American Orientalism in the Media

One would like to think that as the human race continues to grow and develop, so too will it continue to develop a historical consciousness that will accurately reflect those who are a part of history. And while certainly we have read numerous books by authors attempting to accurately portray their own cultures, there are those of us-particularly in America-who seem to still get it all wrong. Movies, televisions shows and news reports can all consciously and unconsciously represent other cultures in a negative, inaccurate (and often damaging) way, creating a very American Orientalism.

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, setting off a firestorm of criticism around the world and in America. The original argument, President Bush’s administration asserted, was that Iraq posed an imminent threat to American citizens. My eyewitness account is as follows: the Bush administration declares Iraq and imminent threat, citing the use of centrifugal tubes that could be installed in nuclear centrifuges that would develop nuclear material for bombs. The administration, I was told by various news organizations, also believed there to be a direct link between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. We then went to war. Comedian Lewis Black summed up President Bush’s presidential address in his most recent album:

“The fact is, what occurred, was the first time that war was mentioned was on September 12, which was the day after the second anniversary of September 11. And President Bush walked out on television in front of this country and said: ‘We’re gonna go war in Iraq, goddammit, because that son of a bitch has weapons of mass destruction. He has a ton of shit there âÂ?¦ and he’s the reason Osama Bin Laden was able to get away with the shit he did âÂ?¦ and I know we can’t find Osama bin Laden, but we can get this cocksucker I can assure you! And that’s what we’re gonna do, and I don’t give a shit what the rest of the world thinks.” (Black)

Black is, of course, summing this up in retrospect, more than a year after the fact when it has once again become safe to question the war without worrying about suffering a media blacklisting (we can’t, of course, forget the trouble those pesky Dixie Chicks went through after publicly lashing out at America’s commander-in-chief). Black is speaking during a time after the 9-11 Commission Report has authoritatively stated without question that was, in fact, no connection between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. He’s speaking during a time when the theory of the aluminum tubes has been debunked.
The tubes in question, it turns out, were not a perfect fit for nuclear centrifuging. The tubes, it turns out, were a perfect fit for the surface-to-air missiles Iraq employed in launchers across the country. And here is the part where American Orientalism comes into play. Here is where Condoleezza Rice comes into play when she said in 2003 on Face the Nation:

“Now the al-Qaeda is an organization that’s quite disbursed and – and quite widespread in its effects, but it clearly has had links to the Iraqis, not to mention Iraqi links to all kinds of other terrorists. And what we do not want is the day when Saddam Hussein decides that he’s had enough of dealing with sanctions, enough of dealing with, quote, unquote, “containment,” enough of dealing with America, and it’s time to end it on his terms, by transferring one of these weapons, just a little vial of something, to a terrorist for blackmail or for worse.” (Sourcewatch)

In addition to this link, Rice also became one of the White House’s most outspoken supporters of the Iraq war, basing her arguments for invasion on baseless rumors that Iraq was acquiring uranium in Africa, as well as the evidence that the centrifugal tubes found in Iraq could only be used in order to develop nuclear weapons (Sourcewatch, ThisWeek). By late 2004, thanks to a lengthy (albeit late!) article by the New York Times, the aluminum tubes theory was proven false. In addition to being proven false, the New York Times journalists also found considerable evidence that members of the White House, including Rice, knew about the conflicting theories of the aluminum tubes and never mentioned it to members of the press (Editors). This will never be proven, of course, because Rice and the other members of the White House steadfastly reject the testimony of other close sources who often deliberately remain anonymous.

The point I’m trying to get to is this: by labeling the Orient in a way so that it appears exotic, primitive, barbarous, etc., the West is then able to justify conquering it (Said 873). But Orientalism, Said goes on to say, is not necessarily a Western “plot” to hold down the Oriental world. Truly, it would be nearly impossible to prove that President Bush and his administration are plotting in any way to “hold down” the Middle East. But it’s impossible to ignore the nationalistic implications of the invasion of Iraq. For the Bush administration, it’s about more than the threat of American ideals. For the Bush administration, we see the exact same “We’re right, you’re wrong” notion that much of Europe took on during the colonial period. America is attempting to install democracy in the Middle East because that is what America bases its values on. Democracy is the only way to run a country, in the eyes of America. This is nothing to say that Iraq’s previous regime was in any regards a “good thing,” but the point is America invaded in order to enforce what it feels is right. And it creates problems.

