Reel Bad Arabs

The vilification of Arabs in American popular culture serves an ideological purpose: the dehumanization of America's "enemy" in the "clash of civilisations".

(Via Woman of Color Blog)

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First, I have to say that I'm shocked, absolutely shocked that Hollywood would engage in stereotyping of a group. Sarcasm aside, there are a number of problems with this video: First, in the case of the use of the stereotype of terrorists, there's one simple reason why Arabs are used: because many terrorist acts are committed by Arabs. The United States and its allies have been repeatedly attacked by terrorists who are Arabs. For that simple reason no one is going to take seriously a film that say had Canadian terrorists. Second, also in regard to the stereotype of terrorism - in fact Hollywood has in some cases gone out of its way not to make terrorists Arabs or Muslims. For example, in Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears, the terrorists are Muslim Arabs. However, in the movie which was made shortly after 9/11, the terrorists were changed to neo-nazis after complaints from the Arab-American community. Furthermore, in that case, the plot made much less sense with the neo-nazis since it required a much more convoluted story about how the terrorists got ahold of the bomb. Second, regarding the stereotype of incompetence, it isn't at all clear to me that Arabs are more frequently portrayed in this fashion as to other groups. Furthermore, at least one of the relevant clips (that from True Lies) in context is not an example of Arab incompetence but rather an example of the courage and cleverness of Arnold Schwarzenegger's daughter (who had been kidnapped by the terrorists). Third, it is hard to see Hollywood as promoting the notion of a "clash of civilisations" when many major actors and directors have been against the recent US wars. In summary, Hollywood frequently engages in stereotypes so none of this is surprising, it isn't clear how much stereotyping is actually occurring and how much is reasonable portrayal based on current events. We must be vigilant for uncalled for stereotyping and deliberate propaganda. However, if we cry "stereotype" at every portrayal we will quickly and correctly lose our credibility.

By Joshua Zelinsky (not verified) on 09 Oct 2007 #permalink

Frank Gaffney says that all those filthy Arabs are terrorizing Islamofascists and sex fiends who spoil the minds of young girls while lusting after the young girls precious essence(s).

The lustful rich and powerful Arabs now have casting couches just like the casting couches that the artsy Zionist Hollywood moguls have for the aspiring shicksas.

It's an old Bollywood story.

The filthy Arab bastards can do their evil lusting because they are rich from their oil.

They can buy anything with their fabulous oil money, even modern peeyar (communications).

So don't use Arab oil. Go local.

Localization will save the modern blond shicksas from Arab sinfulness and sexual largesse.

Live like a medieval serf.

I read it U.S. News and World Report, I think.

I always wondered how an Arab like you could be so smart.

Answer this if you can.

By gerald spezio (not verified) on 10 Oct 2007 #permalink

Joshua, Rich perverted Arabs are buying up movie companies, television networks, and hiring dedicated Islamofascist Arab students to blog even.

Tens of thousands of evil Arabs are well schooled in the English language, framing techniques, and modern peeyar.

They are more foul propagandists than that bastard Joseph Goebbels.

All this concentrated effort by the Filthy Arab bastards is designed to poison the minds of our young people especially young innocent girls.

These slick Arabs scumbag communications types want it all, even the poor innocent young girls.

By gerald spezio (not verified) on 10 Oct 2007 #permalink

"there's one simple reason why Arabs are used: because many terrorist acts are committed by Arabs."

Yes and many more terrorist acts are committed by non-arabs.

Somehow the attacks on Christians in India; the massacres of Africans by the likes of The Lord's Resistance Army and Jerry Falwell's good friend Charlie Taylor and the genocide in Chechnya are less noteworthy than arab crimes. (For that matter, when did the western media last point out that that "arab" government of Sudan is made up of dark-skinned people subsaharan African ethnicity who are visibly indistinguishable from their "African" victims.

"The United States and its allies have been repeatedly attacked by terrorists who are Arabs."

And the United States has been repeatedly spied upon by Israel, good luck getting a movie made about that.

Or the thousands of Arab=Americans serving in your military.

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 10 Oct 2007 #permalink

Joshua Zelinsky actually most terrorist acts in the world aren't committed by arabs. Furthermore, your ignorance shines through in the fact that you group all 'arabs' into a big bucket. 19+ arabs attacked the U.S. on 9/11, but there are hundreds of millions of arabs in the world. Are you suggesting that we now accept the notion of racial guilt? As a Jew maybe the old anti semitic term of 'blood libel' will ring a bell.

By DougWisher (not verified) on 10 Oct 2007 #permalink

I'll just add one thing: suicide bombing was invented by the Tamil Tigers, and most suicide bombings have been carried out by them too. Yet somehow, the phenomenon has become inextricably linked with Arabs/Muslims.

Mo, I would suggest that the Zionist propaganda/murder machine toils long and hard to insure that suicide bombings are "inextricably linked with Arab/Muslims."

Those swarthy sick Arabs are so anti-Semitic that they blow themselves up from pure prejudice.

Joshua may have a folder labeled' "How to link and frame the filthy Arabs with pederasty, buggery, and terrible toilet habits leading to anti-Semitism."

Here is a great site showing an Israeli Lt. Colonel, Gal Luft, framing the filthy Arabs and their filthy oil.
"All the Arabs do is dig holes."

Click both videos for a terrific lesson in Zionist agit prop.

By gerald spezio (not verified) on 10 Oct 2007 #permalink

Great post and response Gerald.
I appreciate it as an Arabian.

