For the past 10 days or so, I was researching how Arabs are stereotyped. Has the stereotype changed? The title “We is Terrorists” is not a typo or grammatical error. It is intentional because one of the stereotypes is that Arabs are primitive and uneducated.
There are the funny stereotypes, which were the first that came to mind; Arabs living in tents, with oil wells in their ‘backyards.’ And let’s not forget the camels of course. When I googled Arab stereotypes, I found this funny typographic piece by Shoug Al Ghunaim , “So, do you have your own camel?”
Her about page doesn’t say much; she’s Kuweiti and goes to Parsons in NYC, and likes Starbucks Lates.
I also came across a documentary featuring Dr Jack Shaheen and his book, “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Villifies a People.” I really wish I had more time on my hands to order the book and finish reading it to help me with my research. Unfortunately my deadline is in 2 days. I strongly encourage everyone interested in this topic to watch this documentary. It’s a real eye opener.
Dr Shaheen gives many examples where Arabs are stereotyped. He mentioned “True Lies”, a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which I have seen many times when I was younger, but never stopped to think “Wait a minute… This isn’t right!” And “Back to the Future II”, where two Arabs terrorists in a van appear in the movie and shoot the scientist without any logical reason. Why did they plant two Arab terrorists in the movie plot?
Dr Shaheen quotes Jack Valenti, former president and CEO of Motion Picture Association of America:
“Washington and Hollywood spring from the same DNA.”
After watching the documentary, it all looked like a joint effort between Hollywood and Washington; a campaign that warns people worldwide about ‘The Bloodthirsty Arabs.’
As I write this, I do not feel hatred or anger. I feel sad. Sad because the people believing these stereotypes are living in fear and act based on what media’s been feeding them.
To help me with my research, I asked a question on Facebook and Twitter: “How do you feel when you see a movie stereotyping Arabs as terrorists with submissive women?” From the responses, one could easily identify four categories of people (I’d post screenshots of their comments but I’m too lazy to cover all the names):
- “I don’t feel anything”: This is the group of people who got used to Arabs being portrayed this way. Perhaps they don’t feel the urge to do anything about it because they don’t feel it’s harming them personally.
- “It pisses me off!”: Clear enough.
- “I pity them”: “If they’re stupid enough to believe it, then it’s their problem, not mine.”
- Combination: A Combination Group could be 1+3 or 2+3. It obviously cannot be 1+2 because the first group has unfortunately become conditioned.
Now that I have identified four categories, it’s easier for me to know which group to target in my project. I obviously cannot target Category I because they don’t feel anything and do not care. I see potential in Categories II and IV.
You can’t really go anywhere with Category III unless you succeed in encouraging them to change their attitude. There are two very serious problems with this kind of attitude.
“If they’re stupid enough to believe it, then it’s their problem, not mine.”
It’s THEIR problem? No, it is not their problem, and you are obviously not bothering to make it yours anymore because you’re tired of being offended. That is totally understandable. No one wants to be offended. But… Did you stop to think that there’s more to that than your feelings being hurt? I’m sure you don’t want to turn a blind eye to the suffering of Arabs outside the Middle East. Such news is rarely covered by media. This attitude is a problem because this group of people is making no effort to make things better for Arabs.
I came across this page on Pluralism.org, the official website for The Pluralism Project at Harvard Univerity. In “Struggling Against Stereotypes”:
“Individuals may experience discrimination in housing and employment, or even harassment and attacks from strangers on the street; mosques and Islamic centers across the country frequently report vandalism. These attacks on Muslims and mosques receive little attention from the mainstream press, despite the fact that a number of mosques have been destroyed by arson across the United States in the 1990s, […]”
The solution isn’t apathy. The solution is, “to communicate with others, on mutual terms, rather than insist on one’s own frame of reference.” Willie Garson, as quoted in “Standing against Stereotypes in the Moth’s “A More Perfect Union: Stories of Prejudice & Power.”
Many people, including myself, stopped speaking up because the person we’re debating with “insists on their own frame of reference.” The second problem is that calling them stupid isn’t going to solve anything. We cannot call everyone that disagrees with us stupid.
If you think about it, what have they been exposed to all these years? They were definitely not exposed to good, normal Arabs that love their friends and family, and want World peace more than anything. That’s boring!
Think of it this way. When you’re watching cartoons (I use cartoons, not real news, because I don’t want to make this too dramatic), aren’t you glad when the ‘bad guy’ is finally defeated? If you saw Toy Story 3, you must’ve hated Lotso! Don’t watch this if you haven’t seen it yet.
Well, movies and media has been telling people for dozens of years that we’re “The Bad Guys”. Out of instinct, some might want to hurt us, or be happy when something bad happens to us, or simply feel nothing when countries are occupied and innocent people are killed. I’m not saying that it’s right to believe anything you see. Unfortunately this is the way it is, and they have not seen “The Good Guys”, which are actually the majority.
Dr Jack Shaheen gives a strong message at the end of the documentary:
“What matters is not to remain silent. I think whenever we see anyone beeing vilified on a regular basis, we have to speak up, whether we’re image makers or not. We have to take a stand and say: This is morally and ethically wrong to demonize a people.”
And that is why I’m here today, writing about it. I do not want to remain silent.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
“Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.”
– Martin Luther King