncing it "hee-ba."

The one redeeming feature of this episode is that Heba did testify bravely at her trial.

One curious feature of the episode is that, in the last scene, Heba talks with Detectives Amaro and Rollins in her kitchen. This is the only time in the episode that she is not covering her hair with a hijab.

You can watch the episode for free online until May 14, 2014.