George Little, in American Orientalism, believes it is this “We’re right” philosophy that ultimately led to the September 11 attacks in the first place. “Over the years,” Little says, “critics from Tel Aviv to Tehran have retorted that they understood [U.S.] intentions all too well and that the peculiar blend of ignorance and arrogance that characterized U.S. policy would effectively prevent Americans from ever truly understanding the region and its peoples” (Little 5). For America, good intentions are often laced with prejudice against other cultures, stereotyping of that which we do not understand, and an embracing rather than rejecting of Orientalism which is precisely why so many Eastern countries refuse to work more closely with us and-in some cases-flat out reject U.S. assistance.

During the Crusades, regional Christian leaders wanted a way to unite all of the knights of the kingdom who had begun squabbling and fighting amongst each other, and Muslims of the Middle East were an easy target. They were different from Christians, and, with the right manipulation, could very easily be transformed into enemies (Germain 1). After 9/11, our nation stood closer together than it had in a quarter of a century. But that quickly began to fade during the invasion of Afghanistan when people began to divide once again regarding how to best deal with the threats posed by Al-Qaeda and other terrorists. Shortly following the 9/11 attack, Bush slipped the word “Crusade” in one of his speeches about terrorism, stoking the anger of multiple Muslim groups who felt the word carried very negative connotations toward Muslims from the Middle Ages (Germain 1). Bush’s attempt to bring the nation together under its newest common threat-Iraq-did not work quite as well as the likes of King Baldwin IV, et al.

As it turned out-surprise-not everyone in Iraq wanted America to come in and tell them how to lead their lives. Insurgents, since day one, have conducted calculated assaults on American and Allied troops, killing (presently) more than 1,500 American soldiers. The death toll of Iraqi civilians and children, depending on who you believe ranges anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000. Here, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea becomes useful while attempting to diagram the Bush Administration: and for this, I rely heavily on the character of Mr Mason. Mr Mason represents the atypical colonizer, he who honestly believes that the savages he is colonizing want him to bring them “up” to the civilized level of the English. When faced with a group of unrestful natives, Mr Mason remarked without worry, “They will repent in the morning. I forsee gift of tamarinds in syrup and ginger sweets tomorrow” (Rhys 23). Mr Mason’s nationalistic views not only mirror those of our current administration, they also mirror the views of a number of media moguls who dominate the airwaves. Take, for instance, Bill O’Reilly’s Jun 17, 2004 radio show when he said “I have no respect for [the Iraqi people]. I think that they’re a prehistoric group âÂ?¦ they’re just people who are primitive” (Brock). This kind of attitude suffocates the public airwaves in the form of talking heads who see America as Liberators and little more. In the eyes of Bill O’Reilly, America can do no wrong by invading Iraq and Liberating its people, and anyone who disagrees is unpatriotic. The ever-popular Rush Limbaugh, in his radio show on September 17, 2004, had this to say about Democrats and those oppose the war: “Half the base is so-called old reasonable Democrats, and they don’t hate the military. The other half of the base hates the military, hates America, hates Bush, hates the world except for France and Germany âÂ?¦ It is a classic illustration of all that I have told you about extreme liberals and their view of the military. They hate it. They love it when the military loses. They consider the military the focus of evil in the modern world” (Brock). It’s a new type of Nationalism that has become interlaced with Orientalism in order to create this “America vs. the World” mentality. As America continues to push its own values onto other countries that it sees as “wrong,” America continues to de-evolve into Colonial Great Britain.

