Arabs Portrayed by the American Media: Influence on People

Posted: November 27th, 2013

Arabs Portrayed by the American Media: Influence on People



Arabs Portrayed in the American Media: Influence on People

            The media is a powerful entity of displaying information about various issues and events happening in our society today. Among these issues in our society today is the menace of terrorism. Majority of Americans learn what they know about Arabs and issues relating to terrorism from the newspapers, radio and television among other media channels. These media channels do not always portray Arabs and Muslims in positive light and tend to associate them with acts of crime and terrorism. Due to the high dependence of America on the oil coming from the countries in the Middle East, the media has also portrayed them as being a threat to the America’s political and economic security. This perpetuates the stereotype that Muslims and Arabs are terrorists. This ultimately influences the behavior and attitudes of Americans towards these people. This stereotyping has sometimes resulted in devastating consequences such as hate crimes, discrimination, racial profiling and bullying. This paper argues and criticizes how the media portrays Arabs and Muslims, how this portrayal influences Americans thoughts on Arabs, their association with terrorism and political issues arising because of the media.

The understanding of other cultures by Americans is greatly influenced by mass media. Mass media consists of newspaper, radio, magazines, films and television. Many media outlets tend to be biased. They prefer to use sensational language in order to woo their readers, which in certain instances should not be the case. The world of media is very competitive and each media house uses the best possible means of winning viewers even of it means tinting the image of a marginalized group in the society. The media as a result cultivates a crooked worldview of events, which most readers may assume to be the truth. Although the media is a profit making entity, such practices should be controlled. The effects of this kind of media influence may be gradual yet they are cumulative in the long term. Stereotyping of marginalized groups affects their identity and opportunities in the world they live in (Abraham, Howell, and Shryock, 2011). This creates the need for punitive fines to be issued on the media to control the media from reporting partially when addressing matters of national importance.

A number of films and television series have depicted Arab Americans as villains and a people with conservative and mysterious cultures. Many media outlets depict Arabs as Muslims, overlooking a notable number who are Christians. For instance, an advertisement by the multinational beverage company Coca Cola featured Arabs in a desert riding camels. Many Arab Americans were displeased as they claimed that these displayed them as old fashioned. It is not disputable that camels are indeed found in the Middle East region; however, most of these media outlets do not always show the developed areas of the Arab countries. Arabs are also pictured as barbaric in many American media. In the Walt Disney picture Aladdin, the theme song described that the Arabic character hailed from a far away place. In the same narration also, was a scene of an Arab merchant who wanted to chop off the arm of a woman who had stolen some food in order to feed her malnourished child. This created an outrage among Arab Americans, as many of these media outlets are to blame for the skewed opinions about Arabs today. Arab women have also been repeatedly portrayed as indecently dressed harem girls and belly dancers. This codes Arab women as objects of pleasure for their male audience. In addition to this, many films also depict Arabs as foreigners. Television series such as 24, The Practice and Law and Order also show Arabs and Muslims as racial profiling victims. The government should put in place a proper legal framework that will regulate the thematic content of films and television programs. Perpetuation of such views should be contained in order to avoid any conflict from biased broadcasting by media houses. Various studies such as the 2000 census show that about half of all Arab Americans are citizens by birth and three quarters speak English fluently. Rarely do you find films that depict Arabs as professionals. Interestingly, many Americans are unaware of some of the significant contributions by many Arabs to the society throughout history.

