'The Other': how the US media demonise Arabs

'The Other': how the US media demonise Arabs
As Hollywood releases yet more anti Arab movies, Haider Eid explains the racist portrayal of Arabs in the media is no oversight, but a wilful and blatant attempt at demonising a people with a unique and rich culture.
3 min read
22 Feb, 2015
Western and US media disfigure a diverse and rich culture [Getty]
Hollywood has recently been producing some of the most vicious anti-Arab racist films ever made by major studios, as evidenced by American Sniper.

Western media use as template for portrayal of Arabs, crude and at times comic generalisations and racist stereotypes. This shorthand is deployed when reporting on actions of individuals such as in France & Denmark, or terrorist groups such as ISIS & Al Qaeda. These generalisations intend to reinforce a view of Arabs and their diverse u  culture as a monolithic backward, violent non-culture. The corporate media has thus become an extension of the Hollywood movie industry, and other gate-keepers of the  current culture and values shaping Western collective consciousness.

What is scary about the underlying messages conveyed by by movies such as American Sniper, The Siege and True Lies, to mention but a few, is that “it is appropriate and morally correct to kill Arabs, even children and their mothers. Arabs, and Muslims, are not human like us White Americans and therefore liberal and human rules do not apply to them. All Arabs, even mothers and children, are terrorists!”

This dehumanisation in the movies overlaps frighteningly with what for example Steven Green an Iraq War veteran serving five life terms for raping and killing a 14-year-old Iraqi girl Abeer Al-Janabi, and killing her parents and sister, says to justify his crime: "There's not a word that would describe how much I hated these people, I wasn't thinking these people were humans." American popular culture has socialised a generation of Americans into watching and then “Othering” Arabs and Muslims. 

It has trained them into it. And then you get brain-washed Steven Greens! Before you carry out violent crimes against a group you have to de-humanise them. 

Another example is the indifference the media has shown to the victims of the Chapel Hill shooting. As Said Erekat asked: “Imagine if things were reversed; the murderer was a Muslim and the victims were Christian or Jewish? The crime would be called terrorism and the community would pay the price.”

No other racial or religious groups have been as misrepresented in the last two decades by Hollywood as Arabs and Muslims have. In fact, the explicit racism exercised against Arabs in the American main-stream movies and other forms of popular culture has become a norm that mainstream critics refuse to acknowledgeArabs are told they have two choices; they should be either submissive or invisible. To be submissive means to conform to the main-stream pop culture, to look Arab and subscribe to White-Western ideology. That is how you become a good 'Ayrab'!

The misrepresentation of Arabs – which was covered extensively by the late Palestinian-American thinker Edward Said in his ground-breaking Orientalism and Covering Islam is the product of long history of fear of the Oriental. 

However, this demonisation in American popular culture, and therefore in American consciousness, is noted to accompany the “need for creating a new Satan after the collapse of the Soviet Union”. Hence the production of movies such as American Sniper  and Rules of Engagementetc. As Chris Hedges argues in a different context, American Sniper unquestioningly accepts a predatory world where the weak and the vulnerable are objects to exploit while the powerful are narcissistic and violent demigods.

The entertainment industry in the US, what Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer call 'Culture Industry', has been exposed as directly involved in intimate links with the US Department of Defence, the CIA and weapons contractors. And those are in need of marketing their militaristic ideology in which Arabs and/or Muslims are 'the bad guys'.

This new anti-Arab wave is undoubtedly a reflection of the ideology of neo-imperialism, an ideology informed by racism, Zionism and capitalist greed, one that dehumanises Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghani children and women.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.