For a case-in-point, let’s examine the medium of “news” on a microscopic, singular level and look at one particular person: Ann Coulter. While I feel it is not the place of a graduate student to use his research paper to badmouth individuals, I do think it is absolutely appropriate to quote the opinion of a Harvard Fellow by the name of Al Franken: “Ann Coulter: Nutcase” (Franken). Coulter represents the most dangerous kind of American Orientalist: one who is taken seriously by the mainstream media. Coulter appears frequently on talk shows such as The Today Show, Hannity and Colmes, and Fox News-on prime time, on serious political discussion programs. And this is what she tells the American people:

From Hannity and Colmes, October 4, 2004
ALAN COLMES: Would you like to convert these people [Muslims] all to Christianity?
COULTER: The ones that we haven’t killed, yes.
COLMES: So no one should be Muslim. They should all be Christian?
COULTER: That would be a good start, yes. (Brock)

In her own syndicated April 28, 2004, column found in National Review (which resulted in her being fired) and is reached by millions of Americans, she had this to say about how to deal with the Middle East: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war” (Coulter 1). The point I’m getting at is this, and I apologize if I’m already beating a dead horse: Ann Coulter is taken seriously. Seriously enough for her books to hit the New York Times Bestseller List. Seriously enough to be a frequent guest on numerous talk shows. Seriously enough for her syndicated column to reach millions of readers every month. Ann Coulter is an extreme example of American Orientalism, and also a minority in regards to her particular tactics for handling non-Americans, but she exists within our culture and one cannot but wonder how the rest of the world must view our nation when it sees her on serious political discussion programs offering forth the systematic genocide of an entire religion in order to advance American values.

It’s important to understand that during this time of division, during this of continuing war and debate, we as a country have begun to very dangerously embrace an old imperial stigma, one used expressly during the postcolonial times by England. “One of the key concept of imperialism,” Salman Rushdie says in Imaginary Homelands, “was that military superiority implied cultural superiority, and this enabled the British to condescend to and repress cultures far older than their own; and it still does” (Rushdie 132). We’re living in a time when our country’s administration consists of a Secretary of State willing to lie in order to advance her boss’s agenda. Moreso, America’s UN ambassador nominee has said in the past that the UN is, quite simply, not necessary (Brock). The truth is we went into war with Iraq without the support of the rest of the nations (except, curiously, “Great Britain” and a single handful of smaller forces from countries such as Poland), without a care for what the rest of the world thought. We were going in, as it turned out, to install democracy. Once the fabled weapons of mass destruction could not be found, we needed a reason to be there. There was absolutely no hope in us simply apologizing and leaving, allowing the newly liberated people to determine their own idea of government. So we held their hands and made sure they didn’t screw up, and we’re still holding their hands because we can’t leave until we’re sure that they can take care of themselves. If this reminds you of Britain’s stance with India, you’re not alone.

The Iraq war is not the first time American Orientalism has reared its ugly head in the news media spotlight. During the Iranian hostage “crisis” in 1979, when Americans were taken hostage in an American embassy, news outlets dedicated a substantial amount of time to covering every detail of the issue, and consequences soon followed. News coverage of the crisis reached more than 391.7 minutes in 1979, and 368 minutes in 1980-from there, the topic of the hostages and Iranian terrorists became frequent fodder for Johnny Carson, Saturday Night Live, comedy circuits, and cinema-The climax came when ABC began running a nightly segment called “Crisis in Iran: America Held Hostage: Day âÂ?¦” that ran opposite The Tonight Show and frequently beat it in the ratings (Kamalipour 78). Americans digested any information about the Iranian hostage situation, which skyrocketed ratings for news organizations and programs, which then dedicated more time to the already overblown “crisis,” which Americans then continued to digest until well after the situation was over. During this time, products began popping up in the form of bumper stickers, t-shirts, etc.-sayings like “Nuke Iran” and “Camel Jockeys, Go Home!” were high sellers, and it was not uncommon to find American protesters in the streets of the Capitol chanting “Ayatollah’s got to go” and “Nuke Iran” (Kamalipour 80-81). And through it all, this is the image of the Middle Eastern male Americans saw on TV: robed, hooded, dark, thick beard, menacing, clutching a gun. It should come as no surprise that, by the time 1990 rolled around, movies like True Lies were dominating the box office.

