On March 15, we launched rabbletv, adding a video and webcast dimension to our multi-media efforts here at rabble.ca. rabbletv is currently featuring coverage of recent peace actions from across Canada, as well as related programming. This includes two films âe” Robert Newman’s History of Oil and Reel Bad Arabs âe” that provide important insights into the root causes of war in the Middle East. The films are being shown daily, beginning at 5:10 p.m. EST.
Robert Newman’s History of Oil (2006)
This very funny and extremely informative 45-minute film is based on a stand-up act by political satirist Robert Newman. The strategic and economic reasons for the wars of the last one hundred years take centre stage in The History of Oil. Books on colonial history are occasionally refreshingly honest when they flatly explain how the economic imperative of securing passage to India via the Suez Canal led the British imperial army to crush indigenous independence movements in Egypt and the Sudan. Robert Newman says:
“And this bold stating of the geopolitical facts of life strikes the modern reader with a force of revelation for there is in our own time an absolute taboo among the corporate news media and the political class against mentioning anything to do with the economic and strategic reasons for war.
As witnessâe¦ this statement repeated in the news media on the half hour, every half hour: ‘The G8 has endorsed an American plan to bring democracy to the Middle East’âe¦ You will not find that level of naivety outside 1970s porno films.”
Today the U.S. is building 14 permanent military bases in Iraq so that it can exploit oil for its own purposes, yet the corporate media overlooks this central fact even though the bases are being built right before their very eyes.
History of Oil has a lot of edge to it and Robert Newman pulls no punches when he impersonates former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom he depicts as a war criminal under the terms of the Nuremburg laws for having planned and launched an aggressive war. He impersonates Blair who in turn is dressed up as Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, giving a speech to Nazi officers using reels of real shots of a Nazi audience for the crowd scene.
Newman is a rising star in Britain because he is hysterically funny and, at the same time, incredibly informative and truthful.
Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2006)
In researching the book on which this film is based, Jack Shaheen reviewed and analyzed more than one thousand Hollywood films, almost all of which portray Arabs and Muslims as the sub-human other: sinister sheikhs, Arab terrorists, women portrayed as exotic belly dancers, and more recently as bombers too.
Shaheen notes, “almost all Hollywood depictions of Arabs are bad ones” and there needs to be a conscious effort to “create more honest and humane portraits.” Rules of Engagement (2000), written by former U.S. Secretary of the Navy James Webb, is one of the most blatantly anti-Arab films. It viciously tries to “justify” the slaughter of civilians protesting in front of a U.S. embassy in Yemen by portraying even a one-legged girl as a gun-wielding terrorist.
It’s not just about racism. The origin of these stereotypical images lies in the role they play in serving neo-conservative war policies in Washington and creating support for continued military occupation. Shaheen explains:
“Politics and Hollywood’s images are linked. They reinforce one anotherâe¦ The Arab image began to change immediately after World War II. There are three things that impacted the change: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in which the U.S. has unequivocally supported Israel, the Arab oil embargo in the 1970sâe¦ and the Iranian revolution which increased American Iranian tensions.”
The dehumanizing images of Arabs and Muslims on the silver screen help naturalize prejudicial attitudes in the public and go hand-in-hand with Washington’s aggressive war policies.
Historically, victims themselves have defeated stereotypes by organizing and challenging filmmakers to stop demonizing a people and show them as everyday, regular people. Anti-black stereotypes were defeated by the strength of the civil rights movement; B’nai Brith confronted D.W. Griffith for anti-Semitism in his epic film Intolerance.
Only Arab and Muslim groups together with the peace movement can reverse the effects of these harmful stereotypes and ensure that Arabs and Muslims are cast as regular people, and even as heroes fighting for justice and democracy.
What can one do? Shaheen writes: “I invite youâe¦ to rally ’round the cause, to join me in wiping the shadows of unjust portraits off the silver screen. Contest slanderous portraits whenever you see them.” To assist Shaheen in identifying damaging stereotypes in motion pictures, you can email him at [email protected]