The seven-million-strong American Muslim community Sunday (July 9) mourned the death of Dr. Jack G. Shaheen, a prolific author and professor whose career centered on dismantling stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs in the US media. He was perhaps most famous for his book Reel Bad Arabs, where he chronicled over 900 movies where Arabs were represented negatively.
In addition to Reel Bad Arabs, Dr. Shaheen authored four other books, Guilty: Hollywood's Verdict on Arabs After 9/11, Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture; Nuclear War Films, and The TV Arab. His methodical study of the media and depictions of Arabs has been critical in helping to re-shape the narratives on Arabs and Muslims.
Shaheen was born in September 1935 in Clairton, Pennsylvania, to Lebanese immigrants. In 1964, he received a master's degree from Pennsylvania State University and, in 1969, he received a PhD from the University of Missouri. He died on July 9, 2017, at the age of 81.
Dr. Shaheen was an internationally respected author, academic and media analyst who was the nation's leading authority on depictions of Arabs, Arab-Americans and Muslims in the media and in American popular culture. His work was instrumental in promoting accurate portrayals of Arabs, Islam and Muslims.
He was an internationally acclaimed author, lecturer and media critic considered to be the foremost authority on media images of Arabs and Muslims in American popular culture.
Dr. Shaheen authored five books, as noted above. His writings include more than 300 essays in publications such as Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, as well as chapters on media stereotypes in 40-plus college textbooks.
His work focused on racism and orientalism, particularly in popular culture such as Hollywood films. He has given over 1,000 lectures on the issue across the United States and on three continents. Dr. Shaheen was also a former CBS News consultant on Middle East affairs, and professor emeritus of Mass Communications at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
Regularly discussing media stereotypes on national programs and networks such as CNN, MSNBC, National Public Radio, Nightline, Good Morning America, 48 Hours, and The Today Show, Dr. Shaheen gave lectures in nearly all 50 states. Oxford, Amherst, Harvard, Kenyon, the University of Southern California, Emory and Northwestern, are among those universities that welcomed him, as well as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) President Samer Khalaf in his condolence message said:
"Dr. Shaheen worked passionately and tirelessly to shed light on the common media stereotypes of Arabs in Western film, providing invaluable resources to the academic community at large. His work started a conversation about the representation of Arabs in Hollywood and the need for more nuanced depictions of the community. Dr. Shaheen will be greatly missed."
Dr. Shaheed was instrumental in ADC's efforts to change the original song lyrics that served to characterize the Arab world as alien, exotic, and "other" in the film Aladdin. His positive impact in the Arab-American community will be felt for generations to come.
Dr. Shaheen created the Jack G. Shaheen Mass Communications Scholarship, which awards annual scholarships to Arab American college students studying journalism and mass communications through the ADC.
Among Dr. Shaheen's many awards, the ADC recognized him for "his lifelong commitment to bring a better understanding towards peace for all mankind" with ADC's Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Islamic Scholarship Fund (ISF) Board Member, Dr. Hatem Bazian said Dr. Jack Shaheen was a giant public intellectual and one of the pioneers of media criticism that developed and extended the theoretical framework of Edward Said's orientalism with evidence, research and attentive scholarship.
Dr. Bazian pointed out that Dr. Shaheen confronted anti-Muslim racism, Islamophobia, before even Muslims had engaged in the field or knew the type of scholarship needed to confront this racist scourge. "More importantly, as a scholar, Jack took care and paid attention to his students, was down to earth, humble in his approach, and was never the arrogant type of intellectual, which made it possible to influence a generation of young scholars in the field."
As an organization that focuses on empowering Muslim students to pursue careers in media, in order to do what Dr. Shaheen did--that is to challenge stereotypes of Islam and Muslims--we could not think of any better way to honor his legacy than to create a media scholarship in his name, Dr. Bazian said, adding: "We can only hope to build a cadre of Muslims in the media who show Dr. Shaheen's courage, intelligence, and dedication to correcting so many problematic stereotypes of our community. We hope to keep Dr. Shaheen's legacy alive through our work and we hope you will join us in celebrating his life and contributions and continuing the work that he did so valiantly."