The Fear and Hatred Against Arabs and Muslims In America

Posted on May 6, 2011

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By Cielo Peralta.

In “The Allegory of the Cave”, Plato writes of prisoners in a cave who can only see images on a wall and concludes, “All in all, then, what people in this situation would take for truth would be nothing more than the manufactured objects” (1).  Basically, Plato is saying that when people look in only one direction they cannot know what he whole truth is.  Their perceptions and beliefs will keep them n the dark and in chains because they are limited to only what they see in front of them.  Unawareness breeds ignorance and fear because it will never produce “truth and reason” (3), which are necessary for “anyone who is going to act wisely either in private life or in public life” (3).  It is in this spirit that I’d like to examine our beliefs about our fear and hatred against Arabs and Muslims in America today.  According to Amnesty International’s “The Truth About Racial Profiling:  Five Facts”, “…the expansion of racial profiling after the September 11th attacks appears to have contributed to a climate of discrimination that indirectly encourage hate crimes against certain minority groups and people who look like them by conveying the message that such discrimination is acceptable and helpful in fighting terrorism.”   The tragic events of 9/11 do not help in abating the xenophobia that exists today and the roots that Arabs and Muslims are ‘evil’ had been painted to the public by film industry well before that date. There are also groups of people and organizations that keep this stereotype alive because it suits their purposes and agendas.  We need to expose the myths and lies about Arabs and Muslims so that we can begin to act wisely and fairly.

The murders that were committed by the nineteen hijackers on September 11 exacerbated the stereotype of Arabs and Muslims as ‘evil’ terrorists and religious ‘fanatics’. Immediately after, we were a nation in shock and fear was rampant that soon turned to hate.  I remember a country coming together to help one another but I also remember hearing stories about people acting based on their fears and anger. The following incidents were collected by http://www.arabbar.org’s  “White Paper:  Preliminary Report on Hate Crimes Against Arabs and Muslims in the United States” that illustrate what was happening around our country. “CNN reported on September 17, 2001 multi-state shooting deaths of a Sikh (Indian of Hindu faith) wearing a turban and a Pakistani garage attendant; both deaths are believed related to the backlash against Arab/Muslim-Americans”…”The head of Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee claims that Arab-American community is “keeping its head down for the moment…don’t want to be conspicuous right now.  Being inconspicuous for most members means staying home, not going to work, not even going out to shop”…”At an Arab-American Family Support Center in Brooklyn, a counselor reports…that they have received ‘hundreds of calls from Arab-Americans who have been threatened by people who blame the community for the attacks.  The center also has documented reports of physical assaults in the Atlantic Avenue area, which has a large population of Americans from Yemen, Lebanon and other Arab nations”…”Brooklyn police confirm presence of armed guards to protect one retail establishment after numerous death threats to the Arab-American proprietor.  Local police now guard his office and walk him to and from work everyday”…”A 17-year –old Palestinian student reported that her health teacher told her class at a high school in Brooklyn that ‘Palestinian children all want to become terrorists’ “.  These are just a few examples of the discrimination and crimes committed right after 9/11.

The depiction and mythmaking images by film industry contribute to our fear and hatred of Arabs and Muslims.  In “The Aftermath of September 11, 2001:The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims in America”, Susan Akram writes, “…In American society about Arabs and Muslims, media and film have found a ready audience for dangerous and one-dimensional images…Jack Shaheen’s meticulous work reviewing 900 Hollywood films over a period of four years is the most convincing evidence of deliberate vilifying of Arabs and Muslims by the movie industry…(they are) portrayed as terrorists or dishonest sub-humans…According to Shaheen there are only five Arab ‘types’:  villains, sheikhs, maidens, Egyptians and Palestinians…women are…weak and mute, covered in black or as scantily clad belly dancers”(66).  Over three and a half million Arab-Americans live in the US, yet only five percent of the 900 films had Arabs portrayed in a good light as protagonists.  As an explanation, there is a political agenda behind some people making these films.  “…one-seventh of all films made since the 1970‘s have been shot in Israel or made by Israeli teams” (66).   There are few images of Arabs depicted in films living ordinary lives, those who have families and roots in their communities. In short, the film industry has succeeded in stereotyping the Arab Americans and Muslims for the American public. There are many Arab Americans who are excellent role models and examples for us to aspire to but we are not aware of their ethnic origins.  The following is a list of Arab-Americans have contributed to our society:  Kahlil Gibran-poet/philosopher/author of “The Prophet”, George Mitchell-Former Senate Majority Leader, Doug Flutie-NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Jacques Nasser-Former CEO, Ford Motor Company, Candy Lightner-Founder of “Mothers Against Drunk Driving”, Danny Thomas-Comedian and founder of St. Jude’s children Hospital, Selma Hayek-Co-star of “Wild Wild West” and “Desperado”.  (See the images below for pics of these Arab-Americans.)