At this point, it would be good to step back from the third-person perspective of present day and instead jump into the future with a little help from Robert Young and Frantz Fanon. In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon says, “The settler makes history and is conscious of making it. And because he constantly refers to the history of his mother country, he clearly indicates that he himself is the extension of that mother country. Thus the history which he writes is not the history of the country which he plunders but the history of his own nation in regard to all she skims off, all that she violates and starves (Young 120). What will become of Iraq? Will its newest history books accurately record the truths of the Iraq war from the point-of-view of Iraq’s citizens, or will the history instead become a watered-down, patriotic battle of America vs. Evil, presented and written by Americans? Will the book focus primarily on the fall of Saddam or the bloody aftermath which claimed tens of thousands (and this is a conservative estimate, remember) of Iraqi lives, including women and children? I believe, based on the current sociological climate of America today, that there is little hope that Iraq’s history will be carefully preserved by the Iraqi people. I predict, over the course of the next ten years, there will be a massive surge of Iraqi literature preserving at least a portion of the facts regarding Iraq’s current turmoil. This literature will be digested, much like Second Class Citizen and Scheherazade Goes West, on college campuses and not much elsewhere.

Thankfully, there are texts such as Second Class Citizen and Scheherazade Goes West, as well as Wide Sargasso Sea which attempt to preserve at least a little history from the point-of-view of the colonized, the non-colonizer. One of the most important aspects of Second Class Citizen is not its content at all, but the very history of the book itself. Buchi Emecheta, like the main character of her novel, went through hell and back in order to have her story heard. Her manuscript was burned by her husband, and, thanks to the political/gender-sensitive climate of the time, she was forced to self-publish until her voice was finally heard. Her voice was heard, and her novel is now published in multiple countries. She has written multiple novels, all of which have been published. The experiences she went through were difficult, but they found a home in her writing and she is now able to share them with anyone and everyone who wishes to listen. Emecheta shares with readers a very intimate look at the life of a Nigerian immigrant coming to England during a very tumultuous time, a time when racism was much more blatant than it is now, in a community very unlike ones any of her readers are typically used to. By reading Emecheta’s story and thinking about it, we’re able to take a very intimate look at Nigerian culture from the viewpoint of a Nigerian. Robert Young says in White Mythologies that the main problem of Said’s Orientalism is that he offers no alternatives to Orientalism (Young 127-128). I would argue that while Said steadfastly remains mum on the issue of a counterattack to Orientalism, current postcolonial writers are creating their own version of anti-Orientalism by telling their own stories. For Emecheta to tell the story of a Nigerian immigrant rather than be told about Nigerian immigration by a Western scholar shows that there is indeed progress being made.

In Cracking India, Bapsi Sidhwa creates her own version of Indian/Pakistani history from the perspective of a Pakistani woman. Sidhwa is following in the footsteps of Emecheta by telling her own story rather than allowing a Westerner to tell it for us. Sidhwa’s very personal, very emotional tale of a young girl growing up during the division of India and formation of Pakistan creates a new history that allows Western readers to understand what is important in the eyes of the Pakistani. For Sidhwa, the recurring themes of family, friendship and tradition take up much more space in the novel than the bloodshed and carnage. Were we to read a historical Western account of the division of India, we would instead see a much less personal detailing of the travesties and events that made up this tumultuous time. By taking a magnifying glass and examining the rift on a microscopic level, focusing on one family and the people involved with that family, the event of India and Pakistan dividing becomes all the more real, putting faces to the statistics and events.

