Arabs: The “Men”olithic Terrorist Organization

Since the events of 9/11 have transpired the representation for Arabs has converged on the idea of a religiously motivated, overzealous, and fiercely loyal to their nation, terrorist. The perception that Arabs men belong to the same monolithic group of anti-american enemies of the state and the people has creeped its way across various forms of media. The area where this is most prevalent is in the current 24/7 news cycle. This constant sewing of fear has led to numerous hate crimes against Arab men and has dramatically worsened the lives of many Arabs of all genders in Western Nations. In the following images we will attempt to show how Arabs are portrayed in the media, what the consequences of this portrayal are, and what the future of Arabs in media could look like.

Before 9/11 Arabs like many other minorities in the west had scarcely any representation at all aside from the occasional “exotic” dancer for women or a quirky protagonist in a high adventure setting for men. And the coverage of Arab related events in the news was almost zero. However after the events that transpired on 9/11, the landscape for how people would view Arabs would change from Princess Jasmine and Aladdin to radical terrorists. Action movies saw an easy out for a new bad guy, throwing a turban on a dark skin individual, almost always male, and having them shout vaguely threatening words in another language. While the news was slammed with headlines of Muslims being deemed as evil or dangerous. Often depicting images of threatening looking men hold guns committing various atrocities.


“Homeland” Link

The above image is a clip from the TV show “homeland” where an undercover CIA agent becomes convinced a prisoner of war has been turned by Al-Qaeda and is planning a terrorist act on American Soil. This show presents Muslims as a highly convincing cult of personality that isn’t only dangerous in their actions but even dangerous to be around or talk to, lest you’re turned into the other as well. Turning young men into instruments of violence against the state with a few speeches and loads of propaganda. This portrayal can lead to a distancing of Arabs on the basis that they could have radical ideas. Or increase the unease that many people may feel when around an Arab man in public. When groups of people are separated with little interaction it becomes vastly easier to convince a group that the other is all bad. While this stance against actual terrorists can be effective, similar to the way facism is combated, the problem lies when the media paints all Arabs as terrorists. Suddenly your next door neighbor is plotting to bomb a park or shoot up a school and the distrust grows

While movies and TV play a part, it is nowhere clearer than in the headlines of newspaper articles about Muslims. Negative stories about Muslims simply a result of how journalists present news, since the violent Islamist terrorism and extremism of 9/11 U.S. newspapers associate Muslims with far more negativity than terrorism or extremism would explain. Further, articles about Muslims that have nothing to do with terrorism are substantially more negative than articles about Catholics, Jews or Hindus. Using words such as  “terrorism,” “extremism,” “radicalism,” “fundamentalism,” or “fanaticism,” or their variants. This negative slant hurts Arab men more than women, as the content of stories focuses on men. However, women are hardly mentioned at all presenting yet another issue.  Even if articles about Muslims or Islam that don’t mention terrorism or extremism are still very negative.  In this link, is a research made by the Washington Post about how newspapers portray Muslims and the tone of the articles.   

“Islamic Relief UK” Link

The reason that grouping a section of people together and identifying them as the enemy is a problem comes from the human tendency to group people as an in-group and an out-group. In-group biases is the pattern of favoring people of a group you belong too while excluding people that are in other groups. When the media begins to label Arabs and Muslims as the “enemy” or as terrorists, they are effectively creating a group that the in-group, in this case wealthy white Americans, can discriminate against. It is much easier to hate a group of people that you are told are bad when you see them as a monolith. This is the reason that representation of various people are so important in the media. When the group changes from patriots versus Arab people to Americans or just people, through the inclusion of true to life characters in media it becomes much harder to hate a group of people.

This in-group out-group think is especially prominent in and against groups of men of both sides. Many men are conditioned from a young age to see things as a black and white fight. Sports teams fight till the bitter end, the army is an instrument of power against all the baddies in the world, etc. etc.. When you combine this thinking with the role of violence that has been placed upon men, by themselves mind you, but placed upon men none the less it becomes much easier to wonder if your male Arab friend or the guy sitting across from you on the bus is plotting an act of terrorism.

This group think is most obvious to recognize in political cartoons. Political cartoons serve as a way to satirize or depict an event in an easily palatable way. The last time that a group of people were labeled as the “enemy” of civilization was during WWII with the “Axis of Evil” being portrayed in the media. I would like to compare these two cartoons, one depicting ISIS, and the other depicting the NAZIs, in order to pick apart what making a group the enemy looks like.

“The Peninsula” / “David Low Political Cartoon”
Link / Link

The key feature of these political cartoons is the united front that is depicted against a common enemy. In the first cartoon we see a depiction of a terrorist celebrating over the terrorist attacks that they have succeeded in carrying out. Behind the celebrating terrorist is an arm with a bomb, including a drawn on star representing the good old star spangled banner, on the arm is written “Emerging Global Anti-ISIS alliance. In the second cartoon we see a collection of major players during the second world war, including Winston Churchill, Clement Attle, and Nye Bevin, getting ready to get work done and combat the eminent threat of the NAZIs. 

In addition to the depiction of a common enemy we see a prominent display of male actors. You very rarely see an act of violence carried out by a woman on the news or in these cartoons. This lends credence to the idea that men are adversely affected by the labeling of Arabs as terrorists. After all it’s shown that most terrorists are males as they currently have a rather large monopoly on violence. Both cartoons succeed in creating a solid in-group ready to go to war with an out-group. It seems easy to see why then people would believe that we might be at war with Arabs.


