American films and TV dramas portray Arabs and Muslims as fanatics and villains, ingraining harmful stereotypes and easing the path for U.S. foreign policy, a U.S. academic argues.
Jack Shaheen says Hollywood has castigated Arab and Muslims for decades but since the 9/ 11 attacks movies have become more damaging and vilifying Arabs and Muslims made the invasion of Iraq easier.
"In the United States, you can say anything you want about Islam and Arabs and get away with it. In other words, as someone said, 'You can hit an Arab free'," said Shaheen author of "Guilty -- Hollywood's Verdict on Arabs after 9/11".
"The images have remained primarily fixed and have only been changed in the sense that they have become more vindictive and damaging," Shaheen said in an interview in Beirut.
"What enables these images to persist and prevail? One of the primary reasons is silence," said Shaheen, a retired professor of mass communications.
"There's nobody in authority, no political leader, no Hollywood personality who has taken a stand and said that demonizing Arabs and Muslims is the same as demonizing Jews or blacks or Asians or any other racial or ethnic group."
Hollywood's depiction of Arabs has eased the path for U.S. administration policy, he argues. Decades of portraying Arabs and Muslims as the enemy "made it that much easier for us to go into Iraq", he said. "There were very few people protesting.
"The images help enforce policy," he said. "As the policy becomes more even-handed, perhaps films will reflect that.
"Arab children can't be trusted"
Shaheen, an American of Lebanese descent, has examined the treatment of Arabs and Muslims in some 1,000 films, including more than 100 shot since Sept. 11.
"What is done is selective framing of radicals: people saying 'death to America'. You cannot deny the reality -- there are people who really want to kill Americans. But those are basically the only images we see," Shaheen says.
He describes last year's "The Kingdom" -- an action movie about FBI agents hunting terrorists in Saudi Arabia -- as one of the most damaging depictions of Arabs of recent times in which "even Arab children cannot be trusted".
Shaheen also charts a new trend of turning American Arabs and Muslims into "the new bogey person" and criticizes the TV drama "24" for its "vicious images of loathsome Muslim Americans as well as Americans with Arab roots".
"Plato said: 'Those who tell the stories rule society'. Nothing has changed, and the story tellers of today have a tremendous impact on the world as we perceive it."
Shaheen is also the author of "Reel Bad Arabs -- How Hollywood Vilifies a People" and worked as a consultant on "Syriana" (2005) and "Three Kings" (1999).