In “Imaginary Homelands,” Salmon Rushdie writes about what it’s like to draw from one’s memories, as well as the effects of writing about one’s home country from outside the home country. “Human beings,” he says, “âÂ?¦ are not gods but wounded creatures, cracked lenses, capable only of fractured perceptions” (Rushdie 12). What Rushdie hints at in this piece is the idea that, even though writers often recall bits and pieces of memories to writer about, those pieces of memories are powerful, real things. Emecheta and Sidhwa both draw upon their own memories in their writing, which is what makes their stories so powerful. The experiences that these two women choose to share with readers allows us to follow their stories on a much more intimate level than the typical history textbook or news report. Rushdie also says that, as an Indian writing outside of India, he often feels at least partially Westernized (Rushdie 12-16). Is this a good thing? Can an author’s experiences in the West distort or negatively impact their work? While I feel that certainly Rushdie is right in assuming his work can be affected by his experiences in the West, I believe that the impact is negligible in most cases. I believe in a far more black and white world where only two sides of an issue exist, there would certainly be a forced influence on immigrant writers. However, Rushdie says, “fantasy, or the mingling of fantasy and naturalism, is one way of dealing with these problems. It offers a way of echoing in the form of our work the issues faced by all of us: how to build a new, ‘modern’ world out of an old, legend-haunted civilization, an old culture which we have brought into the heart of a newer one” (Rushdie 19). The world of fiction allows for an immigrant writer to choose to work current issues into his/her story about the homeland, or ignore them altogether.
Unfortunately, the majority of these writers are not working in America. They’re writing from outside America, and the only way their novels reach American shores is if an independent publisher picks them up for American Distribution. Washington Square Press, Milkweed Editions, George Brazilier are the publishers who have brought our class’s texts to America. Certainly they’re no Doubleday or Random House. Not surprisingly, one of the most readily available forms of minority fiction usually comes from the pages of The New Yorker. But there is hope.

Hanif Kureishi has written numerous plays and movies about the lives of immigrants and minorities in America. They’ve all been well-received, but are for the most part don’t reach mainstream audiences. Take the character of Nasser from “My Beautiful Launderette,” who takes the fledgling Omar under his wing in order to teach him how to survive in England. “In this damn country which we hate and love,” Nasser says to Omar, “you can get anything you want. It’s all spread out and available. That’s why I believe in England” (Kureishi 48). The characters in this story all share a common belief that England is, essentially, a place where you can achieve whatever dream you may have-but at the same time, these immigrants understand that they’re out of place in a society that may not necessarily want them. As Bhabha suggests, these characters must create their own identity of culture based on those around them-and what constituted their culture back home doesn’t necessarily translate to this new culture in England (Bhabha 937-940). Take for instance Nasser: he is cheating on his wife with an English woman who he doesn’t love (but she may love him). Based on what we read in Second Class Citizen, it almost seems as if this taking of an English woman is something that is incorporated-and perhaps translated a little differently from person to person-in all migrating cultures, quite possibly because it is simply a readily available situation. Kureishi, writing from a very unique position of a London-born English citizen who had an English mother and a Pakistani father. Kureishi grew up during a time when Pakistanis were seen as a type of threat to England, stereotypically looked down upon and frequently attacked by mobs of neo-Nazis (Kureishi 5-7). Kureishi grew up during a time when Enoch Powell’s fiery, racist speeches were igniting what remained of the great Empire, allowing himself to become “a figurehead for the racists,” to the point that Kureishi was embarrassed to be associated with the word “Pakistani” (Kureishi 7). Kureishi suffers from the same problem as Antoinette in that he has difficulty laying claim to either England or Pakistan. He is a Pakistani who wears jeans and does not read the Arabic language (although few do, even though all newspapers at this time were in Arabic), and yet he is an Englishman, he says, with a dark face and a name that cannot be properly pronounced (Kureishi 12-13). He is forced to create his own identity as an English Pakistani, which he then writes about in his plays and scripts, giving us a unique look into the lives of citizens of Easter descent living in England during this time period.

