Reel Bad Arabs
If you doubt the depth of the racism that feeds the likes of Peter King, Newt Gingrich or Glenn Beck, take a closer look as the diet of racial stereotypes and demonization that has become so familiar it is barely noticed.
In 2006, a gut-wrenching documentary film explored these depths. It came. It went. You probably never heard of it. But it is more relevant today than ever. In Reel Bad Arabs, which you can and should watch for free right here, Dr. Jack Shaheen shows in relentless, shocking detail the extent to which Arabs and, by popular conflation, all Muslims have become the Hollywood’s reliably acceptable race to kill, to demonize, to blame and to fear. But not really fear, because they are also shown to be inept, soul-less, subhuman and slimy. It is the classic line each racist must tread, between the fear needed to incite violence and sustain discrimination while also risking the elevation of the menace to the point of being a real threat to one’s own superiority. If they can win, doesn’t it mean they might actually be superior?
It is a problem that the Jim Crow South worked tirelessly to solve. They did so through their own campaign of terror, of lynchings and cross-burnings and the extra-Constitutional use of force and segregation. And they did it with a barrage of socially accepted cartoons, movies and racist imagery.
It is a problem we’ve seen play out at Abu Ghraib, through indiscriminate drone attacks on wedding parties and the persistent support of the American people through their government of one brutal dictatorship after another. It is a problem encapsulated at Gitmo, where we store them in a state of the art concentration camp and use them as guineas pigs. And we’ve got vile cartoons from Disney, the onslaught of conscience-numbing movies and the widely-accepted imagery of evil, dark Arabs.
We have consistently, if slowly and belligerently, discarded one racist idea after another. Make no mistake, it is in our national interest to discard one more. Let the people of Egypt and Libya and Yemen and Bahrain know that we see them as human beings, with human desires and foibles. But human beings, nonetheless.