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A complex issue

Reader comment on item: "24" and Hollywood's Discovery of Radical Islam

Submitted by Sam Actor (United States), Jan 12, 2005 at 03:51

Dear Mr. Pipes,

I have yet to read any responses which in any way challenge the assertions you make in your article-- so I'm not sure that this will be posted. But I would like to offer you my perspective as an actor of Arab descent. I feel a HUGE degree of ambivalence on this topic. You might be surprised to learn that I do agree with you in some ways. "Political correctness" often creates an environment that stifles creativity and straight-forwardness in theater/tv/film. Any show that attempts to deal with America's current political climate must acknowledge that fundamentalist Islam poses a threat to the security of our nation and to our global economic interests (althought the latter point is rarely featured in thriller nail-biters such as "24"). Insomuchas America's poorly devised War on Terror has exacerbated this threat by creating a terrorist breeding ground in Iraq, virtually assuring new generations of Al Qaeda devotees-- the issue is particularly relevant now. So why shouldn't Arab terrorists be on a TV show? They are not a figment of our imagination. They are real, and they could potentially harm us. While it is fair to debate whether the media and entertainment industry makes unfair generalizations about everyday ordinary Muslims (which they often do), it is also fair for TV shows with political themes to base their content on our actual political atmosphere. Shows like "24" should strive to do so responsibly, but cannot and will not please everyone. For every Muslim outraged by depictions of Arabs, there is a right-wing Christian outraged by tv's acceptance of gay culture, a gay man outraged by tv's depiction of gay culture, and a Jew angry about a movie's depiction of Biblical accounts (The Passion), and an Italian outraged by the latest TV series based on the Mafia. Keeping all viewers unoffended is tough work.

But let's face it: The talks between Fox and the American-Islamic Council about "24" are really no more than a charade that the networks agree to perform in order to maintain the network's reputation, appease special interest groups, and give the illusion of concern. This caretaking measure helps to ensure viewer dedication, ratings, or dvd sales. However, the whimpers of the offended are of little importance to network executives. The offended Muslims in this case are probably not watching "24" anyways, so why should FOX be worried about losing viewers that they don't even have? A network's bottom line is simply getting people to watch their programming- and fear keeps American eyes glued to the screen. Reductive stereotypes help to instill this fear. What better way to paralyze Americans in front of their tvs than to make them question the moral integrity of their token Muslim acquaintances?

By now Americans are accustomed to being either scared to death or just disgusted by the Arabs they see on TV-- the ones beheading innocent people or the humiliated prisoners (a.k.a "hostile insurgents") being piled naked in pyramids. But fortunately for America, those scary Muslims live overseas. Shows like "24" beg you to reconsider: "What about the ones I know? The deli owner next-door, the cab driver, the engineer, the 14-year old dating my daughter-- can they really be trusted? Or might they be conspirators in an Al Qaeda plot to capture the Secretary of State?" These questions are so terrifying that they almost guarantee viewer loyalty when broadcast on network TV.

Practically speaking, I realize that these depictions will persist as long as they are profitable and seemingly related to the world's political state. Yet, it is truly a shame that the questions of terrorism and religious fanaticism have almost always been the only points of reference for media depiction of Arabs. When Arabs are not depicted as terrorists, they are shown as either religious fanatics who beat their wives in accordance to their understanding of the Koran or, on the positive side, patriotic American workers for the CIA counter-terrorism unit. Whether the depictions are negative, they are always in reference to terrorism (for it/ against it). Networks must believe that this is the only aspect of Arab identity that interests American viewers.

As a Lebanese Christian (no, I was never "converted") with Republican parents, this reality deeply saddens me. I can testify to the diversity of cultures, political beliefs, and religious convictions within the Arab community. Yet as an Arab actor, I am typically asked to present only one image: that of a crazed, hardened, radical West-hating, duplicitous Islamist monster. Why is this? My heritage is beautiful, complex, and flawed-- just like anyone's heritage. I pray that one day film-makers and networks will have the courage to explore aspects of Arab identity wholly unrelated to current world politics or ingrained assumptions about religion. They might be pleasantly surprised at the richness that they could find, and I might finally land an acting role that I can actually relate to.

Sam
Submitting....

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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