Unfortunately, Kureishi is a minority within a minority, and the majority of American cinema and its media do not share this level of cultural appreciation. Let’s go back to the Iran hostage “crisis” for a moment and examine one of the many movies that came out directly after. “Not Without my Daughter” was rushed to theaters following the conclusion of the Iran situation, about an American woman who moves back to the Middle East with her Middle Easter Husband, who then becomes ensconced in an oppressive religious sect and enforces his new set of values on his wife-she’s saved by a Westernized, “forward-thinking” Middle Eastern man and all is well (Kamalipour 84). Not surprisingly, after the movie became a success, talk shows and news programs began dedicating expansive amounts of time to the subject of the Middle Eastern man and the American wife, and the alleged mistreatment of her at the hands of her foreign husband. While no evidence was presented on the figures of this apparently alarming trend, the situation did not subside until the movie itself was out of theaters and safely within the limbo between cinema and video. What most media organizations failed to recognize was that this movie was one instance, a moment in time that in no way should have been construed as some sort of reference point in understanding relationships between Middle Eastern men and American women. I know this. You know this. But the majority of Americans do not, which is why so many news outlets were able to focus on this particular issue and garner enough attention for more news outlets to focus on it until, quite soon, the story no longer mattered-what mattered was the issue behind the story, the problem of Middle Eastern men oppressing their American wives. It’s a story that quickly developed its very own stereotype.
Coincidentally, it was during this time in the 80s that the Soviet Union was beginning to crumble, losing its dangerous edge and thus causing quite a predicament in American media and cinema: who will be the new bad guys? Ever since the Red Scare era, the villains and spies and bad guys in film were always the Russians, the Reds, those filthy Communists who were willing to kill just about anyone in order to achieve their goals (see: “Red Dawn,” starring Patrick Swayze and others who are fighting against a brutal Russian invasion of America âÂ?¦ patriotism in its most depressingly finest). Enter: Muslims. The Middle East. Terrorists from radical extreme religious groups primarily founded around the Koran, people who represented a significant minority of followers of Islam but who were nevertheless in the public spotlight thanks to situations like the Iran hostage situation and, later, the 9/11 attacks would simply re-energize the movement. What followed was a direct departure from the now-flaccid Russian villain who represented little to no threat and would only occasionally reappear in cinema for flashbacks and movies set in an earlier time. The era of the Militant Muslim was now in full swing.

The Militant Muslim first began his established career in Hollywood in the late 80’s, taking on smaller roles in movies such as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, which, ironically, took place much earlier in time. Still, by turning the Orient into this strange, exotic place where fruits were poisoned and Arab soldiers wielded swords (only to be easily shot dead by the far superior American Indiana Jones), the first stereotypes were established. By the time Rambo III came out in 1988, the Soviet enemy era was finally dead. Ironically, it came in the form of a battle in Afghanistan against the Soviets, which, in real life, was one of the main reasons the Taliban gained such quick power following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, I could not find any textual evidence that Rambo fought alongside Osama Bin Laden.

After 1988, American cinema saw a surge of pro-American, anti-Arab stories that continue to this day. Movies like True Lies and Delta Force embrace the stereotype of the Middle Eastern terrorist and then proceed to reinforce them, either consciously or unconsciously. From there, it has become somewhat accepted to see the dark-skinned, Middle Eastern male in the role of the “Bad Guy,” branching out into other various media. In Lord of the Rings, the Haradrim and Easterlings are two of the three human races who ally themselves with the enemy. The Haradrim, you’ll recall, are the dark-skinned men dressed in Arab clothing, riding the large elephant-like creatures into battle alongside the orcs. In video games, you can find the bad guy named Assassin in “Soul Caliber II,” a hooded dark-skinned character dressed in Middle Eastern robes reminiscent of the Cairo baddies from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Also in video games, “Prince of Persia” tells the tale of a prince of the Persian kingdom during the medieval times. While the historical inaccuracies are better reserved for a more scholarly researcher experienced with the Persian kingdom, rest assured that the prince-and main character of the game-looks very little like a man of Middle Eastern descent other than the Aladdin-style clothes. In addition, the other three human main characters all look like music video rejects for the most recent Nine Inch Nails single than anyone who may have come out of medieval Arabia.

By no means are Middle Eastern males stereotyped from a negative Oriental perspective. In “On Wings of Eagles,” a movie about Ross Perot’s attempts to retrieve two of his workers who were abducted in the Middle East, the hero of the day is an Iranian man who proves to be ingenious and resourceful and is the key to saving the day (Kamalipour 83). His reward? U.S. citizenship, despite having no passport or credentials! “Thank you for all your hard work, Mr. un-stereotypical Iranian fellow, and welcome to the greatest nation in the world. You’ve earned it!” What we have here is Orientalism in its more dangerous form: Nationalism. America is perfect. Everyone wants to emigrate to the United States because it’s better than every other country in the world in every way. Non-Americans must want to move here, because their own country is not as good. It’s the most dangerous myth in American cinema and culture, and it was played out perfectly in “On Wings of Eagles.” It’s a form of propaganda, this overwhelming urge to create America as the Perfect Nation, the Correct Nation. Always.

