Morocco World News
Fez, March 19, 2012
Much debate has been taking place over presenting the World as two main categories: ‘the Self’ and ‘the Other’. In postcolonial studies, this subject has always brought much debate and controversy for the unfair and unjust indications that the two terms might refer to. The reason behind this debate is that ‘the Self’ is almost always deemed as superior and is linked to all positive connotations; on the contrary, ‘the Other’ is almost always delegated to an inferior position.
Postcolonial theorists such as Edward Said, Homi Bhabha Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and many others have dwelt on this constructed binary division of the world into two different parts; the enlightened and civilized West and the uncivilized ‘Other’; which is the ‘Orient’. This dichotomy has been noticed in and through different genres such as travel narratives, novels, photography, documentaries and movies as well.
Jack Shaheen’s book Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People which was turned into a documentary film, is a good example that demonstrates how the world has been seen as two completely different parts that are composed of a lot of contradictions. The film explores a long line of degrading images of Arabs in 900 Western movies. In this film documentary, Shaheen argues that Westerners have inherited the Arab image primarily from European travelers in the early ages. Westerners who travelled to the Middle East conjured up these images of the Arab as the ‘Oriental Other’. Thus, these constructed images were transmitted and inherited by all Westerners, which resulted in forming certain fixed images whenever a word related to ‘Arabs’ is mentioned.
In Western movies, Arab women are projected as belly dancers and other times as terrorists. Also, Islam, in general, has always been dealt with and presented to the Western audience as a religion of fear and terror. This is in addition to linking the Arab land with desert, presenting it as a threatening and dangerous place.
All these images, in fact, stand behind a policy that puruses tow goals: to reduce the Arab World to the uncivilized category that is in need for the West to bring civilization and development to it, and picture this region as a threath that must be containad at all costs. Hence the wars that Western countries have been waging in Arab countries over the past century. Since the Arab world sits on unparalleled natural resources (oil, gas, etc), to present Arabs as dangerous and unsavory people is the best tool used by Western opinion shapers to mobilize the masses behind theirs political leader’s aggressive policies against Arab countries.
This biased and agenda-driven presentation of Arabs by Hollywood lead to unwanted consequences that further strain relations on different levels between the East and the West. To conterbalance this trend, a number of researchers, critics and anlysts are striving to give an otherwise more genuine image of Arabs and the diversity of their cultures and make people aware of the multiple dimensions of what they see, watch and even read.
If there is any message behind Reel Bad Arabs documentary, it is, for sure, a call for a counter-discourse to these stereotypical images about Arabs in Hollywood. It is, actually, a challenge to recognize the urgent need for a counter narrative that shows the real and true nature of Arabs and that do justice to the diversity and the humanity of Arab people and the reality and richness of Arab history and culture.
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