Stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims in the United States

Stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims in the United States have been presented in various forms by the mass media in the American culture. Stereotypical representations of Arabs are often manifested in a society's media, literature, theater and other creative expressions. These representations, which have been historically and predominantly negative, have adverse repercussions for Arab Americans and Muslims in daily interactions and in current events. In American textbooks, which theoretically should be less-creative expressions, similar negative and inaccurate stereotypes are also found for Arabs[1] and Muslims.[2]

20th century cinemaEdit

Rudolph Valentino's roles in The Sheik (1921) and The Son of the Sheik (1926) set the stage for the exploration and negative portrayal of Arabs in Hollywood films.[citation needed] Both The Sheik and The Son of the Sheik represented Arab characters as thieves, charlatans, murderers, and brutes.

Other foreign movies of the 1920s share a common theme of power-hungry, brutal Arabs ultimately defeated by westerners:[citation needed]

Simon singles out A Son of the Sahara (1924) as "the strongest subconscious attack on the Arab culture of all the Arab movies of the 1920s."[3]

The same themes prevailed into the 1970s and beyond:[citation needed]

Billionaires, bombers, and belly dancersEdit

A report titled "100 Years of Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim stereotyping" by Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, director of media relations for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, specifies what some in the Arab American community call "the three B syndrome": "Arabs in TV and movies are portrayed as either bombers, belly dancers, or billionaires" in reference to Arab men being portrayed either as terrorists or as wealthy oilmen, and Arab women being portrayed as sex objects. Also the report mentioned that even cartoons have been insulting to Arab and Muslims and how the people who live in the US and interact with its community are the most affected by these stereotypes because they will be treated differently at many points. The report also explains that these stereotypes don't only cause psychological harm (culture, insult) but also helps feed into actions that are physically harmful by dehumanizing a group first before attacking it. According to Mazin B. Qumsiyeh:

Thomas Edison made a short film in 1897 for his patented Kinetoscope in which "Arab" women with enticing clothes dance to seduce a male audience. The short clip was called Fatima Dances (Belly dancer stereotype). The trend has shifted over the years and was dominated by the "billionaires" for a short while especially during the oil crises in the seventies. However, in the last 30 years, the predominant stereotype by far has been the "Arab bombers."[5]

In a piece in the Los Angeles Times published July 28, 1997, Laila Lalami offers a 12-step guide to making a successful Arab-bashing movie, including such items as "the villains must all have beards", "they must all wear keffiehs", "they must all have names like Ali, Abdul or Mustapha" and "have them threaten to blow something up."[6][7]

After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Arab-American actors have found themselves even more likely to be type-cast as a terrorist.[8]

Jack Shaheen, Professor Emeritus of Mass Communications at Southern Illinois University, documented these trends in his book The TV Arab (ISBN 0-87972-309-2), which identifies more than 21 major movies released over ten years which show the U.S. military killing Arabs with Arabs depicted as being terrorists or enemies of the United States. These include:

In Reel Bad Arabs (ISBN 1-84437-019-4), Shaheen writes that "television's image of the Arab is omnipresent [and] is becoming a part of American folklore." He also writes that Arabs have "consistently appeared in American popular culture as billionaires, bombers, and belly dancers."[9]

Arab Muslims are fanatics who believe in a different god, who don't value human life as much as we do, they are intent on destroying us (the west) with their oil or with their terrorism; the men seek to abduct and brutally seduce our women; they are without family and reside in a primitive place (the desert) and behave like primitive beings. The women are subservient — resembling black crows — or we see them portrayed as mute, somewhat exotic harem maidens.[10]

The movies which Shaheen identifies as the five worst in terms of negative portrayal of Arabs in modern films are:

The problem of these stereotypes is the main focus of the semi-autobiographical film Driving to Zigzigland, where the actor/taxi driver Bashar Daas finds himself being invariably typecast as an Arab Muslim extremist in US film auditions.[11][12][13]

Another stereotypical character is Achmed The Dead Terrorist by Jeff Dunham which has been named mockingly on the prophet of Islam's second name Ahmad. However there has been no action or reaction from the American public and human rights or any religious group against this and other stereotypical characters in this show till date. [14]

Airport racial profiling after the 9/11 AttacksEdit


In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were of Saudi Arabian origin and all were of Muslim faith, Arabs and Muslims complained of increased scrutiny and racial profiling at airports. In a poll conducted by the Boston Globe, 71 percent of Blacks and 57 percent of Whites believed that "Arabs and Arab-Americans should undergo special, more intensive security checks before boarding airplanes."[15][16] Some Muslims and Arabs have complained of being held without explanation and subjected to hours of questioning and arrest without cause. Such cases have led to lawsuits being filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.[17] Fox News radio host Mike Gallagher suggested that airports have a "Muslims Only" line in the wake of the 9/11 attacks stating "It's time to have a Muslims check-point line in America's airports and have Muslims be scrutinized. You better believe it, it's time."[18] In Queens, New York, Muslims and Arabs have complained that the NYPD is unfairly targeting Muslim communities in raids tied to the alleged Zazi terror plot.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Null, J. Wesley, ed. (2008). American Educational History Journal Volume 35, Number 1 And 2 2008. Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Pub. ISBN 9781617351037. OCLC 841367217.
  2. ^ Douglass, Susan L.; Dunn, Ross E. (2003-07-01). "Interpreting Islam in American Schools". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 588 (1): 52–72. doi:10.1177/0002716203588001005. ISSN 0002-7162. S2CID 143796258.
  3. ^ Simon, Scott J. "Arabs in Hollywood: An Undeserved Image". Latent Image. Emerson College. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  4. ^ "Back to the Future (1985) Quotes". Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  5. ^ Qumsiyeh, Mazin B. "100 Years of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotyping". The Prism. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  6. ^ Lalami, Laila. "Why Hollywood Owes Me Money". MoorishGirl. Archived from the original on 2002-06-09.
  7. ^ Lalami, Laila (1997-07-28). "Arab-Bashing for Fun and Profit". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  8. ^ Khalil, Ashraf (2007-10-04). "But can you play a terrorist?". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  9. ^ "The Portrayal of Arabs in American Media". Archived from the original on July 13, 2006.
  10. ^ a b Kessler, Jim. "Patrick Harrington interviews, Jack Shaheen, author of Reel Bad Arabs". Archived from the original on 2008-07-05. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
  11. ^ Driving to Zigzigland – Official site. Retrieved Oct 2012.
  12. ^ Driving to Zigzigland IMDb, 2006. Retrieved Oct 2012.
  13. ^ War on terror drives Arab actor to "Zigzigland" Reuters, 14 Dec 2006. Retrieved 2 Oct 2012.
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Terror Probe Changes Face of Racial Profiling Debate". FOX News. 1 October 2001. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  16. ^ "Official: 15 of 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi". USA Today. 6 February 2002. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  17. ^ MacFarquhar, Neil (2006-06-01). "Terror Fears Hamper U.S. Muslims' Travel". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  18. ^ "Fox News Airs Suggestion for 'Muslim-Only' Airport Line". The Huffington Post. 16 August 2006. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  19. ^ Henrick Karoliszyn, Samuel Goldsmith (10 October 2009). "Muslim advocates charge NYPD is racial profiling". Daily News (New York). Archived from the original on 12 October 2009. Retrieved 17 May 2012.

Further readingEdit

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