Chances are you have seen action movies where you see negative portrayals of Arab characters, whether they be in turbans, desert camos, or suits and ties. Or probably you’ve also seen main characters in a movie talk about the Arabs as some distant, primitive people. Indeed, Hollywood has numerous portrayals of “Arabs” with all their supposedly negative characters, ex. lewdness, anger, cruelness, cowardice, etc. Jack Shaheen discusses those portrayals in his book Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. He argues in his book that if the slurs and all the negative epithets were used for Black people, Jews, or Native Americans, they would easily fall into the category of racism.
So, today Jack Shaheen is in town. He is giving a lecture on the same topic that he discusses in his book. This evening–yes, this evening, just a few hours back–the Middle East and Islamic Studies Center of the University of Arkansas organized a screening of a documentary based on Dr. Jack Shaheen’s book, also entitled Reel Bad Arabs. I went to the screening and had the chance to talk a little bit with Dr. Shaheen. For those of you who are interested in the topic, you can please watch this embedded video. You’ll probably be shocked to know that some of the action movies you loved as a kid turn out to have such vilification of the Arabs.
By the way, if you go to the youtube account, you might find some anti-zionist rhetoric. That’s probably the uploader’s opinion, because as far as I’m concerned from the discussion today, Dr. Shaheen didn’t explicitly show such tendency. As an academic–albeit a retired one–Dr. Shaheen is concerned more about the vilification and how unjust such a practice is. In reply to a question by a member of the audience about how Dr. Shaheen had kept his resilience to “defend” the Arabs after all these years and incidents (9/11 and other terrorist attacks globally), he explicitly said that he didn’t intend to “defend” a people; he is more interested in evaluating how Americans see the Arabs and the negative implications of such a predilection.