Disney Kills Them Again...
Arabs, That Is

The Disney movie, “G.I. Jane” features a gratuitous end sequence with star Demi Moore and her Navy Seal chums on a rampage killing Arabs. Once again scores of faceless Arabs bit the dust and the world is better off with their extermination. Or so we are led to believe.

Disney appears to be on a holy war against Arabs. The movie studio's vision of diversity seems to be that characters of various ethnicities and both genders get to slam Arabs. Jackie Chan spent half of “Operation Condor” slugging out Arabs; “Kazaam” with Shaquille O'Neal had numerous Arab stereotypes; “Father of the Bride, Part II” had Steve Martin dealing with a grotesque Arab character and “In the Army Now” showed G.I.'s clobbering desert Arabs, encouraging the Air Force to “blow the hell out of them.”

Disney has attempted to justify the sequence in “G.I. Jane” by writing that it “depicts activity in the Gulf Region where action involving the United States has taken place over the past several years.” Actually, it takes place in Libya—about 1000 miles from the Gulf Region. Disney has apparently not seen its own movie or is in need of a map.

The cumulative effect of these movies is that Arabs are seen as the enemy and are violent, unscrupulous, greedy, slave-traders who abuse women.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee is waiting for normal Arabs to make the big screen.

“When the only Arabs on the silver screen are villains, there is something to be said about the prevalence of anti-Arab sentiments in our society,” ADC President Hala Maksoud said. “The fact that a company such as Walt Disney, the leader in family entertainment, is contributing perpetuation of anti-Arab stereotypes is alarming. We expect Disney to live up to the standards it sets for itself. Don't Arab-American children deserve to feel proud of their Arab heritage?”

Maksoud continued: “We're talking about the images that dominate our culture and shape the minds of our children. Disney has a responsibility to ensure that its productions do not foster ethnic animosity. They are failing in that responsibility. It's particularly painful that a company which got its start humanizing animals, Mickey and Donald, has now taken to dehumanizing people as a major endeavor.”

Thanks to Sam Husseini and Ghada Khouri at ADC for this important information.

Hollywood and the Arabs

By Mourad Chaouch

One might think nasty generalizations about ethnic or religious groups are a thing of the dark past and are not mentioned publicly, let alone written or broadcast anywhere in modern America. Unless, of course, you examine the media's portrayal of persons with Arab origin.

One particular Hollywood giant has earned low marks lately with the Arab American community for its repeated negative portrayals of Arabs despite earlier pledges to the contrary. The Walt Disney Company and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) reached an agreement in 1993 for the alteration by Disney of the theme song of the movie “Aladdin” (“Arabian Nights”) and consultations between Disney producers and ADC in the future on all issues relating to Arabs and the Arab world. Disney did alter most of the offensive lyrics in the video and television releases of the film but retracted its pledge on any consultations.

There have been many offenses against Arabs by Disney producers and script writers. The movie “Father of the Bride, Part II” depicts a repulsive character by the name of “Habib” who is evil, has no regard for others’ feelings and extorts money from the main character of the film, Mr. Banks (Steve Martin). “Kasaam,” another Disney movie starring Shaquille O'Neal portrays an evil character by the name of “Mr. Malek,” along with a couple of assistants who all speak with heavy Middle Eastern accents, threaten a 12-year-old boy and throw him down a shaft when he resists their threats.

The main problem is not the depiction of repulsive Arab characters but the absence of balancing positive Arab characters. Disney producers do not appear to go to the same length as their Hollywood colleagues to make sure positive characters are used to balance the negative characters. This serves to dehumanize Arabs and justify anti-Arab racism. Good examples are the Oklahoma City bombing and the TWA crash where Arabs were immediately accused of violence.

Repeated requests by ADC and its members for a meeting with Disney representatives to address Arab concerns went unanswered for months. This led ADC to organize demonstrations in front of Disney facilities that were covered in the national and international media. In the summer of 1996, Disney finally started responding to the criticism by responding to individual writers with letters of apologies. Disney also established a new department of Arabic Standards and Practices headed by an Arab American.

A letter writing campaign has attempted to influence the Disney Company into consulting with Arab American groups (such as ADC) in the making of films that depict Arabs or deal with Middle Eastern issues.

Mourad Chaouch is a board member of the Habiba Chaouch Foundation.

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The Myth of Arab Fanaticism

Excerpted from Metanoia newsletter, the following article by Vincent Kavaloski of the former Ecumenical Partnership for Peace and Justice (Wisconsin) sheds light on myths about the Arab World

Edward Said, the distinguished literary critic from Colombia University, has written in Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World (New York: Pantheon, 1981, p. 26): “It is only a slight overstatement to say the Muslims and Arabs are essentially covered, discussed, apprehended, either as oil suppliers or as potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab Muslim life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Islamic World.”

In other words, a series of crude, negative caricatures supports an unconscious racism in the American mind. For example, the Near East Report (Nov. 6, 1989), a prominent U.S. Zionist newsletter, argued against negotiating with Arab nations on the grounds that the “Arab mind” is essentially vengeful, violent and irrational. It published an overtly racist cartoon of the “Arab mind” which allegedly consists of “Blackmail,” “Double-talk,” “Don't Trust your Brother,” “Fanaticism,” “Vengeance,” “World of Fantasy,” “Sunni Hate Shiite,” “No Peace With Israel,” and “No Compromise.”

It is almost impossible to imagine a similar racist slander of the “Jewish Mind” or “Negro Mind” being tolerated in this country. Yet deeply racist stereotypes of Arabs go largely unchallenged (except by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee).

Westerners who live among Arab people (such as my wife, Jane, who spent two Peace Corps years in Morocco) discover another reality. They are impressed by Arab generosity, hospitality and compassion.

I recall vividly our own numerous experiences of warmth and hospitality two years ago, when Jane and I Ied a Wisconsin Interfaith Delegation to the Middle East. In Nazareth a group of us went into an Arab bakery for coffee and rolls and talked with the proprietor, Amad, about his family, the Intifada (Palestinian civil resistance to Israeli control) and subsequent Israeli repression, even against Palestinians in Galilee, which is in Israel proper.

One topic led to another in the languorous heat of the Galilean afternoon. Finally, as we rose to leave, Amad thanked us for visiting and then refused our payment. Among the Arab people, he explained, when people open their hearts to one another, they are no longer strangers, but guests, and guests are to be given hospitality. Hospitality is holy, Amad said, and cannot be bought.

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Toddler Terrorist? Not!

By Alanna Nelson

“Passenger Chaouch, Passenger Chaouch,” the announcement blared as we headed for the gate to board a flight for Amsterdam. I expected the loud speaker to also page me—“passenger Chaouch’s” mother. But there was no additional message. The summons by the airport staff only singled out my daughter. “Just a few more minutes and we'll be at the airplane, Tej,” I puffed as we rushed to board our 7 a.m. flight. Tej, age 2, was sleepy and tired of running. “Up, Mama, up,” was her only thought that morning.

There are rules that no person's baggage can be loaded onto the plane without that person also being onboard. Since neither of us had arrived at the gate yet, I expected that if Tej was paged for that reason, that I would also be paged. We reached the gate where airline crew laughed as they looked at Tej's boarding pass. “This is passenger Chaouch?” they asked.

Apparently Toddler Tej with her Arab name (Tunisian) was perceived as a potential terrorist, having checked luggage and not shown up for her flight (yet).

Alanna Nelson is a board member of the Habiba Chaouch Foundation.

Tej Chaouch
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