Arab Muslims Misrepresented in Popular Culture

    When the twin towers fell on September eleventh so did the remaining good views that some people had of Arab Muslims. This reflected into popular culture. The popular culture perception forced law-abiding Arab Muslims to deal with hate crimes, racial profiling, discrimination, and bullying; Arab Muslims are mostly commonly portrayed as violent, untrustworthy, and as terrorists.

    In Eefa Shehzad’s Ted Talk she stated that out of 1000 films from 1896 to 2007 that contained Middle Eastern Arab references 12 were positive, 52 were neutral, and over 900 were negative. In Disney’s Aladdin the movies original opening song was “Oh, I come from a land, From a faraway place, Where the caravan camels roam, Where they cut off your ear it they don’t like your face, It’s Barbaric, but, hey, it’s home.” These lyrics made it sound like Arabs were violent and like the song said, barbaric. Aladdin had a lot of other misrepresentations of Arabs in the movie. Another example of how Arab men are violent would the merchant selling fruit. He wanted to cut off Princess Jasmine’s hand when she gave the little boy one of his apples. Not only was the merchant very aggressive and violent but the guards were as well. The guards were very harsh toned and were running around with swords ready to stab someone. This made Arab men seem so harsh, short tempered, and violent to the audience. If the audience paid close attention to the characters they would see that the Arab men, not including Aladdin, were drawn to look grotesque with big noses and evil looking eyes. To me and a lot of other Arabs in the world we see and take offense on how our people are constantly misrepresented in popular culture. Being seen as a violent person in movies like this makes people automatically generalize that we are violent people running around wanting to cut off limbs off other people.

    Movies like Aladdin misrepresent and offend Arabs but so do TV shows. A very popular show called Homeland gets a lot of controversy when it came to some of the content that was presented about Arab Muslims. One of the shows main characters is a U.S. marine named Nicholas Brody. Brody was captured and tortured, in which the audience inferences in Afghanistan or Iraq, then returns home as a Muslim. When people found out that Brody became a Muslim he became the enemy. He was instantly thought to be a traitor leaking information all because it didn’t make sense that he was Muslim. When he finally came home he was assigned a CIA officer, Carrie Mathison, to watch him and keep him under surveillance because the government didn’t trust him and thought he became a terrorist. He became untrusted not only by his country which he served but also his very own wife the one who is supposed to be there for better or for worse. She goes as far as to through the Quran on the ground and yells at him for converting. From the moment that Brody was seen as a Muslim he was instantly seen untrustworthy. In Melissa Biogon’s Ted Talk she points out how 1.72 million people who watch Homeland saw and learned that Islam is violent religion and has terrorism surrounding it. She always talks about how the show plays off Islamophobia, destroying people’s ability to view Islam as a religion of peace. Homeland sends messages to the viewer that Muslims are not to be trusted because they are the enemy and are a threat to this country. It is the actions of the individual that tells you wither that person should be trusted. A person’s religious status or ethnicity doesn’t define their trustworthiness.

    Not only are Arab Muslims seen as violent and untrustworthy, they are also seen as terrorists. One of the main popular culture artifacts that really target Arab Muslims as terrorist are video games. Arab Muslims are always portrayed as terrorist in video games. They are either the evil henchmen or the main threat in the game. Games that portray Muslim this way are Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, America’s Army, Conflict Desert Storm II: Back to Baghdad, Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, Counter Strike Condition Zero, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, and KumaWar. In these games the enemy is the always the stereotypical Arab Muslim that has a turban, with long loose clothes, dark tan skin, and beard. The Arabs are always portrayed as suicide bombers, angry mobsters, and car bombers. In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare when your character has a group of Arab Muslims and goes to a Russian airport shooting people in the name of Muhammad, the main prophet of Islam. In Medal of Honor: Warfighter the enemy is an Arab man that has brown skin, a long gown, a thick beard, and an AK-47 in his hands shooting at you. A scene that is in most of these types of first person shooter games is where your character is just walking around and a crazed Arab man comes running at you in old dirty clothes and bare feet with a AK-47 in his hands shooting and screaming in Arabic and saying religious Muslim sayings, such as “Allahu Akbar”. These are just a few examples on how Arab Muslims are seen as terrorist in video games. After playing these games Arab Muslims feel like a plague and should be purged from society.

   Even though through the history of western media Arabs have been shown as the bad guy there is a glimmer of hope showing that Arabs can be good. One of these would be from the movie called “escape plan”. When Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone characters were trying to escape it was the Arab man, named Javed, that gave them the intel and helped a man held against his will be free. He also gave up his own life to see that the mission was a success showing that an Arab would go as far as to die for something that is right. He became a hero. He is a great example of an Arab Muslim that put his life on the line to protect his friends. Arab Muslims can finally root for a person that is like them that was finally the “good guy”. Hollywood aside there is also a more real example in the media with a show called “All American Muslims” where its shows a Muslim acting completely normal just like anyone else in the world. This show follows a Muslim family and you can see even though they have a faith they are not just the basic bomber terrorist. It shows that they also live a normal life just like every other American family hence the name all American. This show gives people a different perceptive of Arab Muslims. They can relate to their families and everyday lives. They get to see that Arab Muslims aren’t the people that are shown in the movies, TV shows, or video games.

       As an Arab Muslim I constantly feel like popular culture is attacking me for my beliefs and ethnicity. When I went to my family’s home country, Jordan, I felt as if I was constantly watched at the airport. The workers were very aggressive and strict with us. When I went through the scanners I had to get searched by not only one worker, but two. My dad was picked for “randomly selected” to searched by the airport security. I have multiple friends whose parents have very racist and prejudice views about who I am. When I tell them that I am an Arab Muslim I feel a very tense environment, as if I was no longer welcome in their house because I would do something to them or their child. Through high school mainly I was constantly called terrorist or bomber. I had people purposely disrespect my religion by dressing up in tradition Arab clothing and pretending to blow up the busses. I am constantly seen as an untrustworthy person and a threat to people’s safety because I am an Arab Muslim.

    Just like the towers being rebuilt so can the reputation of Arabs as the history started showing that Arabs are not all black and white that they are people too and not just mindless explosions. Even though the hatred flows through the veins of western media which ignites the anger of the western world which then get directed at all Arabs there is some hope getting passed the blind bias. When in reality about 99% of Muslims ignore the call of the extremist such as Al Qaeda. It is up to the people to see that not all Arabs are violent like the merchant in Aladdin, or untrustworthy like the Marine Nicholas Brody in Homeland, or even a terrorist like modern day video games suggest. For when it comes down to it Muslim or Arab we are all the same we are all human even though modern media displays otherwise for before Arabs it was the Asians and before them it was Russians all shown as “the bad guy” but now seem only human not just good nor bad.


Eefa Shehzad’s Ted Talk: “Middle Eastern and Muslim Stereotypes in Media : Eefa Shehzad at TEDxYouth@ISBangkok.” YouTube. YouTube, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014. <;.

Disney’s Aladdin: Aladdin. Dir. Ron Clements. Perf. Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin. Walt Disney Productions, 1992. Film.

Homeland TV show: <i>Homeland</i>.  Showtime . 2011. Television.

Melissa Boigon’s Ted Talk: “Islamophobia: Melissa Boigon at TEDxGallatin 2013.” YouTube. YouTube, 22 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 May 2014. <;.

Escape Plan: Escape plan. Dir. Mikael Håfström. Perf. Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger. N.a, 2013. Film.

All-American Muslim TV show: All-American Muslim. O’Connell, Jennifer, and Dan Peirson. TLC. 2011. Television.


5 thoughts on “Arab Muslims Misrepresented in Popular Culture

  1. Sereen
    “it is the actions of the individual that tells you wither that person should be trusted. A person’s religious status or ethnicity doesn’t define their trustworthiness.” I really like these sentences because they are so true. There are so many people in the world that are convinced that because they subscribe to a certain set of beliefs that they are morally superior, when in fact many of them are crappy human beings. The most obvious example that I can think of that moment is the Westboro Baptist Church. They think that because they are Christians that they’re righteous and good, yet they celebrate death and picket funerals. What it all comes down to is not what you believe in, but what you do with your beliefs.

    • I agree with you Ben, those sentences are very true. I have some teammates who are fairly religous and they can be kind of judgemental at times. It’s like they can’t imagine someone having a different set of beliefs as they do or that its wrong.You can still be a crappy person even if you believe in something rightous because your representing those beliefs in a negative way.

  2. Nice essay. Greta to see it progress through the course. The Escape Plan movie you referenced, its sad to see that the muslim guy still dies (read: is martyred, maybe its own “slightly” less discriminatory portrayal). I look forward to the day that a Muslim (let alone a dark skinned one) is the protagonist. Also the video game section was really eye opening. I read many articles about the tendency of video games to be geared towards white American men, but the amount of Muslim bashing is really troubling. As someone who doesn’t play those games it was eye opening.

  3. Sereen, I really enjoyed reading your essay. You brought up some excellent points about belief systems and the idea of “moral superiority”. I very much enjoyed reading you take on video games and how the focus on white american males is so dominant. Upon relfection, while I am not a gamer at all, I have noticed this trend over the years. This protagonist archetype is highly innacurate and lacking in diversity! I hope the the gaming world expands to accomidate all types of hero, not just a single demographic of men. Thank you for your essay!

  4. Hello, Sereen,
    I like the way you describe Arabs in pop culture, I have seen the Show on HBO, Homeland, and yes, many people talk about Arabs as Terrorist, or they had something to do with 9/11, and when shows like Law & Order SVU, comes on NBC, they always chase the Muslim guy who is wearing long white shirt and long beard. Its get old but pop culture takes it too far to entertain lesser minds, Good essay….

Comments are closed.