By Mahmoud Abdelaziz (not verified) on 10 Oct 2007 #permalink

A variety of comments. First, in response to Ian Gould's comment: Yes, your correct that many more terrorists attacks are committed by non-Arabs. The point was that most terrorist attacks on the US have been from Arabs. Since Hollywood has a US centric mindset (and the US has a very self-centered mindset) and is mainly pandering to US audiences the same logic follows. I'm not completely sure what Israel has to do with this at all (regarding the spying comment) and I do find it generally distasteful that any mention of Arabs automatically brings up Israel and vice-versa. But in the specific regard of Israeli spying, I suspect that you could make a movie about it (after all, Munich got made). And moreover, if one couldn't that would demonstrate the influence of certain groups in Hollywood but would not be evidence of stereotyping of Arabs.

As to Doug's comment, I'm not lumping all Arabs together (although in a possible pot-kettle matter I'm interested in your conclusion that I'm Jewish. Correct, but intersting). As you correctly observe the vast majority of both Arabs and Muslims are fine, likely peaceful and upstanding individuals in the same proportion of any other ethnic group (I don't think the percentage who fit that bill is very high for pretty much any crossection of humanity but that's a separate issue). That doesn't change the fact that if there is a terrorist incident involving the United States it has most frequently involved Arab or Muslim terrorists (and so I don't get misinterpreted again, let me make it clear that yes I know about Timothy McVeigh and I know about Ted Kazinsky and others. And yes, I'm aware of violent Puerto Rican independence groups. Etc. etc.) I can't emphasize enough that I'm not suggesting any notion of racial guilt any more than all Irish are responsible for the IRA's activity. I'd still find it completely understandable if British film makers were more inclined when needing pick some terrorist group as to pick an Irish Republican one (and note incidentally that has Hollywood has actually done so when they wanted terrorism related to Britain. See for example Patriot Games.)

Finally to Mo's comment: First, I'd point out that suicide bombing is not terrorism per se (who your targets are matters more than your technique. I have trouble seeing a suicide bomber who targets military personnel as a terrorist. This is a serious issue in Iraq where the United States automatically labels any suicide bomber as a terrorist even when the targets are US military personnel). And again that association is understandable. I can see three reasons why suicide bombing has been connected in the popular mindset to Arabs and Muslims rather than the Tamils. First, Sri Lanka has no oil reserves nor is it near anywhere with oil reserves. So the Western media does not pay it much attention. Second, and related to the first point, Sri Lanka was not the birthplace of Christianity, the main religion in the West. Again, this causes the Western media to pay less attention to it. Third, the West in general has had little to do with Sri Lanka in recent(post colonial) years. So not surprisingly, suicide bombing there does not stand out in Western minds as much.

By Joshua Zelinsky (not verified) on 10 Oct 2007 #permalink

Anti-Semitism is always and everywhere rearing its ugly head.
Anti-Semitism is terriblly HURTFUL, as everybody knows or they had better know and soon.

Islamofascism is now rearing its ugly head.
"These Islamofascists want to kill all Mericans."
"Every single one of the Islamofascists is a HURTFUL anti-Semite."

Zionists wouldn't hurt a fly.
Alan Dershowitz stands ready to invoke the power of the sacred law to punish HURTFUL anti-Semitism.

More on Islamofascism here;

By gerald spezio (not verified) on 11 Oct 2007 #permalink

Hello Mo and congratulations on your most excellent blog.

I grew up in Northern Ireland, where there were no Muslims and in fact pervasive racists views (to this day) to any outsider: be it Jew, Muslim, Arab or anything that even so much as remotely presented itself as different (and even that which did not).

The small minded racism I saw there taught me much and most of all the confusion between perceived religion and perceived faith. In Northern Ireland, the argument is as much about religion as it is about the side of the egg Gulliver eats: It is about Nationalism: Irish vs British, simple as that.

I see US Christianitiy now as a synonym for Patriotism. Nothing more. Atheists are seen as traitors...

LEARN. This will lead your nation backwards. Arabs and the Muslim faith are not your enemy. How can they be, when they preach peace? Remember, the Ku Klux Klan perceive themselves as Christian..And how less Christian could they be? Love Thy neighbour? Scary? Have you actually read anything of the faiths you dislike?

Segregation and Fear are both the issue and the enemy, as it has always been...

Now, lets get back to neuroscience...

How about Rambo III? The Arabs were the good guys there.

It seems to me that this video is nothing but another piece of anti-free speech propaganda. It is much more civilized and welcomed than the protests against the Danish cartoons, but it seems to me that the goal is the same. Hollywood should have the right to create whatever kinds of characters it wishes, no matter how stupid they are. If you don't like them stop watching their movies.

Moreover, the clip confuses the cause with the effect: It is not the case that the American public has the opinions it has about Arabs because of Hollywood movies, it is the other way around. Hollywood movies are commercial products that respond to the existing demand - no one goes to a Hollywood movie to get an education! - and they function within a certain cultural framework. Blaming Hollywood movies for the existing anti-Arab feelings is ridiculous; how about blaming Arab terrorism for the anti-Arab feelings?

Doug Wisher says: "19+ Arabs attacked the U.S. on 9/11, but there are hundreds of millions of Arabs in the world. Are you suggesting that we now accept the notion of racial guilt?"

Here you are mistaking a descriptive statement for a normative statement. Fact is (in my opinion) that many people have anti-Arab feelings because of the Arab terrorists all over the news all the time. They shouldn't have those feelings, but they do because we are instinctively racist (see a book on evolutionary psychology). Such dumb anti-free speech anti-Hollywood laments like this video don't work to change the stereotypes. What could change those feelings would be for some prominent Arab/s to do something remarkably good for a change - in the same way as e.g Martin Luther King Jr. helped change the stereotypes about blacks.