At this point I wanted to touch on a topic with Dahlia that I think was a key driving force in the invasion of Iraq, Islamophobia, so I asked:
Mac: I’m curious. I’ve always intuitively thought that 9/11 simply unleashed a lot of latent Islamophobia, and a lot of anti-Semitism becaue I realize, and I know you do, that Arabs are part of the Semitic world.
Dahlia: Amen to that!
Mac: And I think that there’s just so much of that latent that all it took was that one incident to just unleash it.
Dahlia: Well you know what, we’ve been primed for decades to think of Arabs and Moslems in general in three categories, and this is from the work done by Jack Shaheen, whose famous book is called “Reel Bad Arabs,” showing the history of discrimination and negative stereotypes of Arabs and Moslems in the Western media, basically Hollywood, for decades.
They have been depicted either as camel jockeys, oil sheiks or terrorists – you don’t find those booths on career day, but this is how we’ve been trained.
I’ve been a victim of the stereotypes as much as the next person, I mean in terms of being trained to think that way. When I hear “Arab” I have been trained to think “terrorist” even though that’s my own background, and when I hear the terms Moslem or Islam, I’m trained to think “Fundamentalist”. That’ what my society taught me, so even for someone like me, even with an Arab background, I still have to fight it every day.
So I remember at the time of the first Gulf War in 1991, there was a 300% increase in hate crimes, documented hate crimes. That’s after the first Gulf War, so certainly – I don’t know the numbers after September 11, because as you said, that was a tremendous launching of Islamophobia, and really I think it just flows into a general xenophobia – but absolutely, we have been well-primed for directing our hatred toward a particular population. And you’re right, after 9/11 anyone who even resembled an Arab or Moslem – if you were a Sikh you could be targeted, if you were Latino you could be targeted, if you fit into the general description of swarthy skin and dark moustache, and God help you if you wear a turbine or cover your hair – anyone with those characteristics could become a target for hatred.
Mac: I’ve been affiliated with the Sikhs for a long time and I’m aware that some Sikhs were just murdered.
Dahlia: That’s absolutely right, absolutely right, so we’ve got problems, we’ve got problems!
Indeed so! We did after 9/11, and we do now, although tumultuous events such as the Arab Spring have helped shatter some of these deadly stereotypes, as millions of Westerners have witnessed on TV, in person, or on the Internet the nobility and bravery, under gunfire and club, of millions of Arabian Semitic peoples in their struggles for freedom and dignity.
So now many of us are schizophrenic in our mental constructs, clinging to those destructive Hollywood images of the past that were reinforced by 9/11 and endless propagandizing about what is really a tiny, tiny percentage of the overall Arab and Moslem population, the “sect”, if you want to call it that, of al Qaeda, this negative fear stereotype versus the reality of millions of human beings in the Middle East and beyond who, it turns out to be, are just like us, struggling for freedom and justice and the right to have a good job so they can feed and house their families and raise their children.
It is a good synchronicity that Dahlia referenced Jack Shaheen whom I happened to write an article about a few years back, because he has been a valuable educator in helping Americans to see how they have been conditioned culturally to denigrate Arabs and Moslems, and how from that first step it has led, ultimately, to a costly war that has still not ended while continuing to cost American and Iraqi lives and treasure. It would be timely at this point to re-convey some of what I wrote about Jack back in November of 2007, in an article entitled “Reel Bad Arabs – Confronting Stereotypes” based on an interview he had with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! So meet Jack Shaheen:
November 27, 2007
Reel Bad Arabs – Confronting Stereotypes
By Mac McKinney
Recently Amy Goodman interviewed Jack Shaheen about a topic that has helped fuel the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, as well as our largely carte blanche bias toward Israel’s policies in the Middle East. And that topic is the stereotyping of Arab peoples in particular, and, I should add, as well as Moslem peoples in general, even though most Moslems are not Arabs. But in the superficial mass-American mind, quite often Arabs and Moslems are equated, and even Sikhs, who are an entirely different religion, are often thrown into this stereotypical mix. In fact, one Sikh was murdered right after 9/11, mistaken for an Arab, and over a half-dozen men in total were slain as part of a frenzied backlash against those who happened to look Middle Eastern at the time.
In fact, if you Google “Destroy Islam”, you get some 5,050,000 hits. Of course not all of them are screeds on attacking Islam, but a significant portion of them are, mostly coming from Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christian websites, which tend to equate Islam with Satan and who have invoked the Flag, the Cross and the Smart Bomb to wage war with.
Thank God that the Catholic Church, even with its ultra-conservative Pope Benedict XVI, has refused, despite some earlier criticism of Islam on the Pope’s part, to pick up the rusty Crusader’s sword that Pope Urban first invoked in 1095 at the Council of Clermont. That was the great and demagogic speech that launched the First Crusade leading to several centuries of brutal warfare in the Levant and beyond, the Fourth Crusade actually diverting itself north to Christian Constantinople, to sack the imperial city and usurp control of the Byzantine Empire. The Franks, Normans and Venetians could not resist the glitter of Byzantine gold and jewels.
So, against this violent historical background, deep racial prejudice and religious intolerance, comes Dr. Jack Shaheen with a rather remarkable movie, based on his 2001 book, that sheds a great deal of light on this odious stereotyping of Arab peoples in the American media and entertainment industry. Both the book and movie, which is also on DVD, are called Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.
Jack Shaheen, by the way is, to quote from Wikipedia’s blurb about him:
Professor Emeritus of Mass Communication at Southern Illinois University. He was also a consultant on Middle East affairs for CBS News.
He studies portrayals of Arabs and Islam in American media. Being a committed internationalist and humanist, Dr. Shaheen addresses stereotypical images of racial and ethnic groups. His presentations illustrate that stereotypes do not exist in a vacuum, that hurtful caricatures of Asians, blacks, Latinos and others, impact innocents. He explains why such portraits persist, and provides viable solutions to help shatter misperceptions.
Among Dr. Shaheen’s awards recognizing his “outstanding contribution towards a better understanding of our global community” are the University of Pennsylvania’s Janet Lee Stevens Award, and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition for “his lifelong commitment to bring a better understanding towards peace for all mankind.” (source)
So on Oct 19, Amy Goodman did a piece on him on Democracy Now! at her firehouse studio, prefacing it with this statement:
Where are the human images of Arabs and Arab Americans? That’s the topic of a new film called “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.” It’s based on a book by the same name by acclaimed media critic Jack Shaheen. Both the book and the film explore the American cinematic landscape to reveal a stark pattern of Arab stereotyping and its disturbing similarity to anti-Semitic and other racist caricatures through history.
We’ll be joined in the studio by Jack Shaheen, but first I want to play some excerpts from the film version of his book. It’s directed by Sut Jhally, and the New York Premiere of the film was at the Cinema East Film Festival on Thursday. (source)
The excerpts she mentioned include statements from the trailer for the movie, which you can view right now.