IHRC report reveals negative media stereotypes of Muslims

Western movies from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Aladdin” promote negative stereotypes of Muslims by casting them all too often as villains, a British Muslim pressure group said on Thursday.

“There is no such thing as a Muslim good guy,” said Arzu Merali, co-author of a report by the Islamic Human Rights Commission that argued that movies played a crucial role in fostering a crude and exaggerated image.

The commission’s study, based on soundings taken from almost 1,250 British Muslims, also found that 62 percent felt the media was “Islamophobic” and 14 percent called it racist.

“Cinema, both in Hollywood and Britain, has helped to demonise Muslims. They are portrayed as violent and backward. That reinforces prejudices,” Merali told Reuters. “This stretches back before the 9/11 attacks in the United States,” said Merali, head of research at the campaigning body.

The report pointed the finger of blame as far back as the 1981 blockbuster “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in which “the cultural stereotypes and scenarios are patently obvious” as veiled women hurry through the bazaar to snake-charming music.

The 1998 film “The Siege” starring Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington was accused of reinforcing “the monolithic stereotype of the Arab/Palestinian/Muslim being violent and ready to be martyred for their cause.” Disney’s cartoon was criticized for describing Aladdin’s homeland as “barbaric.”

The report called for British film censors to be given greater power to cut out “objectionable material” and said media watchdogs in Britain should be more effective in ensuring “responsible coverage” of Muslims.

Reuters, 25 January 2007

See also Guardian, 25 January 2007 and IHRC press release, 25 January 2007