Hollywood stirs Middle East
plot By Christof Lehmann
The low budget movie that by ridiculing
Islam triggered violent protests throughout the
Middle East and the storming of US embassies
raises the question of whether the explosive
reactions to such insults are really caused by a
few Mohammed cartoons, as in 2006, and cheap
movies, which very few in the West had even heard
of before the protests they apparently create.
Is it blow-back to US foreign policy, or
are the causes to be found in decades of Hollywood
productions which vilify and denigrate Arabs and
Muslims and stereotype them as sub-human. How can
one shoe-string budget movie provoke what years of
drone attacks has failed to produce?
one who came close to expressing the root causes
Supreme Leader of Iran,
Ayatollah Khamenei. Khamenei slammed the
antagonistic policies of Zionism and the United
States as root causes. Others claimed that the now
11-year-old war on terrorism has produced strong
anti-Western sentiments among Muslims.
others blame responses to colonialism and
neo-colonialism, and then there are those who
claim that the violent protests are a "blow back"
to all of the above, and in particular to the US'
cooperation with Islamist terrorist groups in the
subversion of Libya and Syria.
None of the
above answers one simple question. Why have
low-quality cultural products like the Mohammed
cartoons and the anti-Islam movie the potential to
bring angry masses on to the streets, where an
entire decade of drone attacks has failed to
provoke the rage of the masses.
and non-Muslims are seemingly so used to the
scapegoating, stereotyping and denigration of
Muslims and in particular Arab Muslims in art and
entertainment that they don't realize the degree
to which the Western news and entertainment
industry, and in particular Hollywood, is
depriving an entire people and Muslims from their
The Arab American scholar, D
Jack Shaheen, studied more than 1,000 movies, from
the oldest Hollywood productions to the greatest
blockbuster productions up to 2001 before he wrote
the book Real Bad Arabs, How Hollywood Vilifies
a People. 
Shaheen concluded that
over 300 movies, more than 25% of all those he
studied, vilified Arabs and Muslims in one way or
the other, comparing it to World War II Nazi
propaganda against the Jewish people. Shaheen
argues that both have caused unspeakable human
suffering due to the fact that it would be
difficult to have a population accept the brutal
treatment of an entire people without those people
first being deprived of their humanity.
Shaheen uses the Disney Classic
Aladdin, which has been seen by millions of
people world wide, as a classic example for how
Hollywood is recycling anti-Muslim and Arab
stereotypes. The song at the beginning of the
movie, which is a "must see family movie for
children", is setting the scene.
Where they cut off your ear if
they donīt like your face, itīs barbaric, but
hey, itīs home".
People, and in
particular children, are coached into believing
that Arabland is a place where innocent women have
their hands amputated for forgetting to pay at the
bazaar. In other movies, Arab men are described as
imbecilic super-rich, as sex-addicted tyrants who
mistreat their woman, and more importantly,
American women. Women are kidnapped and sold off
to sleazy Arabs at auctions.
drone strikes and military aggression become
increasingly controversial, the US Department of
Defense (DoD) is providing high-tech military
equipment, locations, troops and consultants for
Hollywood producers. The catch is that the DoD is
keeping a watchful eye to see that only movies
that portray the US and the US military positively
are supported. Many of the most violent movies
that glorify war crimes and mass slaughter of
dehumanized Arabs or Muslims have been produced
with support from the DoD.
US Army Community Relations website, the main
criteria for DoD support of Hollywood productions
are that the production benefits the DoD or
otherwise be in the national interest, that they
portray the US military and foreign policy
positively, help recruit, and that the productions
are not contradicting US Government policy. 
A movie that realistically portrays a
drone attack on a wedding party in Pakistan is of
course not likely to be supported by the DoD.
The most plausible explanation for why a
shoe-string budget anti-Islamic movie catalyzed
the rage of the masses while Abu Ghraib and a
decade of drone attacks failed to enrage the
masses is that it is a response to decades of
dehumanization by Hollywood, which seemingly
justifies the military aggressions.
Mohammed cartoons and the low-budget movie that
nobody had heard of before an Arab journalist
broke the news in mainstream media are at best
sparks that ignited a very dry powder keg.
Rather than fixating the discourse on the
dialectics between freedom of expression and
blasphemy, it might be worth discussing whether
Arabs and Muslims world wide should join
Westerners who have understood the role Hollywood
is playing at dehumanizing Muslims and any other
"targeted group or people" and to systematically
boycott Hollywood products that deprive entire
people from their humanity and glorify violence
against Arabs and Muslims.
Note: 1. Jack G. Shaheen
(2001); REAL BAD ARABS, How Hollywood Vilifies
A People, Olive Branch Press, New York, New
Hampton. For Shaheen's discussion of the issue,
see Youtube video here.
2. US Army Community Relations, Division West.
Dr Christof Lehmann, born 1958
in West Germany, was Advisor for Research in
Psycho-traumatology to Yasser Arafat and survivors
of the Sabra Shatila massacre in 1982, secured a
doctoral degree in clinical psychology in 1986. He
was adviser to Joshua Nkomo on the impact of
torture and psychological trauma on conflict
solution and reconciliation in Zimbabwe's politics
in 1986-1990, and advised Nelson Mandela on social
politics, public mental health and the effect of
psychological trauma on peace and reconciliation
in 1994-1997. Dr Lehmann is a practicing clinical
psychologist and runs an independent blog at: