The Process of Dehumanization
The extent to which 21st Century American culture is imbued by anti-Arab racism
By Ernest A. Canning – 8/21/2009
As revealed [in an] Egypt Today review, Jack Shaheen’s study of early 20th Century films exposed Hollywood’s application of “the generic ‘Ali Baba kit’ comprising of lecherous, barbaric Arab men flanked by erotic belly dancers.” Just as African American men were cast as lusting after white women in the Jim Crow era, these early films depicted the “prize of every Sheikh’s harem” as “the abducted American woman who bravely fights off her sinister master’s sexual advances.”
These disparaging images morphed into an even more sinister caricature of Arabs in the post World War II era — images that coincided with the advent of the Arab/Israeli conflict, the early 70s oil embargo and the Iranian hostage crisis. Against a backdrop of a reality in which intelligent Arab women today are “succeeding in all professions,” Sheehan laments, Hollywood replaced the erotic image of the belly dancer with projections of the Arab woman “as a bomber, a terrorist.” Added to this is what Shaheen calls “’bundles in black,’ veiled women in the background, in the shadows, submissive.”
The threat of Arab/Muslim terrorists finds its ultimate embodiment in Rules of Engagement, a film which was written by former Secretary of the Navy and now U.S. Senator James Webb (D-VA); a film Shaheen describes as “the most racist.”
Shaheen described the action, which takes place in Yemen:
There are violent demonstrations at the American embassy, and the Marines, led by Samuel L. Jackson…open fire on the crowd and kill scores of Yemeni, including women and children. And in the investigation that follows, Tommy Lee Jones, the lawyer who represents the Samuel L. Jackson character, goes to Yemen to investigate….He follows [a one-legged little girl to a hospital ward where he discovers a videotape which when translated states that it is the duty of every Muslim to kill Americans.] We discover that the Yemeni civilians aren’t so innocent after all. It turns out they fired on the Marines first. And in a moment that will live in Hollywood infamy, we suddenly learn that the little girl we’ve been sympathizing with, the very girl whose humanity and innocence may have broken down our stereotypes, well, she’s no better than those other Yemeni terrorists. As a result, when Samuel L. Jackson delivers the key line — [“Waste the mother fuckers”] — we’re now on his side.
“Why does it matter? Shaheen asks. “Because in the end, the massacre of even women and children has been justified….It’s a slaughter, but it’s a righteous slaughter.” [...]
Neil Simon’s Chapter Two underscores the disparity between the presently dehumanized Arab and the formerly dehumanized African-American. The film begins with the protagonist, George Schneider, returning from London. “How was London?” his brother asks. “Full of Arabs,” Schneider replies.
“Imagine,” Shaheen states, “”if he had said, ‘Full of blacks,’ ‘Full of Jews’….”
As the Don Imus story reveals, one does not have to imagine. If Beck had openly questioned Barack Obama’s loyalty because he was an African American in the same manner that he questioned Keith Ellison’s loyalty because Ellison is a Muslim, Beck’s career would have been over.
Beck is hardly alone in his dehumanized conception of Muslims. Consider some of the words of America’s Eva Braun, aka Ann Coulter.
Writing about Muslims on Sept. 12, 2001 for the National Review, Coulter said, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” In a Dec. 21, 2005 column, Coulter wrote: :” “I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo.”
When her use of the words “camel jockeys” was challenged during an October 1, 2006 appearance on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes, Coulter responded with sarcasm: “Oh. Yeah. No. They killed 3,000 Americans. I’ll be very careful with my language.”
In her November 30, 2006 column Coulter took the NAACP to task for speaking up for Muslims who had been subjected to racial profiling at airports. Coulter wrote:
The only reason Americans feel guilty about ‘racial profiling’ against blacks is because of the history of discrimination against blacks in this country. What did we do to the Arabs? I believe Americans are the victims in that relationship. After the attacks of 9/11, profiling Muslims is more like profiling the Klan.
The extent to which American culture is imbued with anti-Muslim racism helps to explain the ease with which the Bush administration succeeded in falsely linking Iraq to al Qaeda and 9/11. While the administration doctored intelligence, lied about WMD and links to al Qaeda, Bush and Cheney never flat-out accused Saddam Hussein of complicity in 9/11. They didn’t have to. Against a backdrop of the televised images of burning towers, grainy photos of hijackers, and black-garbed, gun-wielding terrorists in training camps, Bush and Cheney laced their pre-invasion speeches with references to terrorists, 9/11 and WMD. The terrorists attacked us on 9/11. We don’t want the “smoking gun” to come in the form of “a mushroom” cloud.