Stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims
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Stereotypes of Arabs are stereotypes of Arabs presented in Western culture and American culture which have been historically and predominantly negative. Stereotypical representations of Arabs are often manifested in a society's media, literature, theater and other creative expressions, and often have adverse repercussions for Arab Americans and Muslims in daily interactions and in current events. In American textbooks, which theoretically should be less-creative expressions, similar negative and inaccurate stereotypes are also found for Arabs and Muslims.
In his essay "Arabs in Hollywood: An Undeserved Image", Scott J. Simon argues that of all the ethnic groups portrayed in Hollywood films, "Arab culture has been the most misunderstood and supplied with the worst stereotypes":
Rudolph Valentino's roles in The Sheik (1921) and The Son of the Sheik (1926) set the stage for the exploration and negative portrayal of Arabs in Hollywood films. Both The Sheik and The Son of the Sheik represented Arab characters as thieves, charlatans, murderers, and brutes.
Other movies of the 1920s share a common theme of power-hungry, brutal Arabs ultimately defeated by white westerners:
The same themes prevailed into the 1970s and beyond:
- Black Sunday (1977) concerns an Arab terrorist plot to bomb a stadium during the Super Bowl.
- The Black Stallion (1979) opens with Arabs mistreating a horse aboard a ship, then attacking a boy with a knife and stealing his life jacket.
- Back to the Future (1985) went so far as to name a specific country, referring to antagonists in the film as "Libyan terrorists".
Billionaires, bombers, and belly dancers
A report titled "100 Years of Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim stereotyping" by Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, director of media relations for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, specifies what some in the Arab American community call "the three B syndrome": "Arabs in TV and movies are portrayed as either bombers, belly dancers, or billionaires" in reference to being portrayed as terrorists, women as sex objects, or as wealthy oilmen. Also the report mentioned that even cartoons been insulting to Arab and muslims and how the people who live in the US and interact with its community are the most affected by this stereotypes because they will be treated differently at many points. The report also explains that these stereotypes don't only harm the psychological part (culture, insult,..) but also helps feed into actions that are physically harmful by dehumanizing a group first before attacking it.
Thomas Edison made a short film in 1897 for his patented Kinetoscope in which "Arab" women with enticing clothes dance to seduce a male audience. The short clip was called Fatima Dances (Belly dancer stereotype). The trend has shifted over the years and was predominated by the "billionaires" for a short while especially during the oil crises in the seventies. However, in the last 30 some years, the predominant stereotype by far has been the "Arab bombers."
In a piece in the Los Angeles Times published July 28, 1997, Laila Lalami offers a 12-step guide to making a successful Arab-bashing movie, including such items as "the villains must all have beards", "they must all wear keffiehs", "they must all have names like Ali, Abdul or Mustapha" and "have them threaten to blow something up."
After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Arab-American actors have found themselves even more likely to be type-cast as a terrorist.
Jack Shaheen, Professor Emeritus of Mass Communications at Southern Illinois University, documented these trends in his book The TV Arab (ISBN 0-87972-309-2), which identifies more than 21 major movies released over ten years which show the U.S. military killing Arabs with Arabs depicted as being terrorists or enemies of the United States. These include:
- Iron Eagle (1986)
- Death Before Dishonor (1987)
- Navy SEALs (1990)
- The Delta Force (film) (1991)
- Patriot Games (1992)
- Executive Decision (1996)
In Reel Bad Arabs (ISBN 1-84437-019-4), Shaheen writes that "television's image of the Arab is omnipresent [and] is becoming a part of American folklore." He also writes that Arabs have "consistently appeared in American popular culture as billionaires, bombers, and belly dancers."
Arab Muslims are fanatics who believe in a different god, who don't value human life as much as we do, they are intent on destroying us (the west) with their oil or with their terrorism; the men seek to abduct and brutally seduce our women; they are without family and reside in a primitive place (the desert) and behave like primitive beings. The women are subservient — resembling black crows — or we see them portrayed as mute, somewhat exotic harem maidens.
The movies which Shaheen identifies as the three worst in terms of negative portrayal of Arabs in modern films are:
- Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987); "Arab thugs... plan to ignite Los Angeles... killing millions."
- True Lies (1994); "Arnold S. INC." shoots dead Palestinians like clay pigeons. "
- Rules of Engagement (2000); "a film which "justifies" US Marines killing Arab women and children."
Profiling of Muslims and Arabs in the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 Attacks
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were of Saudi Arabian origin and all were of muslim faith, arabs and muslims complained of increased scrutiny and racial profiling at airports. In a poll conducted by the Boston Globe, 71 percent of Blacks and 57 percent of Whites believed that "Arabs and Arab-Americans should undergo special, more intensive security checks before boarding airplanes."   Some Muslims and Arabs have complained of being held without explanation and subjected to hours questioning and arrest without cause. Such cases have led to lawsuits being filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.  Fox News radio host, Mike Gallagher, suggested that airports have a "Muslims Only" line in the wake of the 9/11 attacks stating "It's time to have a Muslims check-point line in America's airports and have Muslims be scrutinized. You better believe it, it's time."  In Queens, New York, Muslims and Arabs have complained that the NYPD is unfairly targeting muslim communities in raids tied to the alleged Zazi terror plot. 
Despite the vast majority of American films portraying Muslims negatively, there have been positive portrayals of Muslims in some movies.
- Deep Space Nine- Alexander Siddig's character Dr. Julian Bashir is chief medical officer aboard station. He forms healthy relationships and is a warm, compassionate character. He keeps a teddy bear.
- Rambo III - Muslims are portrayed as heroic and brave with the film dedicated to the gallant people of Afghanistan.
- In Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade Indiana Jones' trusted friend Sallah, an Egyptian Arab, helps him with his quest and even saves his life on occasion.
- Morgan Freeman's character Azeem in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves helps and fights with Robin throughout the movie eventually saving his life at the end, even saying that he was fighting the sheriff even though he was not an Englishman.
- The 13th Warrior - Antonio Banderas' character Ahmad ibn Fadlan, of Arab origin, is portrayed as an intelligent and courageous traveler who aids a group of Scandinavian adventurers in a battle with a tribe of cannibalistic raiders.
- Kingdom of Heaven (film) by Ridley Scott portrays the great army of Saladin composed of legions of Muslims, i.e. Saracens, along with those Muslims inhabiting Jerusalem in general. The Muslims are portrayed in a highly positive manner throughout the film. Saladin, who was of Kurdish descent, is portrayed in the film by Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud, revealing a thoughtful, compassionate, respectful, brave and ultimately very human leader that audiences connected with.
- Lawrence of Arabia (film)
- Mohammad, Messenger of God (also known as The Message in the US), by first-time director Moustapha Akkad, was a big budget Hollywood-style epic film, in the vein of David Lean, which related the story of the birth of Islam in modern day Saudi Arabia. Starring Anthony Quinn and Irene Papas, the film was an ambitious effort to bring the story of Islam to a world audience. It garnered international acclaim, and remains to this day perhaps the definitive cinematic presentation of early Islam.
- In the The Mummy, the Medjai are Muslim Warriors who help the protagonist defeat Imhotep.
- In the film Days of Glory Arabs and muslim soldiers are seen fighting in favor of the Allied cause during World War II
Bibliographies & Videographies
- Arabs in Film and Television: A Bibliography via UC Berkeley library
- Images of Arabs and the Middle East videography of films on video and DVD in the UC Berkeley Media Resources Center
- ^ American School Textbooks – How They Portrayed the Middle East from 1898 to 1994 American Educational History Journal, Volume 35, Number 1 and 2, 2008, edited by J. Wesley Null
- ^ review of Interpreting Islam in American Schools
- ^ Movie details and plot summary New York Times - Movies
- ^ "Arabs in Hollywood: An Undeserved Image" by Scott J. Simon
- ^ 100 Years of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotyping by Mazin B. Qumsiyeh
- ^ Why Hollywood Owes Me Money by Laila Lalami
- ^ More work, same role for Arab actors, Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2007
- ^ The Portrayal of Arabs in American Media
- ^ a b Patrick Harrington interviews, Jack Shaheen, author of Reel Bad Arabs
- ^ Terror Probe Changes Face of Racial Profiling Debate
- ^ Official: 15 of 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi
- ^ Terror Fears Hamper U.S. Muslims' Travel
- ^ Fox News Airs Suggestion for 'Muslim-Only' Airport Line
- ^ Muslim advocates charge NYPD is racial profiling