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.
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