It might be obvious then that terrorists are treated as the other. However drawing the connection between terrorists being the other and all Arabs being the other might not seem connected. So how then does the media connect all Arabs

“Islamic Relief UK” Link
“The Global Mail” Link

As the Second World War loomed, the Daily Mail began to change its editorial line and moved away from explicitly supporting fascists and their regimes. But, the racism and xenophobia remained a key part of their ‘journalism’ and has continued through to this day.

Cartoons like these depict all Arab immigrants as being a “plague”. Elements of this cartoon like this one.  According to Pew Research The Daily Mail published this cartoon, “likening migrants to rats. Not only is the cartoon racist in its portrayal of Muslims – one man cannot be seen in any other detail other than his beard and a rifle poking out of his bag” What Pew is attempting to discuss is the portrayal of Arabs as one group of people. When people see cartoons like this they are more likely to treat all Arabs as terrorists of varying degrees.

Once People believe that all Arabs are Terrorists of varying degrees what actions might be carried out against them? Well rather ironically it turns out to be a bunch of Domestic Terrorism fueled by hate and justified as necesary. The following two images relate to the direct implications of the narrative that the media has pushed onto Arab people. You might not be able to lead a horse to water and get him to drink but if you lead hundreds of thousands of horses at least a few will end up committing an atrocity.

“CNN”
Link

In Murfreesboro, TN, on July 18, 2012 the county refused to inspect for and issue a certificate of occupancy to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. The state chancery court claimed that the county had improperly approved plans for the islamic center of murfreesboro, and ordered that the county did not have to issue a certificate of occupancy to the center. However the members of the center believed that this ruling was racially or religiously motivated and brought it to the federal level. Which then ruled that the county had to allow for the mosque to open provided the building passed for inspection.

“City Pages”
Link

In Minneapolis, Minnesota five Somali men dressed in traditional Muslim garb were heading to a Ramadan dinner when Anthony Sawina verbally assaulted the group and then proceed to pull out a gun and begin to shoot. Luckily no one died but two were wounded, none of the victims were armed, and none of the victims shot back. The court ruled that the case was a racially motivated issue and charged Anthony Sawina with five counts of second degree felony assault with a deadly weapon.

These are only two cases of many more across the western region as described through the Department of Justice (link). It would appear then that the anti-Arab sentiment in media has fueled to some degree the ideas of hateful people. This leads to quantifiable violence and needs to be stopped.


However the future looks bright. Already we have increased exposure to Arab media through platforms like Netflix. Sadly this hasn’t meant that all coverage is positive. One example is when Saudi Arabia became less conservative in regards to women’s rights where history was made that allowed women to drive, travel without having the permission of their male guardian, and had job opportunities in male dominant companies. While the media coverage of this event has been generally positive it feeds into the idea that many Americans have. Simply that all Arabs are from the same place, share the same culture, and religion. While in fact this is quite the opposite, Saudi Arabia is only one part of the Arab community and strides there do not mean strides across the board. 

“C-Span” Link

The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.

George W. Bush

Arab Americans are one of the main groups in the U.S. community, yet they do not receive adequate attention in terms of academic studies or media representation. According to the U.S. census bureau, as of 2000, almost 1.2 million Arabs were counted in the U.S., compared to 860,000 in 1990 and 610,000 in 1980. This means that the Arab population in the U.S. has almost doubled over the past two decades (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). Further, according to the Arab American Institute (AAI), the 2000 census did not count Arab Americans who failed to respond to the census forms. If properly counted, this would bring the population total for Arabs living in the U.S. up to 3.5 million people (AAI, 2005). Hence, with this rapid increase of the Arab population in the U.S., more attention needs to be given to this minority group, and more studies are needed to provide a better understanding of Arabs and Muslims and to eliminate existing stereotypes and misunderstandings of the group’s culture, values and religion. There are currently many studies on other foreign-born groups such as Latin Americans and Asian Americans, but only a few studies on Arabs in general and Arab Americans in specific. 

“NY Times” Link

In my personal experience, I was born in Dallas, raised in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Coming to the United States, I have encountered several of my friends asking me questions like “Oh, your brother approves of you dating?” or “oh, your brother is cool to let you express your freedom”. These inquiries have brought to my attention how men are portrayed in the American mindset, when men including my brother and father always gave us our rights and maybe more to express ourselves and follow our dreams like any other human being. Most men in the Arab community are like my brother and my father, yet the narrative spun by the media has made them out to be the bad guy. Hopefully our nation will continue to grow towards the acceptance of all people.

Biblography

Combating Post-9/11 Discriminatory Backlash. (2015, August 06). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.justice.gov/crt/combating-post-911-discriminatory-backlash-6

Kelly, D. (2012, March 09). London 2012 Olympics: Plastic Brits insult our Games – Des Kelly. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/article-2112899/London-2012-Olympics-Plastic-Brits-insult-Games–Des-Kelly.html

Kishi, K. (2020, May 30). Anti-Muslim assaults reach 9/11-era levels, FBI data show. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/21/anti-muslim-assaults-reach-911-era-levels-fbi-data-show/

Media portrayals of Muslims: A comparative sentiment analysis of American newspapers, 1996–2015. (2018, November 08). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21565503.2018.1531770?journalCode=rpgi20

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