Mirror Essay: The Depiction of Arabs in the Media

Mirror Essay Final

June 1, 2014

Mirror Essay: The Depiction of Arabs in the Media


As a male Arab and Muslim I am used to the many stereotypes that people have about me. These stereotypes are beliefs that have not emerged from real experiences, you know the kind where we observe something enough that we create a stereotype. Rather, most of the stereotypes about me are ones that come from the media. The stereotypes about me as well as the world that I am from are many, including the obvious such as the terrorist and woman hater. However, there are many other stereotypes about people from my culture such as that we act unethically and that we live in a desert with oil wells in our backyard.   It is through the media creation of stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims that many people have seen me in a negative light.

The stereotypes about Arabs are found in many places. There have been many movies that are made that show Arabs as terrorists while I have personally watched one too many episodes of Law and Order where there are Muslim Arabs who are planning a terrorist attack. Of course, one might expect such depictions of Arab Muslims as terrorists as there are Arab Muslims who are terrorists. The concern is, however, that there are just too many depictions of Arab and Muslim people being terrorists that create an image that a majority of Muslims hate the United States and that many would commit terrorist acts against the nation if they could.

It is due to such depictions that many see the Muslims of America as people who are the largest threat to the country. After all, there have been many American Muslim terrorists who have fortunately, been caught before they could carry out their plans. However, the reality is that the Muslims in this nation are actually not the largest threat to the nation in terms of terrorism. According to one news article several years after September 11, 2001 when many Americans saw Muslim as the largest threat to the nation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not agree. In fact, “”The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement,” said John Lewis, an FBI deputy assistant director and top official in charge of domestic terrorism” (Schuster). Yet, even with some people believing that American Muslims represent the largest risk to the nation, experts in this area do not agree.

The problem, it seems, is that there are many depictions of Arabs and Muslims that people easily believe and lead them to see us as terrorists. Young people learn from an early age that Arabs are different people and that the differences are negative ones. For example, in the film Aladdin a Disney Studios classic, the first song that we hear has a male voice sing “Where they cut off your ear, if they don’t like your face, It’s barbaric, but hey, its home” (“Racism in Aladdin”). Being a native in the Middle East, I know that people do not have their ears cut off because people do not like their faces. What I do know is that people are executed for crimes and that this seems to act as a deterrence against crimes such as rape and murder.

Aladdin shows negative images of Muslim Arabs in many ways. In fact, according to the Council for Arab-British Understanding, the stereotypes in Aladdin are seen with the moral characteristics of the character. The source states that in the film that “Most of the people-apart from Aladdin and Jasmin-are seen as thieving, violent, despotic, ruthless, and deceitful” (“Arabs and Aladdin-exploring stereotypes”). Moreover, the women are shown in stereotypical ways, the source notes, such as where the women are wearing veils or in belly dancing type dress. The women are also depicted as being either lecherous, the source states, or being subject to oppression. The women in my country actually wear many types of clothing, including western clothing, and many are not oppressed and won their own companies, attend school, and are free to make their own decisions.

In addition to the obvious negative characteristics of Arabs in the film Aladdin there are other ways that the film depicts the Arabs in a negative manner. According to the Council for Arab-British Understanding, “There is a trend whereby the bad characters are darker in colour and have grotesque features in general and larger noses in particular” (“Arabs and Aladdin-exploring stereotypes”). In contrast, the source states, the good characters such as Jasmin and Aladdin, are shown with Americanized accents and have lighter features. Clearly, there are subtle methods that the film uses that can create and perpetuate stereotypes.

Yet, Aladdin is not the only television program aimed at children that has negative depictions of Arabs. In fact, there are many examples of where well known cartoons have included anti-Arab plots and story lines. For example, “In Richie Rich, the hero “outsmarts an outlandish sheik.”  On Scooby-Doo, they “outwit Uncle Abdullah and his slippery genie.”  On Porky Pig “Ali-Baba bound, dumps a blackhearted Arab into a barrel of syrup.”  Bugs Bunny  “escapes from being boiled in oil by satisfying the whims of a sheik with an unnamed goat” (El-Farra). The problem with these depictions of Arabs that are aimed at children, El-Farra states, is that children see the world in narrow terms such as good versus evil and the suggestion is made that it is Arabs who are evil.

It is not only cartoons on television or in film that include negative depictions of Arabs. In fact, there are also many negative stereotypes of Arabs in video games. According to Muniba Saleem “Being an Arab video game character is almost synonymous with being a terrorist (e.g., Dill et al., 2005). Games like Call of Duty 4: Modern WarfareAmerica’s ArmyConflict Desert Storm II: Back to BaghdadDelta Force: Black Hawk DownCounter Strike Condition Zeroand Kuma/War have missions that take place in Middle Eastern settings or in anonymous Middle East-like settings” (Saleem). Having played several of these games, such as Black Hawk Down, I can attest to the fact that video games do have stereotypical images of Arabs, both men and women, such as where women are shown as covered and standing at a distance from men while the men are portrayed as killers that the video game player needs to stop.

