Muslims are the United States of America’s fastest growing ethnicity. To add to that, Islam is the fastest rising religion in the United States. However, just like many other western countries Americans have many stereotypes and misunderstandings about Islam. The approximately six to seven million Muslims living in the U.S.A face a harsh storm of prejudice. Mainstream media often show Muslims as producer of mass destruction weapons, intolerant, global threat and terrorists. Media ignores the fact that Muslims are integral part of America who contributes to the community as doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, artist and businessmen. The majority of western media outlets try to show a coarse picture of Islam and Muslims to the public.
Prejudice against Muslims is not new in American media; however the September 9 /11 attack on World Trade Center in New York City has significantly helped expands it. Unfortunately, most of the media outlets use this event to extend the gap between western and eastern civilizations. The drawback of media bias is ruinous; however, little effort has been made to respond to these negative campaigns. On the other hand, the act of terrorists who continue their brutality and who harm innocent people, especially westerners, help media to show that they have the right to blame all those people who share the religion, region or culture of these terrorists’ groups.
Media bias does not limit to informational or news media the entertainment media outlets play their part in promoting the biased message of Muslims. “The present day Arab stereotype parallels the image of Jews in pre-Nazi Germany, where Jews were painted as dark, shifty-eyed, venal and threateningly different people” (qtd. in El-Farra 1). This paper aims to examine post 9/11 Muslims stereotypes in Hollywood movies.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Hollywood focused on Soviets and their communist allies to present them as villains. By the 1980s, at the end of Cold War, Hollywood was almost out of “villains” and desperately needed a new scoundrel. This was the time when Iranian had the Islamic Revelations and Israel-the U.S.A’s prime ally, was facing some tough challenges both in the Middle East and in the World due to violating the human rights and ruining Arabs’ homes only to build their own. The unequipped Philistineans started defending themselves and tried to use every possible way to get their lands back from Israel. Hence, Hollywood found a new enemy and they were named Islamic terrorist widely by Western media.
Since then, Islam is often and after 9/11 Islam is mostly portrayed as an extremist religion and Muslims as terrorists in Hollywood movies. Since a large percent of the American and global public watch Hollywood movies they get the wrong insights. Hence, wrong information about Islam spreads through the entertainment media. It influences people across the world and they believe this wrong perspective. Although the misconception and stereotype of Islam and Muslims in Hollywood did not start with the 9/11 tragedy, it has significantly developed and increased since then.
Before we go in depth of the topic it is important to define stereotype. Stereotype is “a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment” (Webster Online Dictionary). Stereotypes force people to behave in a judgmental and biased manner.
“Television viewing is a major activity and influence on children and adolescents. Children in the United States watch an average of three to four hours of television a day. By the time of high school graduation, they will have spent more time watching television than they have in the classroom” (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry). It is imperative because this age group corresponds to those who are still in the process of developing their perspective of the world. Watching misleading television programs may lead them on a wrong way.
From the vast database of biased Hollywood movies against Muslims, I have chosen two to review.
1. The Kingdom
Release in 2007, The Kingdom is an action movie about FBI agents hunting terrorists in Saudi Arabia. It is based on the bombings on American diplomats’ residences in Saudi Arabia. The movie shows a team of FBI agents who investigate the bombing. It also explains the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that most of the hijackers were Saudi’s. Some “suicide bombers” could be seen and heard reciting verses from Quran, Muslims’ holy book, killing themselves and others.
The Muslim critics describe it as one of the most damaging portrayal of Muslims. In which even “Arab children are portrayed as terrorists” (Shaheen).
“Hollywood may be the only Western institution that is getting ahead in the “war on terror”, and in this new movie [The Kingdom] it achieves this pretty much along the same lines prescripted by the US government, that is, through simplistic, binary depictions of “good” versus “evil” with formulaic recipes for action – and with predictable results” (Afrasiabi).
Traitor, released in 2008, is a movie about a Muslim American, Samir, who is an arms dealer. While selling weapons to an ‘Islamic Terrorist” in an Arad country, he is arrest and imprisoned along with the terrorist. Samir escapes from jail with the help of his terrorist customer and eventually joins his terrorist group. Soon after their escape, they make plans to bomb U.S. embassy in France and send suicide bombers to U. On the other hands, a FBI agent, a hero as usual, is after them.
This movie like many others made on the topic of terrorism, repeats the same misleading mistakes. For instance, reciting holy verses and killing innocent people. Also, Samir has been portrayed as a devout Muslim. He prays five times a day, does not drink any alcoholic beverages, and is a calm, down to earth boy. But yet he is a terrorist-an evil in the shape of angel. It delivers a message to public that apparently every Muslim in your neighbor is a terrorist and none of “them” should be trusted.
Sometimes it gets hard to understand the reason behind media prejudice against Muslims. However, five major reasons could be point out to understand why it fails to cover Muslims in general and Arabs in particular fairly: “cultural bias, the think-alike atmosphere within the impact media, the Arab-Israeli conflict, media ignorance of the origin and history of the conflict and a determined and sophisticated pro-Israel lobby” (2).
In an attempt to place Islam in a category that American public can misjudge it, the media falsely portrays images of Muslims as “consisting of strange, bearded men with burning eyes, hierarchic figures in robes and turbans, blood dripping from the striped backs of malefactors, and piles of stones barely concealing the battered bodies of adulterous couples,” (Shaheen, 77).
Hollywood’s description of Arabs has paved the road for U.S. foreign policy. Years of presenting Muslims as the rivals “made it that much easier for us to go into Iraq. There were very few people protesting” (Shaheen).
To conclude it, Islam has often been presented as a threat to the West. Islam’s negative presentation does not match up to Islam’s thoughts and values, but are the belief of some individuals or groups. They use Islam’s name to achieve their filthy political and personal goals. These denigrated groups defame Islam, which sometimes influences people’s views on Islam. On the other hand, media does not fulfill their responsibility to do some research and separate those degraded groups from the real followers of Islam. To make the situation worse, the Western media often times weakly represents Islam. Most of these problems of inadequate representations come from lack of knowledge about Islam and its teachings. It requires a vast range of cultural exchange programs to develop cross-cultural understanding.
AACAP Online. Mar. 2001. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2 Dec. 2008 .
El-Farra, Narmeen. “Arabs and the Media.” California State University (1996): 1.
Kaveh, Afrasiabi, “A Failed Kingdom.” Asia Times 2 Oct. 2007. Hong Kong. 1 Dec. 2008 <http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/IJ02Ak03.html>.
Shaheen, Jack. Interview with Bart Griffion. Factory of stereotypes. Socialist Reviewe. England. Jun. 2008.
Shaheen, Jack. The TV Arab. Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.1984.
“stereotype.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008. Merriam-Webster Online. 2 Dec. 2008 .