Arab Muslims in popular culture

Nine eleven 2001 is a day remembered as a tragedy that will never be forgotten. It is also the day that changed the remaining good views that some people had of Arab Muslims and how they are portrayed in 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. Stereotypes are not always bad, generalizations help us know what to expect when we someone or go somewhere new, but when exaggerated negative images of people override the positive images, it can be damaging.

In this piece, I will discuss how my Arab Muslim identity is being misrepresented in popular culture.

Stereotypes are not always bad, generalizations help us know what to expect when we someone or go somewhere new, but when exaggerated negative images of people override the positive images, it can be damaging. According to study by professor Jack Shaheen of Southern Illinois University, out of a 1000 films from 1896 to 2007 that contained Middle Eastern Arab references, 12 were positive, 52 were neutral, and over 900 were negative. This study shows that stereotypes began even before nine eleven and the event only made it worse.

There are many examples of Arab Muslims being misrepresented in popular culture. In the show South Park which aires on Comedy Central, there is no boundary when it comes to negative stereotypes. In one of the episodes titled “Snuke” a new muslim kid is introduced to the class when suddenly, Erik Cartman, one of leading character of the show, realizes that the kid is a muslim and says: “dude, not cool” then leaves his desk in fear and asks the teacher if he has been checked for bombs. After the teacher denies the fact that not all muslims are terrorists Cartman says:”no, but most of them are…” Even thought at the end of the episode it turns out that the muslim is innocent, the reaction Cartman made is just the kind of stereotype that damages the Muslim identity.

Holy Terror is another popular culture artifact to damage the image of Muslims. In this graphic novel by Frank Miller where heroes join forces to battle Muslim terrorists. In every description I read about the novel, it is always mentioned that the bad guys are Muslims. Not to mention the fact that in some cases of the novel the racism is clear as sun light. For example in a scene where Fixer, a hero in the novel, says to a captured terrorist: “So Mohammed, pardon me for guessing your name, but you’ve got to admit the odds are pretty good it’s Mohammad…” The Fixer then tortures and cripples the man before detonating his explosive belt. Can it be more offensive than this?

 A very popular show called Homeland got a lot of controversy when it came for some of the content that was presented about Arab Muslims. Nicholas Brody is one of the main characters of the show. A US marine who was captured and tortured in a middle eastern country. When he was rescued he returns home as a Muslim. When people found out that Brody became a Muslim, he became the enemy. He was pictured as a traitor leaking information to US enemies just because he became a Muslim. He was kept under surveillance because the government didn’t trust him and thought he became a terrorist. Not only did his country which he served lost trust in him but also his wife. In one of the scenes, his wife yells at him and throws the Quran on the ground when she knew about his conversion to Islam. Personally, I was offended and disgusted by those scenes.

brody praysNicholas Brody praying in Homeland

 In Melissa Biogon’s Ted Talk, she pointed out that 1.72 million people watched season 2 premier of Homeland and this shows how such negative representations can reach large numbers of people and influence them. This kind of shows sends bad that can destroy people’s ability to view Islam as a religion of peace. Homeland sends messages  that show how Muslims are not to be trusted because they are the enemy and are a threat to this country. Judging people should be based on there actions not the actions of others and not by their religion.

 One of the most influencing popular culture artifacts are video games. Arab Muslims are mostly portrayed as terrorists in video games. They are either the evil henchmen or the main threat in the game. One of the games that shows this repetitive stereotype of Muslims is called Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. In this games Arab Muslims are always dark skinned with beards. They are always portrayed as suicide bombers and angry mobsters. The game sold more than seven million copies world wide, which shows the incredible amount of people that have seen the stereotypes in the game. Also, my friends used to play this game online and could not believe that amount of racial abuse that other players would say just because my friends had arabic name tags.

Call_of_Duty_4___The_Bad_Guys_by_MrAhn The Muslim enemy in Call of Duty

 When misconceptions are shown in the entertainment industry some people might not take it serious, but when it comes out of a respected public figure than it becomes much more believable. One example that stood out to me was what Brigitte Gabriel, the founder and president of ACT for America, said about muslims. When asked by Larry Elder in a radio interview if there are moderate muslims who condemn the radicals, she said: ”I call it a practicing Muslim and a non-practicing Muslim. I think it is a better description than moderate and radical. A practicing Muslim goes to mosque, prays five times a day, doesn’t drink, believes God gave him women to be his property to beat, to stone to death. He believes Christians and Jews are apes and pigs because they are cursed by Allah. He believes it is his duty to declare war on the infidels because they are Allah’s enemies. That is a practicing Muslim.” Shock was an understatement to what I felt after reading her statement. I am a practicing muslim and what she said is wrong. How come I am not a violent man who wants to kill innocent people? Because I understand right and wrong and that Islam is a religion of peace.

To me and a lot of other Arab Muslim in the world, we take offense on how our people are constantly misrepresented in popular culture. Being seen as a violent people that are associated to terrorism is a misrepresentation and a generalization. People might say that there are many terrorists that come from Arab Muslim countries, that might be true but in fact there are more than 1.2 billion Muslims around the world and to associate the minority with the majority is ignorant and wrong. Even thought my identity is being misrepresented in popular culture I have to be optimistic that the world is changing and that people are realizing the truth. I wish that we all stand against all types of stereotypes whenever we can, as it has brought suffering, discrimination and misjudgment upon those portrayed negatively.


Hernandez, Michael. “Holy Terror comic is Islamophobic, says critics.” The national, 25 October 2011. Web. 1 June 2015.

“Cartman meets a Muslim.” Youtube, 9 Spet. 2013. Web. 1 June 20115

Homeland TV show: Homeland.  Showtime . 2011. Television.

Melissa Boigon’s Ted Talk: “Islamophobia: Melissa Boigon at TEDxGallatin 2013.” YouTube. YouTube, 22 September 2013. Web. 1 June 2015.