The Middle East has been seen through multiple perspectives but one: that of the native. More often than not, war movies like “American Sniper” and “War Dogs” use the Middle East and Arabs merely as supplements to the film’s overall agenda.
Typically, stereotypes concerning Middle Easterners are perpetuated because of their representation in these movies. Some stereotypes include the idea that they are terrorists, always roaming in deserts, and clad in veils and belly dancer garb.
Arguably, one of the most inaccurate of these stereotypes is that Middle Easterners are inherently Muslim, even though not all of them are. In reality, nearly two-thirds of Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Pew Research Center. Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that Middle Easterners are still portrayed as Muslims in the majority of films and television shows.
These stereotypes are not specific to war movies either. They can be seen in all genres of entertainment, including children’s movies like Disney’s “Aladdin.”
The immensely popular film happens to be the only Disney movie that is centered around characters of Middle Eastern descent. However, it whitewashes the characters by depicting them with light skin and Caucasian attributes.
However, while a large part of the problem is misrepresentation, there is also a complete lack of true representation. The perspective these war movies depict are, for the most part, those of American soldiers. While their narrative is important, it is also possible to produce movies about the war in Iraq and the psychological effects of war without portraying Arabs as radicalized and delusional traitors. By revealing the harsh realities of war, audiences can sympathize with all the people impacted, not just a select few. For instance, “American Sniper,” a movie that deals with that exact concept, fails to acknowledge the effects of war on the civilians that the soldiers are killing.
War is not a one-sided battle and should not be portrayed as such. As valid as the American soldiers’ stories are in fighting for their country, the same must be held true for the innocent civilians on the other side that are also plagued by the horrors of war.
The fact of the matter is that Middle Easterners are not camel-riding brutes who plan world domination at every waking moment, so they should not be solely depicted as such. In fact, according to the American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, only about two percent of Arabs are traditional Bedouin, and today there are more Arab engineers and computer operators than desert dwellers.
Ultimately, these stereotypes lead to misconceptions about Middle Easterners and Middle Eastern-Americans. Not only can this affect their personal lives, but also lead to hate crimes and discrimination.
As an alternative, Middle Easterners should be given the platform to discuss their own narratives without it being tainted by stereotypes.