Arab · Middle East · USA

The fading of the ugly Arab image in American TV

Five years ago, Dunkin Donuts had to pull their TV Ad featuring Rachel Ray wearing fashionable scarf. They did that because some Americans felt offended seeing on their living rooms an American celebrity wearing the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad.”

rachel ray

It had been 12 years since 9/11 and a lot had changed. Americans discovered that there were no WMD in Iraq. In addition, they found that the war on terror killed many innocent people and even brought tragic incidents on their land. These two facts led some Americans to reconsider their outrage of Arabs and Muslims. I came to the U.S. only four months after 9/11 and I can say America now is not America then. I have read many articles and have watched many programs where Americans are against “War on Terror” or “if you are not with us you are our enemy” mentality.

Every now and then, a video clip of Jon Stewart’s show goes viral on social media among Arabs. The reason Arabs like him is because they like how he portrays Arabs and Muslims on his show. Simply, normal human being not terrorists. It is unusual, to see an Arab character on American TV not being ugly and savage. Arabs in Hollywood movies do horrible things they steel, kill, and cheat. Jon Stewart changed this image. He talks about Guantanamo; he shows how Politicians and Fox News are wrong about an Arab issue for example. Even one of his best correspondents is a Muslim, Asif Mandvi.

Jon Stewart is not the only American TV host who deviates from the regular depiction of Arab or Muslim terrorist image, there are many others. I believe due to Stewart’s program being a comedy show, his videos go noticed more than others. Now, TV series in America show a Muslim family being just a nice neighbor or an individual who is a nice Muslim friend. Community is an American television comedy that has been one of the most watched shows among college age audience. One of the main actors in this show is Abed Nadir, “a Palestinian-Polish film student with an encyclopedic knowledge of TV shows and movies.” In the show, Abed is actually a cool kid, he is not a terrorist.

Last week, Anthony Bourdain traveled to Jerusalem. This is his intro to this episode:

“It is easily the most contentious piece of real estate in the world. And there is no hope,  none, of ever talking about it without pissing somebody, if not everybody off… Where even the names of ordinary things are ferociously disputed. Where does falafel come from? who makes the best hummus. Is it a fence or a wall? By the end of this hour I will be seen by many as terrorist sympathizer, a Zionist tool, a self-hating Jew, an apologist for American imperialism, an orientalist, socialist, fascist, CIA agent, and worse.”

The video is worth watching. It is not about politics but Bourdain’s narration of his show is always extraordinary.

One scene I liked the most in the video –at mark 30– is when Bourdain was hosted by a Gazan family. His hosts refused to eat and were concerned that they might be rude eating while Bourdain’s crew are not joining them. Their daughter had to explain to them that the crew have to eat later because they need to shoot the video first. 

This family is the Arab family, people known for their great hospitality. Here is how Bourdain’s describe this trait in the Arab world. 

“Many, if not most of these guys [Gazan], are not too sympathetic to my country or my ethnicity, I’m guessing. But there’s that hospitality thing. Anywhere you go in the Muslim world, it seems. No matter what, you feed your guests and do your best to make them feel at home.”

Hollywood made a big mistake portraying Arabs only as bad people. Their movies brought so much bitterness towards Americans because of how Arabs were portrayed in these movies. But I see a good change. 

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8 thoughts on “The fading of the ugly Arab image in American TV

    1. How come? Can you explain how do Arabs in the USA create bad image?
      As far as I know there is no Arab Mafia or Arab drug cartel or Arab gangster in the USA.There are bad apples but you can’t generalize by saying Arabs are bad. You keep saying this over and over and over. You gotta stop doing this.

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      1. You should try working for an Arab run business or organization in the USA, then you will see what I mean, and I speak from experience.

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    1. I watched American, European, Asian and Arabic movies. The villains in all these cinemas, except The American, are local. They don’t have foreign threat to their country. In Hollywood, although Arabs are portrayed more than others, not not just Arabs are bad people but also the Russians and Chinese are sometimes portrayed as terrorists.
      The concept of foreign threat exist only in American movies.

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