While one might argue that the parents of young children who view various cartoons or play video games that portray Arabs in a negative light might try to teach their children that Arabs and Muslims are not all bad people, there is a chance that parents might not speak up. In fact, according to the article “Israeli Diplomat: All Arabs are Terrorist” the Israeli General Ambassador to the United Nations states that all Arabs are terrorists. However, as the article notes “nobody is calling the diplomat, Dan Gillerman, Israeli Ambassador to the UN, a racist or are there demands Fox news be investigated for racism and hatred” (“Israeli Diplomat: All Arabs are Terrorists”). Hence, it seems that no one cared about such comments when we see today that there are many people being called out for racist statements such as Paula Dee, a celebrity chef who used a negative word about African Americans twenty years ago and lost many of her sponsors as a result. Even more recently the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team made racist comments and this has become national news.

Not only is the problem of racism against Arabs and Muslims a problem that people are not addressing another problem is that the negative ideas about Arabs and Muslims have been learned for many years. In fact, according to the web site Arab Stereotypes there is a concept called Orientalism which is “the acceptance in the West of “the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs “mind,’ destiny and so on” (“What Is Orientalism?). Orientalism, the site states, dates back to the time of the European Enlightenment and the time that the Arab world was colonized.

Interestingly, while there have been negative depictions of many people by the white Europeans such as where African Americans were negatively portrayed in the past such as being associated with a “dark continent,” there have also been changes. In fact, the negative depiction and portrayals of Africans as well as African Americans have been challenged. Similarly, the depiction of Native American Indians as uncivilized and barbaric and these stereotypes have also been challenged. One is left to wonder if the failure to challenge the stereotypes of the Arabs and Muslims is partially a result of people not speaking up and because the stereotypes have been deeply ingrained in the minds of many.

Regardless of the reasons why the Arab and Muslim people are negatively portrayed in the media the issue remains that there are numerous negative depictions. In addition to the example of the film Aladdin that gives children an early lesson about Arabs and Muslims, one based on negative stereotypes, there are many other types of films that place Arab Muslims in a bad light. Of course, there are the many action movies that depict Hollywood heroes as fighting terrorists. However, there are also films that are comedies that use Arab stereotypes. A discussion of the film You Don’t Mess With the Zohan states “The portrayal of Palestinians as ugly, dirty, incompetent, stupid, goat loving terrorists was jammed down the viewer’s throat more times than Zohan’s lame hummus jokes” (Kanazi).Clearly, it is not just the action genre in Hollywood film making that includes negative depictions of Arabs, comedy films such as the Adam Sandler film, shows that the perpetuation of stereotypes is found across film genres.

Clearly, the media does stereotype the Arab and Muslim people. While there are many groups that are subject to stereotypes today still, such as homosexuals, women and a wide range of racial minorities, the problem is that with the Arab Muslims, it seems that few people speak up about the negative portrayals. With young children learning negative mistruths about the Arab world and with a long history of such negative depictions, it seems that the negative views about Arabs and Muslims are hard to overcome.


Works Cited



“Arabs and Aladdin-exploring stereotypes.” Council for Arab-British Understanding.

n.d. Web. 12 May 2014.


El-Farra, Narmeen. “Arabs And The Media.” Calstatela. 1996. Web. 28 May 2014.


“Israeli Diplomat: All Arabs are Terrorists.” Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination.

            23 July 2006. Web. 12 May 2014.


Kanazi, Remi. “How Hollywood Portrays Arabs.” Global Research. 27 June 2008.

Web. 12 May 2014.


“Racism in Aladdin.” YouTube. 2 March 2010. Web. 12 May 2014.


Saleem, Muniba. “Arabs as terrorists: The Power of Media Images.” SPS Talks.

7 December 2012. Web. 28 May 2014.


Schuster, Henry. “Domestic terror: Who’s most dangerous?” CNN. 24 August 2005.

Web. 12 May 2014.


“What Is Orientalism?” Arab Stereotypes. 2014. Web. 12 May 2014.


4 thoughts on “Mirror Essay: The Depiction of Arabs in the Media

  1. Very interesting and unique perspective. I enjoyed reading this essay and agree with many of your points.
    Thank you.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your essay. you brought up a lot of good points, like how movies and tv shows aimed at children portray Arabs in a negative light. I am wondering if you think that it might be because of a different time though. Aladdin, scooby doo, and richie richie are more from our child hood and seem more dated. I really liked the term you used “Muslims of America” it really stuck out to me.

  3. I also wrote an essay about Arab Muslims and you brought up the fact that few people speak up. I think the reason is because people don’t know much about Arab Muslims. People barely have time to analyze the negative stereotypes of Arab Muslims that is present to them. They are constantly feed the idea that we are the enemy and that we want to bomb or kill someone. When they meet a good and welcoming Arab Muslim people are shocked and now vouch that not all Arab Muslims are bad. I also think that people need to have an open mind to listen and see a different good example of an Arab Muslim. They need to see that there is good and bad. Just because good isn’t shown as much doesn’t mean it’s not there.

  4. Muslims and Arabic people have been placed in a form of modern day internment camps via popular opinion. After 9/11 we we’re granted (as white americans) a pass to scrutinize and ridicule arabic people. It’s sad that in 2014 we still can treat people one way or another because if race or religion. My friend is in his 50’s he’s from Libya and once was confronted in an airport in 2009. They said he was middle eastern and he quickly corrected them “I’m African, and I’m a muslim”. Its funny how ignorant we as americans are to our own “hatred” or fear. Great paper!!!!

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