Tuesday, April 8, 2008

These Terrorists who resemble us

By Joseph El-Khoury


I was at the gym the other day. Cycling hard next to other Middle-Class fitness enthusiasts while watching the continuous news broadcast on Sky News. Flashing again and again on the screen were portraits of those accused of the plot to blow up transatlantic flights using concealed liquid explosives. I wasn’t particularly interested in the plot itself, depicted in a series of cartoons, which seemed to involve diet coke and a prolonged stay in the aircraft’s toilet. What I found myself doing instead was checking the reactions of fellow gym goers to my right and left. 'Did I look suspicious to them?!' Was my first thought. After all didn’t all Middle-Eastern men look similar to the untrained Caucasian eye? And was that Racism? It is rarely said that we are all more adept at distinguishing subtle differences within our own ethnic group: A fact that was first highlighted to me by a friend from Botswana many years ago when she unemotionally threw in my face ‘All white men look the same’ and that included me apparently. But she was right, I find it hard to distinguish between a Japanese, a Korean and a Chinese. Similarly I could easily pick up a Saudi, an Egyptian and a Syrian in a crowd while for most Americans they are all “A-rabs” (with emphasis on the A) with no distinguishing features between them. So going back to my gym session, I felt slightly uneasy and paranoid. I say paranoid because frankly these guys on screen were from a South Asian background and bore no resemblance to me. In normal times I should have dismissed my fears completely, but these are not normal times. And after being stopped at numerous airports and even driving my car on a central London Street for ‘random’ police checks my suspicions that I do stand out have unfortunately been confirmed.
Let’s face it! It is a bad time to be a young Arab male. But what for me has been a mere nuisance, has the potential of a humiliating damaging effect on the self-esteem of generations of young Middle Eastern, Asian, African men who from a young age are bombarded with images of ‘evil men’ who look like their fathers, uncles and them. Moreover, this phenomenon is not new and precedes 9/11, the 1980s and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether in works of fiction or on the 10 o'clok news these dark skinned men are almost always depicted as evil, unreliable, deceitful, untrustworthy, irrational, fanatic, immoral. Whenever in addition, the script require them to be attractive, the character is played by a European actor with European features, suitably dressed and tanned for the occasion. The problem is so extensive that someone managed to write a book about it in 2001(Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood vilifies a people by Jack G.Shaheen).And if Hollywood has the power to create such an image then it has the power to modify it. What a better way to contribute to the ‘war on terror’ than to release an Arab Batman or a Pakistani Spiderman. Or even better… just tell the truth!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

great article
it made me stay focused not like other articles i read them halfway and get bored
congratulations for the power of writting so great

Arab Democracy said...

Thank you for your comment.
Hopefully you will continue to follow our website.

Joseph