Arabs Not the First: To Be Blown Away by the Movies

Article excerpt

In the 1950s "Reds" were gunned down in droves by Mickey Spillane's sadistic private eye Mike Hammer, while on the big screen G-men hunted down evil double-crossing "Commies" and blasted them. Take for instance this extract from Mickey Spillane's best seller One Lonely Night, published in 1951:

     "I was evil for the good. I was evil and he knew it. I was worse
than they were, so much worse that they couldn't stand the comparison.
I had one good efficient enjoyable way of getting rid of cancerous
Commies. I killed them."

Now Hollywood has another bad guy--the Arab terrorist--and he's getting mown down with equal vigor.

Dr. J.G. Shaheen is Professor Emeritus of Mass Communications at Southern Illinois University and is the world's foremost authority on media images of Arabs and Muslims. He serves as a consultant with motion picture and television companies such as Dream Works, Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera Productions, and Showtime and regularly discusses media stereotypes on national programs and networks such as CNN and The Today Show. According to Shaheen, cinema has villanized Arabs and Muslims more than any other people and for a longer period of time. "We were gunning down subhuman Arabs way before 9/11," he said.

According to Shaheen, in movies it would seem that brutal, heartless uncivilized Arabs are hell bent on terrorizing innocent Westerners. In his study of how Arabs are portrayed in the movies for his groundbreaking book Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (Interlink Publishing Group, 2001) he discovered that Arabs are now without doubt Public Enemy #1. More often than not Arab males all ride camels and are out to abduct the blue-eyed blonde, while women in the Arab world are seen as "bosomy belly dancers" or "mute and submissive". We never see Arab children unless they are out to steal your wallet. "Most Arabs have never slept in a tent nor ridden a camel nor owned an oil well," he said. "The Arabs' humanity and culture is all erased. Instead of focusing on images of commonality, films are focusing on the differences between us. Most Arabs are family people," Shaheen said. "If there was one word used to describe them, it is family."

When asked to choose his most extreme example of Arab-bashing Shaheen instantly chose Rules of Engagement (d. W. Friedkin, 2000), a film he points out that was produced with the cooperation of the American Department of Defense. The scene: Samuel L. Jackson (as Colonel Terry Childers) tells his marines "to waste those mother******s" and then guns down "83 men, women, and children." Shaheen also cited True Lies (d. J. Cameron, 1994) where Arnold Schwarzenegger "guns down Palestinians like targets in a shooting gallery."

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Equating the stereotyping of Arabs with murderous hordes of Indians in Westerns and Jews in Nazi Germany, the results of such stereotyping can, says Shaheen, end in annihilation. Worse, Hollywood has, in the face of Arab stereotyping remained silent--a sure sign for Shaheen that it is likely to continue. "There is no Hollywood star or mogul with sufficient courage to reveal it and condemn it," Shaheen said.

The hatred and the fear of the Arab world, like the fear of communism, does not, Shaheen argues, come from personal contact. Rather "we are taught to hate them. It comes from the fictional bombardment of media images. It comes from what our media teaches us. Movies teach us who we should love and who we should hate. 150 countries have been taught to hate everything that is Arab and Muslim ... The longer it continues without being contradicted the more opportunity there is for men and women to be hurt. There is tremendous fear in the Arab community. If your name's Hussein, change it to Harry."

Today, according to Shaheen, the only images of the Arab world that the majority of Americans ever see is the image given to them by movies. Movies played endlessly on cable--Shaheen points out--last forever. …

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