In addition to the film industry, there are groups of people and organizations that keep this stereotype alive because it supports their self-serving motives and agendas.  They can be politically motivated.   “The Arab-Israeli conflict is a consistent thread in the stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims as ‘terrorists’ in the United States since at least the 1970’s… ‘Jewish extremists groups constitute an undeniable source of anti-Arab hate violence not discussed in conventional accounts of racist violence in the United States’ … The Jewish Defense League (JDL) in the 80’s was identified as “one of the most active terrorist groups in the US.  A 1987 study published in an FBI Bulletin indicated that Jewish extremist organizations committed ‘approximately 20 terrorist incidents and numerous other act of violence, including extortion or threats…’ representing about one quarter or the total terrorist acts in the US in the 1980’s” (63).  It is noted that these criminal studies and listings do not separately classify the Arab ethnic origin as the victims and some omit the fact that the Jewish extremists groups were the perpetrators.  Foreign policy ‘imperatives’ was used selectively by the Reagan Administration in the 1980’s to make a case that Libya should be retaliated for “Arab terrorist attacks in Rome and Vienna airports that had resulted in multiple deaths and injuries” (69).  He said we had “irrefutable” evidence of Qaddafi’s responsibility.  “According to the FBI, there was no evidence connecting Libya to the hijacking of a Rome to Athens TWA flight or a bombing of a West Berlin nightclub, but the US carried our bombing raids against Libya nonetheless” (69).  There were consequences for the Arab-Americans or anyone who looked like they are of Middle Eastern origin here in the US.  There was violence against them in their “community centers, mosques, businesses and homes” (69).  These are two examples of politically motivated groups who have an interest in perpetuating the myth of Arab/Muslims as terrorists.

Fear and hatred against Arabs and Muslims is unjust.  We have accepted at face value the many ideas, images and not questioned the real motives of organizations that have been presented to us about Arabs and Muslims.  It is important that we are aware that continuing to discriminate and persecute Arabs and Muslims is no different from the discrimination of any other ethnic or religious minority in our country.  Making assumptions based on appearance, also known, as racial profiling is not only wrong but also it does not work.  We must focus on actual behavior and not the physical characteristics or race, religion, ethnicity of a person. If we continue to discriminate, hate and fear Arabs and Muslims, we will undermine law enforcement efforts and give terror networks a greater chance to succeed in recruiting people we don’t expect because they don’t fit the “profile” and at the same time the very people we need to help us in our anti-terrorist campaign will be less likely to cooperate with our efforts.   Marginalizing one ethnic or race or religion puts all of us at risk.  Today it’s Arabs and Muslims. In WWII Germany it was Jews, and in the US-the Japanese.  Good results have never come from fear and hate.

Kahlil Gibran

George Mitchell

Doug Flutie

Jacques Nasser

Candy Lightner

Danny Thomas

Selma Hayek

Works Cited

1. www.adc.org. n.d. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Lesson Plan:  Anti-Arab Stereotypes, Discrimination and Hate Crimes. Web. 1 May 2011.

2. Akram, Susan. “The Aftermath of September 11, 2001:  The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims in America.”  Arab Studies Quarterly 24.2-3 (2002):  61-86, Print.

3. www.amnesty.org. 2001.”The Truth About Racial Profiling:  Five Facts” Racism and the Administration of Justice. Web 1 May 2011.

4. Haddad, William J. n. d. “ White Paper:  Preliminary Report on Hate Crimes Against Arabs and Muslims In the United States” www.ARABBar.org . Web. 1 May 2011

5. Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave” The Republic. Ed G. R. R. Ferrari. Trans. Tom Griffith. New York: Cambridge UP, 2000. 220-26.

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Posted in: U.S. Politics