THE ONLY U.S. minority that remains the butt of ethnic jokes, slurs and outright prejudice on television is the Arab community in America.
Most every other minority in the United States has formed some committee or vigil group to voice strong objection whenever offensive material hits the airwaves. Perhaps the most active is B'na B'rith's Anti-Defamation League, which has brought stereotyping of Jews on TV shows to a near-halt.
Arab Americans have yet to create such a formal organization to combat the effects of stereotyping. The only know consistent follower of such incidents is a Lebanese-American professor of mass media at the University of Southery Illinois, Dr Jack C. Shaheen. In a magazine article, Shaheen listed examples of Arabs portrayed in derogatory ways in television shows and commercials. Since Shaheen's article appeared, readers have continued to provide him with updated examples of stereotyping.
There is no lack of such examples. Whether out of ignorance, or hatred, or both, many television script writers and producers continue to portray Islam as an evil religion followed by sword-wielding, bloodthursty nomads. Usually Arabs are lumped together with non-Arab Moslems such as Iranians. They are then separated into certain distinctive groups: the oil-rich (and usually greedy) potentates, the lazy playboys, the white slavers and the terrorists.
More often than not a television Arab's name is Abdul. Just Abdul. Little do the TV writers realize that no such name exists in Arabic. It has to be followed by a qualifier to be complete. The entire name, such as Abdul Rahman, usually means "slave of God" (with the second part being derived from the 99 descriptive names of Allah found in the Koran.)
Arabs on television are dressed in long, flowing robes, accompanied by gun-toting, trigger-happy bodyguards. The traditional headdress is, almost always, badly designed, and drags all the way to the floor. It is a wonder the actors never trip over them. Arabs also travel in private jets, or oversized limousines which they can afford because the oil crunch is their own doing, with darkly tinted glass, presumably to hide their shady dealings. They are given to excesses in food, drink (particularly since it is forbidden by their holy book), promiscuity and wildly lavish gifts. s
A few examples, drawn just from last season's network offerings:
"Alice (a situation comedy): Flo, a waitress at a diner, is asked to marry a rich Arab who lavishes expensive gifts on her, but fails to inform her that she will be the third addition to his harem. Her co-worker, Alice, saves her from this awful fate at the right moment. The actor who plays the Arab sounds more like an Indian or Pakistani and ends each sentence with some obscure saying about camels or deserts.
"CHiP's" (a police show): An Arab playboy is sent to the United States by his father to learn highway police techniques before taking charge of his contry's traffic department. He shows complete disregard for the traffic laws and tries to bribe the officer who tickets him for speeding in his expensive sports car. He is finally straightened out: a little moralizing and a good dose of "American democracy" are the ultimate cure.
"Hawaii Five-O" (a police show): An OPEC meeting is held in Hawaii. The Arab ministers, threatened with assassination, refuse the generous police protection provided by McGarrett, the show's tough-talking hero. Instead, they prefer to rely on their own inept bodyguards, who manage to bungle everything. But, not to worry. McGarrett comes to the rescue, and the OPEC ministers' lives are saved.
"One Day at a Time" (a situation comedy): Ann Romano, a liberated divorcee who supports her two teenage daughters by working as a public relations account executive, tangles with a young Arab prince. He refuses to have her handle his promotional campaign because she is a member of the weaker sex. The ensuing verbal exchange shows him as the ultimate male chauvinist pig.
And the wheels of creativity in videoland spin on.