A stereotype is the creation of an unfair opinion or view; an individual will take the behavior of one person and state that all people belonging to that particular group behave in the same manner. Stereotyping encourages people to react and behave in a manner that is both judgmental and prejudiced.
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The perception of Arabs and the Islamic religion has created a system in which prejudices and stereotypes worked their way so thoroughly into literature, education, history, language, and social mores that they seem to govern the conflict as much as they are created by it, while newspapers and television news play a major role in the way we perceive Arabs and the Islamic religion. Movies, books, and sitcoms also play a major role in shaping these stereotypes.
Popular films such as, “Villains,” “Sheikhs,” “Cameos,” and “Cliffhangers,” which portray Arabs as Public Enemy #1, brutal, heartless, uncivilized Natives bent on terrorizing civilized Westerners. These different types of things all have the ability to enlighten and enrich the lives of all the people they touch; however, they also have the ability to perpetuate and create stereotypes, as in the case of how Americans view Arabs. Television programs and the mass media do not examine the fact that the Islamic religion preaches equality and peace.
A good example of media coverage in which presented the facts of an actual event in a prejudicial manner was the Oklahoma City bombing. In 1995, within minutes of the event, news reporters were insinuating that the bombing was an act of terrorists. Arabs are seen as terrorists and murderers due to how the media presents them. The media is not the only key in creating stereotypes; you’ll find examples in many different types of American literature, also. The negative stereotypes about Arabs spill over into the textbooks used in American schools and are taught in the education system.
The education programs imprint young children with numerous negative images of Arabs. Another form of literature, novels, also perpetuates stereotypes by romanticizing Arabs as dressing in flowing robes, striving against desert hardships, and being surrounded by submissive females. Others novels have portrayed Arabs as evil and corrupt; some portray them as terrorists and murderers. These distortions of the Arab people, in literature have created a general mistrust and dislike for Arabs among Americans.
Another form of broadcasting of stereotypes comes from the news media. The news programs allow television journalism to play a major role in setting the political agenda. The news media aired broadcasts involving the United States government and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who reported a 250% increase in hate crimes against Arabs from the previous year. In the face of September 11, a wave of racially motivated attacks against people from the Middle East is taking place throughout the United States of America.
During the last two years, the Justice Department has targeted almost exclusively people from the Middle East, which has led to the incarceration, deportation, and interrogation of numerous individuals who had nothing to do with September 11. In addition, since September 11, many Arab immigrants have also faced dreadful prospects of detention. Stereotypes extend beyond those of Arab people; they also encompass the Islamic religion. The distortion of Islam and numerous misconceptions lead American television viewers to believe that it’s a mysterious religion prone to acts of terrorism, violence, and fanaticism.
In an attempt to place Islam in a category that Americans can understand, the media portrays images of the Islamic religion as belonging to a faith of 800 million people, consisting of strange, bearded men with burning eyes, shifty figures in robes and turbans, and piles of stones barely concealing the battered bodies of the adulterous. It was during the 1970s and through the 1980s that Arabs came to be regularly portrayed as terrorists. Since 1948 the major American media, news, TV, movies, and radio have all characterized the Islamic religion wrongly.
It is time that the American media lived up to its responsibility to treat racial and ethnic groups fairly. The unfair images of Arab Americans and the entire Islamic religion have always been malicious and inaccurate; it is time these incorrect stereotypes were corrected. Hurtful and harmful stereotypes can destroy a person’s inner spirit. Continuously repeated, they degrade people, narrow our vision, and blur reality. The media is a large factor in the formation of stereotypes and viewpoints. Therefore, it is their responsibility to allow their audience to form opinions that are free from the influence of bias and negative stereotypes.
A prolonged encounter with these types of hurtful statements and actions against the Arab people will only give support to the already extremely controversial issue that has caused us to be at war, as we are now. Further contribution may even lead to a World War Three, costing thousands of innocent lives, all because people are not willing to accept others for who they are. As Americans, we should be accepting to these types of freedoms, because that’s what our nation was built on. Freedom is what our country offers, yet ridiculous stereotypes destroy our perception of what freedom really means.