Jack Shaheen | MiddleEastOnline | June 16, 2012 | [Original Article]
"You can hit an Arab free; they’re free enemies, free villains -- where you couldn’t do it to a Jew or you can’t do it to a black anymore. -- Sam Keen, author of Faces of the Enemy
In 1918 American movie audiences were treated to their first major silver-screen glimpse of a reel bad Arab. In Tarzan of the Apes, the first of six popular Tarzan films to vilify Arabs, viewers got to see brutal Arab slave masters whipping African slaves and forcing their kidnapped Englishman “to endure ten years of agony,” all the while brandishing guns and scruffy goatees. It was quite a debut.
For four decades I have been tracking these kinds of images of Arabs and Muslims in more than 1,200 feature films and hundreds of television programs, from dramas and news documentaries to comedies and children’s cartoons. Along the way, I’ve discovered that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes have a long and powerful history in American popular culture. Constantly repeated, these damaging portraits have manipulated viewers’ thoughts and feelings, conditioning them to ratchet up the forces of rage and unreason. Make no mistake: fictional narratives have the capacity to alter reality. As the Florentine philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli reminds us, “The great majority of mankind are…more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”...
...American images of Arabs and Muslims have remained remarkably consistent over the decades. Despite the diversity of Arab and Muslim experience, reel Arab women have appeared mostly mute and submissive -- belly dancers, bundles in black and beasts of burden. Arab men have fared no better, appearing as Bedouin bandits, sinister sheiks, comic buffoons and weapon-wielding terrorists... [Read More]
...To some, dispensing with this stereotype may seem an impossible task. Yet openness to change is an American tradition and the strength of our society. The path ahead may be littered with ingrained, prejudicial precedents, but I believe these baleful portraits will be shattered, one image at a time. Young scholars and artists will lead the way, creating inventive new portraits that depict Arabs and Muslims as neither saints nor devils but as fellow human beings, with all the strengths and frailties that condition implies..."