I’ve been watching the Scandi noir shows based on Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q novels (on Netflix). I read the novels a few years ago, but have just discovered the shows.
The grizzled, damaged Detective Inspector Carl Morck is shunted off to a new cold-case department, called Dept Q. He is also handed an assistant called Assad, an Arab immigrant, who initially gets on his nerves, but adds depth, drama, and humor to the drama.
[Spoiler alert]: I can’t get over how nice it is to see a positive depiction of a Muslim in mystery/thriller – or well, anything.
Assad is a faithful and practicing Muslim. He isn’t emptied of religious content for him to be humanized. Assad prays toward Mecca in the basement (it doesn’t matter if it’s not the exact direction, he says, as “Allah has such wide shoulders.”) But Muslim is not all he is. He has a mysterious past (no more spoilers, ok). The book and show poke fun at his idiosyncrasies as well as his cultural habits (such as his strong coffee). But they also take the time to consider the tensions between majority Danes such as Morck and Muslims like Assad. Morck is contemptuous of faith, and Assad demands that Morck take his faith (and that of others, including Christians, seriously). Assad encounters racism and Islamophobia, of course. Morck learns to re-examine his own attitudes toward faith via Assad.
There is a touching moment in the movie A Conspiracy of Faith, when Elias, the anti-Muslim member of the “Lord’s Disciples”, whose children have been kidnapped, is struggling for his life, and Assad alone is there to hold his hand. Assad fears that Elias is dying, so he calls for a priest for him. There is no priest at that moment. There is just the pain and terror of the moment, as Elias and Assad’s eyes meet and they are brought together in empathy, faith, and pain.
Having seen endless Western shows and movies and read numerous American police procedurals with one-dimensional Muslim characters characterized primarily by their foreignness, their sexism, and the mad dangers of their faith, I take heart in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s novels, and am happy to see them on the screen.