'Siege' demonizes Arab-Americans

By Joyce Chediac

"The Siege" is not just a movie. It is war propaganda against Arab and Muslim people.

It opened Nov. 6, during a massive mobilization of U.S. firepower in the Middle East, with guns, bombs and missiles aimed at Iraq.

The movie stars Denzel Washington, Annette Bening and Bruce Willis. In it, Middle Eastern, Muslim suicide bombers blow up a New York bus and a movie theater and target a school. The Army puts the city under martial law and places the Arab-American male population of Brooklyn in detention camps.

Arab-American groups around the country are picketing "The Siege" and handing out educational leaflets to moviegoers.

"It demonizes Arab-Americans deeply and completely," said Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington. "And it�s done with a seriousness of intent that we haven�t seen before. ... The film presents American Muslims as a single, homogeneous, threatening mass. ... I will be pleasantly surprised if there are no hate crimes [against Muslims] in the wake of this film."

A long line of racist flicks

"The Siege" is the latest in a long line of TV dramas and movies that give the impression that Arab and Muslim people mean you and me bodily harm.

These biased films help build up a war hysteria. They provide cultural justification for U.S. intervention abroad�especially in the Middle East, where U.S.-based banks and corporations make huge profits by dominating Mideast oil at the expense of the population there.

Recent movies vilifying Arabs and Moslems include "Executive Decision," "True Lies," "Voyage of Terror" and "Terrorist on Trial."

Even children�s cartoons, like the Disney production of "Aladdin," contain racist stereotypes of Arabs. These also show up in comedies like "Father of the Bride II."

And there is no end in sight. Al Pacino is currently in Egypt filming a movie where the enemy is Hezbollah.

Edward Zwick, director of "The Siege," claims his movie is an attempt to explore stereotypes. There is one sympathetic Arab character�an FBI agent played by Tony Shaloub�something rare in U.S. movies. And the Army general who tortures an Arab to death and jails Arab residents of Brooklyn is arrested.

Yet overall, the movie is not at all progressive. It is more like those action formula movies where the appearance of one African American "good guy" serves as a cover for showing all the villains as Black.

The hero of "The Siege," who rights all wrongs and fights for the rights of all citizens, is the FBI.

The movie generated more mistrust against Middle Easterners than some other anti-Arab movies where the fighting and killing is stylized and two-dimensional. Here, Moslems are portrayed as crazy and unpredictable, and living in your city. Bombing victims are shown in gory detail.

�Visual demonizing of Arab characters�

Janet Maslin, lead film reviewer for the New York Times and an establishment movie critic if there ever was one, wrote in her Nov. 6 review, "Well-intentioned words don�t change either the film�s visual demonizing of Arab characters or its way of titillating the audience with terror stunts."

As Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations put it: "Yes, the film does have a few positive lines of dialogue about Islam. But it is far more effective at linking Islam to terrorism.

"For example, the ritual washing Muslims must perform before praying is used to cue the audience to impending bloodshed. In one instance, this act of religious observance precedes a shot of a detonator�s being inserted in a bomb; another time, hand washing is quickly followed by a shot of a terrorist leader strapping explosives to his chest."

"Different people will have different reactions to this film," said Omar Ahlmad, the board chair of CAIR. "But the bottom line is that we believe moviegoers will view the next Muslim or Arab they meet with increased suspicion and hostility."

The real terrorists

Who are the real terrorists?

Don�t be fooled by movies like "The Siege." The working people in the United States are not threatened by people from the Middle East.

People here die from sickness when they have no health coverage, from stress due to joblessness, from no heat in sub-standard housing. From poverty.

No Palestinian is responsible for these deaths. No Iraqi evicted poor people here, no Irish freedom fighter, no Libyan laid off tens of thousands of workers, kicking them into the street. No Moslem cut back AIDS programs and care for pregnant women.

The real enemies are at home. They are the landlords, the bosses and the government in Washington that protects them.

Meanwhile, if you want to know the real story of the people of the Middle East, rent the movie "Lion of the Desert" produced and directed by Moustapha Akkad and released in 1981.

This moving and accurate film describes the struggle of the Libyan people earlier in this century against relentless and despotic Italian imperialism. Instead of Italy, substitute the United States, and its clients such as Israel, and you�ll get the picture.

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