How Hollywood villified Arabs and Muslims to create Islamophobia


by Jack Shaheen

Muslims are arguably the most vilified group of people in the history of Hollywood. This article will reveal how Muslims are portrayed in Hollywood throughout its years in film production.

Since the emergence of Hollywood as the home of the U.S film industry, the various films made over the years have stolen the identity of numerous groups of people including the Muslim community. However, the consistency of negative Muslim stereotypes has remained from the earliest obscure Hollywood pictures to the most recent blockbuster action films.

The inheritance of exaggerated or fabricated images and tales from European travellers (200-150 years ago) have shaped the image of the Muslim we see today in our films. These images have become familiar within almost every film that depicts Muslims. So when Hollywood injects Muslims into their films they either cast them as:

  • The rich, amorous ‘sheikh’ that loves the white American women, with blue eyes and blonde hair.
  • The rich ‘sheikh’ who is trying to buy American Property.
  • The terrorist who is trying to end the American way of life.

Do you see the trend?

The Amorous Muslim Man Who is Attracted to the White, Blue-eyed, Blonde-haired Woman.

The old Hollywood portrayal of Muslims that we have seen in the past is still present in today’s movies, even finding their way into children’s films.

In this old film, The Sheik (1921), is about a ‘Paris-educated Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan’ who provides brides for wealthy Arabs. The Sheikh is amused by ‘Lady Diana Mayo’, so he abducts her in order to make her fall in love with him. This is not a problem, judging by the time period in which this film was made, because of the numerous offensive movies that portrayed other races in a demeaning manner.

The problem is when you have a film sixty-six years later with almost the exact same plot point in the film Harem (1986). This is the Rotten Tomatoes plot synopsis of the film:

Omar Sharif plays a Turkish sultan who kidnaps a beautiful American woman in the early 1900’s. He adds her to his harem, which angers his first wife, who plots to kill the American. Fortunately, her white knight arrives to save her.

Unbelievably, this is a staggering sixty years later!
Almost the exact same plot. Omar Sharif is an internationally known superstar (which seems to be a re-occurring role for him) in the movie Jewel of the Nile (1985) just a year before Harem, he plays almost a carbon copy of the character he played in Harem.

This is the IMDB plot synopsis of the film:

Joan accepts an invitation to go to some middle eastern country as a guest of the sheikh, but there she is abducted…Jack decides to rescue her…

Other movies that inject these traits include (but not limited to): The Happy hooker goes to Washington (1977), Samson against the Shiek (1962), Cannonball Run 2 (1981), Protocol (1984), Never say never again (1983) and Sahara (1983). Why is it that Hollywood keeps on trapping Muslims in this time bubble.

The Rich ‘sheikh’ who Lavishly Buys American Property
This type of stereotype is present in many films. One particular film that stands out is “Father of the Bride 2” (1995). This film portrays a normal American family living the American dream, in their nice house and happy family.

The father wants to sell his house, enter the Habibs, a wealthy Middle-Eastern family who are interested in the house. Mr Habib pays $15,000 as a bonus for the American family to move out quickly, which they do. Once the Americans want the house back, Mr Habib accepts to sell it back to them, under one condition, that they pay an extra $100,000 on top of the house value. If the Americans don’t give him the money, the Habibs will bulldoze the house to the ground.

But that’s not enough, during the negotiation, whenever Mrs Habib would talk (in gibberish, not Arabic), Mr Habib would abruptly yell at her, shutting her up.The Habibs instantly become the villains of the story.

Rollover (1981) is a film about Arab’s taking over the stock of banks across America. As the plot moves along, the audience discovers that the Arabs are behind various examples of murder and fraud. By the end of the movie they pull their money out of all the banks in America and possibly all over the world causing a global financial crisis.

As ludicrous as that sounds, the idea that the Arabs are behind a global crisis across the globe is well… ludicrous.
Another film that is held as a masterpiece by many critics and fans is The Network (1976). A news anchor veteran, Howard Beale, is being fired and he is “mad as hell” and he’s “not going to take it anymore”.

On his last day, he lets out a ferocious tantrum on live television thus boosting the network’s ratings. The producers of the network allow Howard to continue to rave about corruption in the industry, the condition of the world and the truth about corporate dominance. His program becomes really successful so much so, they dub him the ‘the mad prophet of the airways’. In one of his many speeches on live television, he unleashes one of his angriest rants and says:

The Arabs are simply buying us.

This tv rant is one of the most famous rants in movie history. Can you imagine the reaction if someone on live television said: The Jews are buying us up or The blacks are buying us up.

The Terrorist who are trying to End the American Way of Life
This stereotype comes as no surprise to any Muslim. A number of movies that portray this particular type of character is overwhelming. Jack Valenti said: “Washington and Hollywood spring from the same DNA”, this is no secret. The United States has shown support to its ally, the state of Israel, over its many presidencies. Therefore it comes as no surprise to anyone that the Palestinian Muslim brothers and sisters are portrayed as evil terrorists in many of its films.

Just look at movies such as:

  • Exodus (1960) where Muslims are responsible for horrific acts, that which closely resembles the acts of Nazis towards Jews.
  • Cast a giant shadow (1966) is another film that depicts Israelis as the victim of Palestinian Muslim violence.
    Black Sunday (1977), a Muslim Palestinian WOMAN attempts to fly a blimp into a football stadium in order to kill thousands of Americans.
  • Death before dishonour (1987) Muslims murder an entire Israeli family.
  • The Delta Force (1986) Muslims hijack a plane and terrorise the passengers, specifically the Jewish ones.
  • True lies (1994) portrays a Muslim terror group called ‘crimson Jihad’ terrorising America.

This is how Muslims are portrayed in Hollywood.

What is the purpose of this article?
The movies that depict negative stereotypes of Muslims that were previously addressed in this article is not an excuse for Muslims to play the victim. This negative trend has resulted in the stolen identity Hollywood has robbed over 1 billion Muslims. If the life of a Jewish man is worth the life of a Muslim man then why don’t the Muslim community deserve the same on screen treatment as a Jewish man?
It is the reason why Governments employ the use of media and entertainment in order to influence negative attitudes towards rivalling nations or people. The Nazis used their power in the media and the cinema to push their propaganda onto German citizens, to brainwash its citizens. The U.S utilised posters, media and films to push their propaganda onto people to participate in its wars.
The image of a race, religion or a particular group of people an individual ingests, defines their attitude towards that particular group of people.

The article first published on Australian OnePathNetwork, based on research made by Jack Shaheen.

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