There has been some-albeit little-hope for American cinema and the news media. Thanks to the help of sites like Media Matters for America, which I have quoted extensively, news media are being held responsible for the messages it sends. When someone comes onto a major political discussion show and lies about fact regarding the Iraq war, they’re held accountable. When someone comes on these shows or writes in a news article saying something of a racist nature, they’re held accountable. What would have happened in Great Britain if this type of network had existed during the postcolonial period where nationalism and racism were rampant, and yet admission of the latter was few and far between from white Brits. “Very few white people,” Salman Rushdie says of this time period in Britain, “except for those active in fighting racism, are willing to believe the descriptions of contemporary reality offered by blacks” (Rushdie 134). He continues: “White and black perceptions of everyday life have moved so far apart as to be incompatible” (134). What Rushdie is saying in his most uncompromising and literal ways is that there was a see-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil mantra embraced by whites during this time in which he was writing, a time when police officers refused to frown upon racial discrimination, when frequent spats rose in the media of non-white immigrants coming in and feeding off of Britain’s hospitality. What watchdog groups existed, there is little evidence they were able to do anything (if any did exist). With the advent of the internet and groups like Media Matters for America, these types of things are brought into the spotlight. They’re forced upon the non-believers who are willing to say “No one is stupid enough to say on national TV that all Muslims should be converted to Christianity.”

There is less hope in the American cinema, but all is not bleak. In the “bad” department, there’s the new flick Sahara. This Indiana Jones rehash is about a group of would-be treasure hunters-three Western and one Oriental-searching for a lost Confederate ship in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Ignoring the obvious plot problems, the critical consensus, much like Indiana Jones, is that the movie is dumb fun. The problems occurs when one first realizes that all of the bad guys are Africans dressed in Hollywood-esque robed garbs. The only people who die in the movie-including the minority woman accompanying our heroes-are black. This poses some problems: what does it say about the Americans, who are seemingly indestructible even when suffering insurmountable odds (remember, the only dark-skinned associate they had is killed)? Moreso, what is a Confederate ship doing in the middle of the Sahara Desert? But there is hope. With the release of Kingdom of Heaven, screenwriter/director Ridley Scott has accomplished something very few white filmmakers have been able to do: he’s pleased the Muslims. And here’s the secret to doing this, something that a seemingly large amount of Americans seem impossible: he listened to them. When the initial screenplay worried major American Muslim groups, Scott brought in a number of Muslim scholars for the final draft in order to ensure not only a fair representation, but also historical accuracy (Germain 1). I think what’s important to remember in the case of Scott is he has an enormous amount of power in the world of Hollywood, thanks to his large success with blockbuster films like Gladiator. Where other more financially shaky directors may not have been able to make such a wild suggestion (and here I use sarcasm) to bring in Muslim scholars, Scott was able to do so, quite frankly, because he wanted to. The end result? “It’s one of the better representation of Muslims we’ve seen out of Hollywood,” according to Laila al-Qatami, head of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (Germain 1). It’s amazing, I think, how close our society can get to eliminating Orientalism when we simply try to.


Bhabha, Homi. “The Location of Culture.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie
Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Brock, David. Media Matters for America.

Emecheta, Buchi. Second Class Citizen. New York: George Brazillier, 1974.

Germain, David. “Kingdom of Fairness.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 5 May 2005: 4E.

Kamalipour, Yahya R. The U.S. Media and the Middle East. Conneticut: Greenwood
Press, 1995.

Kureishi, Hanif. London Kills Me. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Little, George. American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East Since 1945.
North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Mernissi, Fatema. Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems. New
York: Pocket Books, 2001.

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: Horton, 1966.

Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Press, 1979.

Sidhwa, Bapsi. Cracking India: A Novel. Minneapolis: Milkweed Press, 1991.

Young, Robert. White Mythologies. New York: Routleage, 1990.

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