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And the winner is … Islamophobia

Ben affleck in Argo: 'At the Golden Globes, there were gongs for a heroically bearded CIA spook saving hostages and American face in Iran.' Photograph: Allstar/WARNER BROS. PICTURES/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

Ben affleck in Argo: ‘At the Golden Globes, there were gongs for a heroically bearded CIA spook saving hostages and American face in Iran.’ Photograph: Allstar/WARNER BROS. PICTURES/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

One has to ask does the Arts – literature, music, TV shows, films – question the status quo or does it reaffirm it?

And the winner is … Islamophobia

by Rachel Shabi

America’s Middle East policy has been enthusiastically endorsed. Not at the UN or Arab League, however, but by the powerbrokers of Hollywood. At the Golden Globes, there were gongs for a heroically bearded CIA spook saving hostages and American face in Iran (the film Argo); a heroically struggling agent tracking down Bin Laden (Zero Dark Thirty) and heroically flawed CIA operatives protecting America from mindless, perpetual terror (TV series Homeland).

The three winners have all been sold as complex, nuanced productions that don’t shy away from hard truths about US foreign policy. And liberal audiences can’t get enough of them. Perhaps it’s because, alongside the odd bit of self-criticism, they are all so reassuringly insistent that, in an increasingly complicated world, America just keeps on doing the right thing. And even when it does the wrong thing – such as, I don’t know, torture and drone strikes and deadly invasions – it is to combat far greater evil, and therefore OK.

When I saw Argo in London with a Turkish friend, we were the only ones not clapping at the end. Instead, we were wondering why every Iranian in this horribly superior film was so angry and shouty. It was a tense, meticulously styled depiction of America’s giant, perpetual, wailing question mark over the Middle East: “Why do they hate us?” Iranians are so irked by the historically flimsy retelling of the hostage crisis that their government has commissioned its own version in response.

Zero Dark Thirty, another blanked-out, glossed-up portrayal of US policy, seems to imply that America’s use of torture – sorry, “enhanced interrogation” – is legitimate because it led to the capture of Osama bin Laden (something that John McCain and others have pointed out is not even true). Adding insult to moral bankruptcy, the movie has been cast as a feminist film, because it has a smart female lead. This is cinematic fraud: a device used to extort our approval.

Homeland was no better. It is the story of an American marine taken captive by a top al-Qaida terrorist who turns out, wouldn’t you know, to be Palestinian. Tortured while detained (though I’m guessing this would be bad torture, not the good kind used in Zero Dark Thirty), the marine turns to Islam and, coincidentally, to terror. Meanwhile, all the Arab and Muslim characters in Homeland – however successful, integrated, clever, whatever – are all somehow signed up to the global terror network. AsLaila Al-Arian, a journalist and co-author of Collateral Damage: America’s War against Iraqi Civilians, puts it: “Viewers are left to believe that Muslims/Arabs participate in terrorist networks like Americans send holiday cards.” She describes this celebrated Golden Globe winner as “TV’s most Islamophobic show“.

When challenged, the creators of these travesties respond with pat dismissal: the director Kathryn Bigelow pointed out that Zero Dark Thirty is “just a movie”. Ben Affleck has spoken touchingly of his concern that Argo might be politicised.

But why would these renditions of US policy be seen in the Middle East as anything other than attempts to seize the moral high ground? It’s all supposed to be a massive stride forward in the portrayal of complexity, made to challenge American audience preconceptions – and a far cry from the bad old days depicted in Reel Bad Arabs, a documentary that shows how Hollywood caricatures Arabs as “belly dancers, billionaire sheikhs and bombers“, according to one reviewer.

But such slick, award-winning cinema isn’t about nuance, it’s just self-serving moral ambiguity – and in this sense it is a fitting cultural reflection of actual US policy in the Middle East.


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  • Heinz Catsup

    Ah, I see. Well like I said I never saw the film yet but from what I heard I just assumed wrongly that it was propaganda. Live & Learn.

  • Didn’t make me a hater either, and most likely someone like Pamela Geller would hate it, just because of the opening scene.

  • If you’re talking about Argo, watch the opening scene where the Woman is talking about the History of Iran and how the US installed the Shah, and than tell us that.

  • If they wanted to encourage Americans to think that invading Iran was a good idea, I don’t think they’d include that opening scene with the woman explaining how exactly Iran got to point were there was enough support in the country for Khomeini to come to power. It actually made me angry at what my government had done, and sympathize with the Iranians.

    By the way, I had learned about that before I saw the movie, but I was reminded of it, in the opening scene.

  • That one scene at the beginning with the woman describing the history how the US toppled Mossadegh so US and UK oil companies could regain their passions in Iran, if any thing made the US sound really evil. It also made me feel sorry for the Iranian people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they got the embassy workers out, but the film didn’t exactly make me feel proud to be an American either given the opening sequence.

    I also don’t think that an anti Muslim propagandist would include the part about how the United States installed a brutal dictator, whose policies led to mass starvation, just to protect our economic interests.

  • I want to see that “Reel Bad Arabs,” but in the meantime I avoided commenting on this, because I hadn’t seen Argo yet. I wouldn’t call it Islamophobic, nothing about it would lead me to believe Islam was responsible for what happened, and it would hardly lead me to hate Muslims. In fact if you watch the beginning of the film there’s a litter history lessen as to how United States toppled a democratically elected government and replaced it with the brutal Shah, whose policies lead to things like starvation, it actually made me feel a lot of sympathy for the Iranian people. It made it very clear that they were angry at the US for all the Misery they had created in their country, not because they thought their religion taught them to hate unbelievers.

  • Heinz Catsup

    Actually I would considering there are those who want a war with Iran so badly that such a film as this would work in their favor, wouldn’t it?

  • Heinz Catsup

    But is Argo not just propaganda all the same as Zero Dark Thirty? Admittedly I never saw it even after being offered by my cousin to see it with her back in October but from what I know It does do a better job than ZDT in masking such a motive what with the history listen of Operation Ajax in 1953 toppling Mossadegh and installing the Shah & of course 1979 revolution with Khomeini emerging supreme leader while the rest is just propaganda. Again I wouldn’t mind being corrected but that’s the impression I got from some reviews and such.

  • Pingback: And the Winner is.....Islamophobia - Middle East Experience()

  • Tanveer Khan

    Also found this. You could use this to show that the Syrians arent fond of extremists.
    Sorry if i seem to be link spamming, lol. Just seem to be finding alota articles that might be useful.

  • mindy1

    Can’t speak for anyone else, this movie did NOT make me a hater

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Excellent article!! Thank God someone actually mentioned Jack Shaheen’s “Reel Bad Arabs,” should be required reading!

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