The Case of the Two Films
by Ahmed Rehab
It never seizes to amaze me how powerful and effective the media and the entertainment businesses can be in imposing upon oneís mind a certain stereotype of a given people. It can most be observed in light of the traditional American double-standardism through which American able institutions of authority, such as news firms and film production studios, repeatedly portray and approach similar situations in two separate ways to the disadvantage of the underdogs. Among those who have most been subjected to the underdog position are undoubtedly the Muslims of the Middle-East. It is ironic to the point of amusement how the big screen and the silver screen can be so double-standard in the way they portray the people of the Middle-East depending on whether they are Muslim inhabitants of the Middle- East or Judeo-Christian (Biblical) ones.
Many a time have we been faced with the Hollywood image of the savage Muslim Arab. In countless movies that were produced by the most famous and popular of Hollywood studios and starred the most famous of Hollywood giants, both Islam and the Muslims were shown to be savage and uncivilized elements of a savage and uncivilized desert. The exploitation of Islam and the Muslims has even been expanded from the desert setting to a more dynamic and international one were the word "Muslim" was hence made synonymous with the word "terrorist". But let us go back to the desert setting and let us analyze the contrasting Hollywood depictions of the essentially similar Arab and Biblical Middle-Eastern inhabitants.
In most movies that delineate the Muslim Middle-Easterner, it is not uncommon for the Muslim viewers to observe elements in the movie that are so repulsive and demeaning to them that they would probably be forced to refrain from continuing the rest of the movie lest they puke! Such portrayals include the messy-bearded, bushy-haired, dirty-clothed, oily-faced, rotten-teethed, dagger-belted, hot-blooded, evil-willed, lying, envious, malicious, offensive, immoral, disrespectful, and even murderous Arab. On the other hand, the Biblical Middle-Easterners, who in reality are not much different from their Arabic counterparts in culture, dress, social traditions, customs, habitude, or lifestyle given they stem from the same land and speak similar if not the same languages, are, in the tradition of double-standardism, portrayed in a totally different fashion. The Biblical Middle-Easterner whether he be a character from "The Ten Commandments" or one from "Samson and Delilah" is depicted as the sage, calm, well-mannered, romantic and heroic individual. The same Middle-Eastern dress that was once tarred and smirched in the case of the Muslim infidel, is now, on the Jew and the Christian, clean and spotless, patterned with cute and attractive lines and squares that bespeak of a warm and cozy culture. The same traditional Middle-Eastern beard that was once messy and spontaneous is now neatly trimmed and perhaps highlighted here and there to enhance its wise appearance. The once dark, gloomy, greasy face is now fair and radiant. The once crummy, crude cast of actors are now a cast of Hollywoodís hunks and heroes. The frequently used alienating dagger is now replaced with a welcoming and appealing staff. And my favorite contrast is how in the Arabís case the accent is a nasty, broken hodgepodge of gutter sounds and eccentric stresses of the Rís, whereas in the Biblical Middle-Easternerís case the accent is a smooth flow of classical, posh English pronounced with utter clarity and queen-like charm and dignity. Amazing!
Now the actual landscapes used in these movies are a whole different story. What else is a suitable setting for the above stereotype of the Arabian Middle-Eastern than yet another demented twist of a reality. It is quite true that Both Arab and Biblical Middle-Easterners come from a desert topography, but it is rather interesting to see how this fact is manipulated in the case of the Arabs, so as to fit the purpose of the producers. Let us analyze together the contrast of landscape in the two types of movies. In the Muslimís case it is a poor, barren land infiltrated with garbage and filth in which roam the herds of skinny goats as they hunt for food among the litter. The shepherds are a gang of bare-foot boys running around as they hold the end of their garments between their legs. The Arab house, if not a bashed out debris monumentalizing a previous battle of one of the many frequent Arab flings, is an unfinished shanty with its outer walls filled with Arabic graffiti (perhaps a "death to the west" phrase) and a nice olí crack half the size of the wall. Women are running around squealing for no apparent reason and men run around roaring and shaking their fists, if not their guns and daggers, also for no apparent reason. Cute!
Camels, which are made to represent the Arabian CTA (Camels Transporting Arabs) are not even left out of this outrageous ordeal.; their coats are smeared and their hair is plucked out here and there, has it ever dawned upon those filmmakers that are in the habit of teaching people to disrespect camels and to regard them as inferior animals, that camels were more than likely the transportation for their beloved Jesus, Moses, and Abraham (peace be upon them), just as they were for Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) and his followers. For movies depicting more recent periods, the camels are substituted for pick up trucks which house a bunch of maniacal bandits of the above stereotypical descriptions, waving and shaking their arms and guns left and right as they scream and holler.... Amazingly, the concept of the Arabian ancient or modern city is never heard of or seen, just random tent and hut sites amongst the rocks and sand, even the palm trees are removed.
On the other hand, In a movie such as "The Ten commandments", or "Jesus of Nazareth" (etc.), all this is completely changed. Suddenly, healthy pastures of emerald green replace the colorless, lifeless barren land. Glistening, heavenly ponds and waterfalls decorate the background as hoards of vegetation creep up walls of the now distinguished looking houses. The ground is now spotless of any garbage and the once skinny goats, and starved camels are now white, fluffy sheep and seaside donkeys. Lofty palm trees extend beyond the garden walls, and flowers are no longer an uncommon sight. Is it not fascinating how the same culture and land can be portrayed in such different ways. The landscape in such movies has been made to look so appealing to the Western viewer that suddenly, by Mary and Joseph, it seems as if the Arabian peninsula might as well be Ireland! Heck, even the characters themselves are allowed to be blond and blue-eyed, fancy Semitic Bedouins resembling Dutch boys! And perhaps the squeaky pipe tunes and ravaging drum beats assigned as the background music for the movies targeting Muslims, would be more convincing as the background music for the movies about their Semitic neighbors, rather than the overwhelming orchestral compositions that enthusiastically thunder throughout the movie as our hunks and heroes do their part.
And if double-standardism in cast, landscape, music, accent, physical appearance and dialogue is not enough, then double-standardism in behavior should finish the job (I wonít even get into the double-standardism in portraying women for that is a story in its own). The Arab Semites are lowly, deceptive individuals whereas their Judeo-Christian counterparts are sage, wise and loving. Finally, it is interesting to note how the media refers to the finished works themselves; the movies exploiting the Arabs and Muslims are "a bold and uncompromising look behind the closed doors of a hidden world", ooooh, it brings me the sh-sh-sh-shivers (and Iím even a Muslim). On the other hand, a movie which glorifies the other Semites, the Jews, is a "great American classic", "an untimely epic", "a movie-making masterpiece", and "an all-time family favorite", well whoop-di-di-doo.
In short, Hollywood representations of the two Middle-Eastern Semitic branches, who are in fact historically culturally similar, is so double standard, continuously defaming the Muslims awhile glorifying the Jews in such an obvious way that is impossible to ignore. The point of this article is not to ask for an end to the glorification of Jewish Semites in Hollywood, rather an end to the defamation of Muslim Semites; as well as to show in an objective manner the extent of American double-standardism in the subject of film making. Similar articles can be written about American double-standardism in the subject of news media as well. Endless lists of specific researched examples and cases (available upon request) of double-standardism in both the fields of Film-making and news-media can also be published, however that would require a book rather than an article. Yet, a self-imposing question is how could have this double-standardism been ignored for so long by other film producers and critics, as well as by politicians of equal rights and non-discrimination commitments, and by such big-mouth organizations as the Anti-defamation league; the answer only confirms their own hypocrisy and double-standardism.
The consequences of this discrimination and double-standardism is extremely underestimated. It does not only result in upsetting an enormous sum of (rather mute) people, but it also results in directly contributing in making their daily lives harder. As suggested in the beginning of this article, film stereotyping does not brush by the mind of the viewer without leaving remnants in its unconsciousness. This creates feelings of antagonism and alienation towards Muslims which lead to such unfortunate and tragic cases of unjust discrimination and maltreatment as the one the Muslims of Oklahoma were subjected to in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma bomb, even though they were totally innocent of such a crime. Not to mention that numerous mosques in the US have been burnt down to ashes as a result of atrocious acts of crime committed by charged up radicals whose prejudice, is safe to say, was worked up by the Hollywood and media negative stereotyping of Muslims. And due to the extended hypocrisy of the American media, not one of theses incidents were reported on the major news channels. Just imagine, several million dollar mosques burnt down to ashes in the US were ignored by the media awhile a vandalism incident of sprayed graffiti on a garage door of a Jewish home was reported on all the major news channels and bitterly condemned as being anti-Semitic (yet another case of double-standardism).
In conclusion, Hollywood and the media in this country do injustice in representing Islam and the Muslims as well as Arabs. Examples of true Islam are non-existent in any of the Hollywood or Western films targeting the Muslim Middle-East. Only a distorted and exaggerated portraiture of a small portion of the poorer, uneducated Arabs is presented as a representation of all Arabs. And the worst of the worst, is that Allahís name is thrown into the dialogue of such movies, amongst such scenarios from hell as described above, so as to enforce upon the viewer the association of words such as "Allah" and "Islam" with chaotic and savage lifestyles as if to say: "this is it"; if this isnít hypocrisy in itís purest form, I donít know what is. How then is the west ever to know of the reality of the Arabian Muslim civilization; of such facts as Algebra being invented by Al-Gaber, and Alkalines being discovered by Al-Kali, both Arab Muslims. How then are they to know that the earliest documented description of Poland, much of Eastern and Northern Europe, and Russia were described for the first time ever in history by Arab Muslim historians. How then is the West to know that the real Renaissance, in its true sense and definition, started in Muslim Spain; how then are they to know that the greatest physician known to medieval history was an Arab Muslim, and that Muslim astronomers contributed much to the science of astronomy.
How then are they to know that the first university in the world (Al-Azhar) was built by Arab Muslims in the Arab Muslim land of Egypt many, many years before Cambridge or Oxford were even conceived of; or that the greatest traveler of all time was the Muslim Ibn Batuta . How then are they to know that at the same time that the creme de la creme of European monarchy, Charlmagne, thought it hazardous and life threatening to take baths, the common Arab Muslim frequented public baths more Luxurious than those the ancient Greeks and Romans ever knew........the answer to all of the above questions is: they donít. For although Hollywood producers would not dare deny such historical facts, they still render them obsolete through their frequent negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims which obviously eliminate for the average Western viewer (who happens to be Islam-ignorant) the possibility of anything good, never mind great, stemming from such hell holes as those depicting Muslim countries.
Yet, the history of the Jewish film producers in particular have shown that they predate on weak minorities by default. If and only if, their victims stand up for themselves and actively fight back, they then and only then consider leaving them alone; but they would never do so out of their own decency, they must be compelled and pressured (Marlon Brando was given a boot up the backside when he, out of his weighty experience, confessed of that). First, it was the blacks, victimized and discriminated against until they put up a fight, then it was the homosexuals and Hispanics, now it is the Arabs and Muslims and such a predation is the default. It shall prevail until the Arabs and Muslims decide to stand up and demand: "STOP!í.......................
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