Perhaps the most common stereotype of Arabs is their association with terrorism. Various studies today indicate that the level of discrimination on Arabs has varied since the events of September 11 (Schechter, 2003). Some studies showed that many Americans who were not Arabs believed that Muslims and Arabs should be put under surveillance in order to monitor their activities. Some even believed that they should always register their whereabouts and that mosques should be placed under surveillance. The reaction of American citizens towards Arab American citizens after the terrorist attacks simply shows that these groups face a notable level of discrimination. Instances of bias and discrimination exponentially increased after the September 11 attacks (Abraham, Howell, and Shryock, 2011). Arabs linkage to terrorism is also attributed to video games that have terrorist themes. Arabs have been linked to terrorism for many reasons. Arab countries are divided along tribal lines and Arab leaders survive by playing two groups against each other. Loyalty of a leader or subjects is to their tribe and not always to the country. Leadership in these countries is not always assigned by merit but rather by tribal affiliation. I believe that Arab cultures such as the aforementioned are blamed for the stereotyping of Arabs. The masterminds responsible for the September 11 attacks in the United States were Arab operatives. The level of terrorism in the Middle East is considerably higher than in any other parts of the world. Laqueur states terrorism has evolved over the years (2003). He classifies terrorism into two, the old and new terrorism. According to him, the new terrorism is indiscriminate and usually causes a large number of casualties unlike the old terrorism, which would only strike selected targets. He argues, “The new terrorism is different in character, aiming not at clearly defined political demands but at the destruction of society and the elimination of large sections if the population” (Laqueur, 2003, 43).

The new terrorism according to many scholars is strongly linked to misinterpretation and strict adherence to religion by radical Islamists. The new terrorism works closely with religious fanaticism while the old terrorism was in many aspects secular. This new wave of terrorism is characterized by religious justification for the mass killings and is of international scope (“International Bars Association”, 2003). It also involves a dependence on modern technology for its weaponry. The new wave of terrorism evinces a culture filled with terror, which refers to a downfall of the West through massacres. Many believe that this rivalry between the Arabs and America is also direct result of the influence that the United States has on the leadership of these countries since they export oil and gas to the Unites States. Terrorists are also assumed to oppose negotiation. The Arabs are also strongly linked to Jihad, an Arabic word that means “struggle”. According to the Quran, Muslims have the duty to raid non-Muslim territories and forcefully convert them to Islam. They believe that the annihilation of those who disbelieve in Allah is justified in the ideals of Jihad. The association between Arabs and terrorism is indisputable. However, discrimination and bias on innocent victims cannot be justified (Houle, 2005). Terrorism and Arabs are inextricably linked as most acts lead to them.

The media plays a very significant role in the coverage of day-to-day events and is associated with many political issues affecting the world today. News reported by the media does not just have the narration aspect but also has some intrinsic value to it. The way the media interprets various events is important since it forms a very important role in informing the public and orienting young people into the society. The media can be an agenda setter. People learn a lot from news that shapes their attitudes towards different issues. Schechter states that the media “may not be successful in telling us what to think, but they are successful in telling us what to think about.” (2003). Information retrieved from the media, influences public opinion and the participation of the public in matters relating to politics. Although the media is given some freedom, it is regulated to minimize biases and avoid issues that may arise form these biases. Many politicians use the media to communicate and relay information to the rest of the population.

The danger resulting from media is the risk of being impartial in relaying election information as it could mislead the members of the public. Broadcasting and print media have adapted to modern means of spreading information however, they should be regulated and censored to avoid any potential damages that may arise from inappropriate broadcasting. The media continues to play a major role in the influence of the public opinion concerning various issues. Their role in peddling information concerning terrorism has greatly influenced the views of many Americans on Arabs. Many Arab Americans have had to be victims of discrimination because of these stereotypes. Although the media tends to be partial in some of its broadcasting, it plays a major role in affecting political issues and terrorism. Although Arabs have been linked to terrorism, it is illogical to conclude that all Arabs are terrorists. Many Arabs have made a significant contribution to the society and this should not be overlooked. People who participate in terrorism should not be branded according to their affiliations such as tribe or race but rather they should be held responsible for their actions as an individual. The government should educate people on such issues in order to reduce the evils of stereotyping and ensure that innocent victims are safeguarded from discrimination.



Abraham, N., Howell, S., & Shryock, A. (2011). Arab Detroit 9/11: Life in the terror decade. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. Print.

Houle, M. (2005). Terrorism. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.

International Bar Association. (2003). International terrorism: Legal challenges and responses : a report from the International Bar Association’s Task Force on International Terrorism. Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers. Print.

Laqueur, W. (2003). No end to war: Terrorism in the twenty-first century. New York: Continuum. Print.

Schechter, D. (2003). Media wars: News at a time of terror. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield. Print.

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