Jobs @ MG
Media defamation fosters exclusion
By Neveen A. Salem
|Unfortunately, the days of spoofing
Arabs and Muslims in the media are far from over. Just the other night, a
television show called "That's My Bush," airing on Comedy
Central, whose main focus is to debase U.S. President George W. Bush, once
again proved that the media can deliberately further racism and
discrimination against Arabs and Muslims (which, incidentally, amount to
the same monolithic entity in the eyes of the general population) without
fear of reprimand.
The show had Bush attempting to "seriously" address the death
penalty when half a dozen men, dressed in Arab clothing - complete with
headdresses - break into the Oval Office brandishing semi-automatic
weapons and threatening his life. As his secretary runs for cover, the
"Arabs" rip off their costumes and reveal themselves to be the
President's rowdy fraternity brothers from his days at Yale. His secretary
then emerges and says, "Wait…so you're not Iraqis?"
(pronounced Iraqi… with a long I).
The above-mentioned spoof is just one example of thousands of instances in
which Arabs and/or Muslims have been subjected to ridicule,
misrepresentation and outright racist discrimination. And actually,
compared to many other depictions, the above example is somewhat less
malevolent (if you can believe that).
With Hollywood determined to portray Arabs and Muslims as terrorists
hell-bent on destroying all that is "American" and
"good," America's nearly 10 million Arabs and Muslims find
themselves fighting an uphill battle to dispel these stereotypes and
convince the West that they are, in fact, productive and vital members of
Sadly, the negative media portrayal does not end at merely feeding
moviegoers' appetites, but rather, helps foster far more damaging
consequences. Even with the increase of Arab and Muslim participation in
American society, be it political or otherwise, there remains seemingly
unending negative stereotypes that plague and undermine the community's
efforts to prove that they are also Americans.
In a country where perception is reality, the media plays a vital part in
shaping everything from mainstream America's ideas of Arabs and Muslims to
influencing such things as U.S. foreign policy toward Arab and/or Muslim
While much of mainstream America cannot tell the difference between fringe
groups and the general Arab/Muslim population, the truly disturbing matter
is that the U.S. government does not seem to have any more of a
Two weeks ago, Vice President Dick Cheney sent American Muslims the
message that they are not only unimportant but, in fact, a liability, as
he cancelled a previously confirmed appearance at the American Muslim
Council's White House Briefing, held during their annual Convention. After
a highly publicized attack on the American Muslim Council, in which the
organization was referred to as a "pro-terrorist Muslim group,"
and lobbied against by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and American
Jewish Committee (AJC), Cheney cancelled his appointment with over 150
American Muslims, citing a sudden scheduling problem.
It seems that the Bush administration has forgotten, or ignored, that the
majority of America's seven million Muslims rallied behind him in the
polls in November.
In a separate incident, during a June 28th briefing with Rev. Mark Scott,
Associate Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives, Abdallah Al-Arian was approached by a secret service security
guard who asked him to leave the premises without being given any reason
for his removal from the meeting. Al-Arian is an intern at Democratic Whip
David Bonior's (D-MI) office and the son and nephew of two former victims
of the U.S.'s unconstitutional use of secret evidence. As a result, the
participants of the meeting, including the event's organizers - the Muslim
Public Affairs Council (MPAC) - walked out in protest. Again, the White
House seemed to be sending a message to the Muslim community that further
supports the view that Muslims are not seen as anything but insignificant.
Likewise, the latest trends of the media's abandonment of journalistic
integrity can be illustrated by the one-sided coverage of the Palestinian
uprising against the illegal Israeli occupation and continued vilification
of 21 million Iraqis, solely as a means of justifying decade-long
sanctions supposedly aimed at "containing" one man. However,
with the advent of American Muslim and Arab organizations, and an
increasing awareness among Muslims and Arabs of their civil rights, a
movement to end the media's racism, has made some headway.
For over thirty years, Jack G. Shaheen, Professor Emeritus of Mass
Communication at Southern Illinois University and former CBS News
consultant on Middle East Affairs, has documented and addressed the
portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in films and television and the subsequent
consequences on the American Arab and Muslim population. Shaheen, the
foremost authority on media images of Arabs, recently published a landmark
book, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, which meticulously
indexes over 900 films that have included portrayals of Arabs. The newly
released book also seeks to determine how and why it is that the media can
so easily, and with little or no criticism, continue such detrimental
There can be no doubt that the media has been incredibly influential in
shaping the perception of the Arab and Muslim community. More than any
other population, Arab and Muslims continue to be vilified and defamed.
And until such nonchalant spoofing and stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims
are addressed and criticized for what they are: racism, the community will
continue to be marginalized and sidelined by both the American mainstream
media and those charged with ensuring the protection of civil rights of
all America's inhabitants. q