Marked off: Hollywood’s Untold Story of Arabs/Muslims and Camels

Citation: Mahdi, Waleed F. “Marked off: Hollywood’s Untold Story of Arabs/Muslims and Camels.” In Muslims and American Popular Culture, eds. Anne R. Richards and Iraj Omidvar. Volume 1. Praeger, 196-223, 2014.ِ

Abstract: The process of downgrading human beings from the category of “human” into “subhuman” and eventually “nonhuman” relies on the tendency to associate them with docile and un-ferocious, if not abhorred, animals. Ottomans viewed Armenians as “cattle,” the Nazis called Jews “rats,” Japanese referred to Chinese as “pigs,” Hutu perceived Tutsi as “insects,” U.S. soldiers saw Filipinos as “gorillas,” while Al-Qaeda affiliates deem Americans “grandchildren of apes and pigs.”

These metaphorical images are born within a specific milieu, informed by certain religious, racial, and political contexts beyond which they are bound to vanish. Within an Orientalist context, Arabs and Muslims have long been a target of such images, perpetuated in Hollywood’s films of which I have traced ninety, produced throughout the twentieth century. In forty-four films, they are vilified as apes, goats, sheep, cows, pigs, dogs, jackals, hippopotamuses, serpents, frogs, spiders, cockroaches, flies, and many other animals. In the other forty-six films, they are constantly denigrated as camels.

This chapter uncovers Hollywood’s long-held perceptions and hidden hierarchical practices by analyzing certain stereotypical, metonymical, and metaphorical images of Arabs, Muslims, and animals, particularly camels. The central argument of this work is: “Arabs and Muslims have undergone three significant processes in Hollywood’s films; processes that have downgraded them from the human sphere into that of animals. The processes are those of denigration, naturalization, and alienation.”

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