The Arab Stereotype and Prejudice a Magazine Cover Deeply Wounds a Community

By Shaheen, Jack G. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 23, 1993 | Go to article overview

The Arab Stereotype and Prejudice a Magazine Cover Deeply Wounds a Community


Shaheen, Jack G., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


This summer The New Yorker ran a cover illustration titled "Castles in the Sand." It showed three normal, all-American children at play on a beach, building sand castles. A fourth child, brandishing a crazed expression, wears sunglasses and a burnoose. This youth represents an Arab or American-Arab.

The boy is isolated in the right corner of the cover, away from the other children. With shovel in hand, he leaps, feet first, toward a sand replica of the World Trade Center. His intention? To demolish the building. The cover reinforces a new media myth - Arab children are terrorists. Such hurtful illusions have a telling effect on people.

Since the Feb. 23 bombing of the World Trade Center, Arab-Americans are being frightened throughout the country. One was attacked in a restaurant in Raleigh, N.C. His assailant told him: "I hate Muslims. I hate you guys."

In July, Mahmoud Tamer, an Arab Muslim working as a New York transit policeman, took his own life as a result of suffering from racial and ethnic slurs. Explained the New York Daily News: "The stream of insensitive jokes and remarks climaxed a few weeks ago, when he was humiliated in front of a large group of cops and was told no one wanted to work with him."

An entire race is being collectively indicted by association for the alleged crimes of a few. Regrettably, The New Yorker cover sends the identical message from which Jewish mothers in Europe tried so hard to shield their children in the 1930s and '40s.

Concerned about the harmful consequences that might surface as a result of The New Yorker cover, staff members of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee decided to arrange a meeting with Tina Brown, the magazine's editor-in-chief. The purpose was to address two major points. One, to ask why the magazine published such a damaging illustration. Two, to question whether Brown and her colleagues would ever approve a cover blemishing other American children. Would they, for example, show a Jewish-American child wearing a yarmulke, or a Hispanic-American child with a sombrero, or an American Indian child with warpaint and tomahawk, about to crush the Trade Center?

New Yorker executives initially refused to discuss the cover, saying it was not their policy to meet with any group to review such issues. However, three months after the Arab-child-as terrorist picture appeared, this writer, Albert Mokhiber, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and a representative from Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting met with editor-in-chief Brown, executive editor Hendrick Hertzberg and two other New Yorker staff members.

Brown reiterated what she writes to concerned readers. "The intent of our cover was not to make fun of Arab-Americans, or to stereotype them." She and a New Yorker illustrator said the child, who wears a burnoose and dark glasses, "is clearly not a Middle Eastern child. He has red hair, pale skin and freckles - which is to say, the artist has taken pains to depict him as not being of Middle East origin. …

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