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Posts Tagged ‘Racism’

Written by a guest contributor and originally posted at Getting a life.

Scrolling down Antonia Zerbisias’ blog today, my eyes lighted upon the title, “American Taliban.” Something about an American Muslim extremist, I surmised—but, I was wrong. She was in fact blogging about the murder of a well-known doctor in Wichita, Kansas.

Nowhere does Zerbisias indicate what connection this tragic event has to Muslims (extremist or otherwise), the Taliban, or even Afghans or Pakistanis. In fact, she gives plenty of evidence that Dr. George Tiller was killed by an extreme right-wing American Christian anti-abortionist. So why not a headline which reflects that? Why bring the Taliban into it, as though non-Muslim Americans have always been and remain incapable of committing acts of violence intended to keep women “in their place”?

It gets worse, with Jed Lewison at the Daily Kos going on about Bill O’Reilly’s long-running “jihad” against George Tiller on Fox News, as though there is no history among non-Muslim Americans of people using public platforms in order to whip up popular sentiment against those they disagree with, and then acting surprised when violence is done against the target of their rantings. Apparently, that sort of thing is just beyond the ability of nice white Christian (or post-Christian) Americans; it takes the Moozlems to do rotten stuff like that.

And the thing is, Zerbisias reads www.muslimahmediawatch.org. So, why doesn’t she get it?

I suppose from the perspective of Zerbisias and Lewison, my objections are just an exercise in splitting hairs at best. After all, isn’t the Taliban by far the most misogynist government in living memory? Haven’t they blown up girls’ schools, thrown acid at girls going to school, publicly whipped women for “crimes” such as leaving the house without a male escort… so why does it matter if they are also rhetorically associated with one crime evidently committed by a white Christian in Kansas? What difference does it make, adding one more misogynistic act of vigilantism to their already lengthy balance-sheet?

What difference does it make, indeed? Probably no difference to those who, every time they read a headline such as “Bomb threat closes school” or ”Woman stabbed to death by husband” don’t know what it’s like to reflexively wish, every single time, that it’s not a Muslim who did it. It makes no difference to those who have the privilege of being judged as individuals. If a white and/or Christian man (or woman) killed Dr. Tiller, no one will assume that this indicates that whites or Christians in general are innately predisposed to be violent. But when any Muslim individual, group or government commits a crime, this is somehow believed to reflect on Muslims in general. Every crime, every horror which makes the news reverberates through school yards and work-places everywhere.

The other day, my middle-school-aged daughter told me that a boy in her class had been calling her a terrorist. Why, I asked. She replied that it is because he knows that her father comes from X [a Middle Eastern country].

Aside from the blame question, there’s also the weight of grief that one carries from over a half a lifetime of hearing largely horrible news about one’s coreligionists. I don’t need one more thing added to it. Not one more thing. I’d say that we have enough to deal with already without also bearing the sins of Christian anti-abortion extremists, even rhetorically.

Not only that, but using Muslim-sounding terminology in order to discuss acts of violence and intimidation carried out by some American Christians on the basis of their own (right-wing Christian) ideology is an act of disavowal which has the risk of short-circuiting some long-overdue critical reflection. It allows right-wingers and others to pretend that Christian misogyny (unlike the Muslim kind) may be a bit over the top at times, but isn’t really dangerous to anyone. A harmful illusion if ever there was one.

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CTV News recently reported on a BC based study in which it was found that Canadians with English names have a better chance of getting a job than do people with non-English, specifically Chinese, Pakistani, or Indian, names. CTV News reports

In fact, after sending out thousands of resumés, the study found those with an English name like Jill Wilson and John Martin received 40 per cent more interview callbacks than the identical resumés with names like Sana Khan or Lei Li.

“If employers are engaging in name-based discrimination, they may be contravening the Human Rights Act,” said the study’s author, Philip Oreopoulos, economics professor at the University of B.C. “They may also be missing out on hiring the best person for the job.”

The study also found that the only way the applicants could improve their chances of a callback was to state they had Canadian or British experience.

And before one thinks this may have something to do with acculturation or language issues some new immigrants may have, the study’s author suspects that even second and third generation immigrants are at a “significant disadvantage” if they have a Chinese, Indian or Pakistani name (great – I guess my Pakistani name is going to be trouble for me after all). However, not as much as their parents or grandparents may be. I guess, it’s all in the name.

Image via CTV.

Image via CTV.

Of course, one can see how this would be problematic for those with non-English sounding names. Employers would be engaging in discrimination of applicants based on an aspect of a person’s identity that cannot indicate an individual’s competency for the job position. An aspect linked to ethnicity. In other words – racism. In the case of this study, racism toward specific groups of people, many of whom are Muslims. The findings of this study are disturbing indeed and they demonstrate the way in which “Canadian” is defined. Those with English names – yes names originating from England (which if my memory serves me correctly is now considered a foreign country in Canada) – are categorized as “real” Canadians while those with non-English sounding names are seen as non-Canadians, as others.

To begin with, the CTV article itself creates an othering of those with non-English names. By using the terms “foreign names” or “foreign-sounding names” to refer to non-English names CTV makes the assumption that only English names are truly Canadian. Those names that are not English sounding are not Canadian – including Pakistani names. Pakistanis, along with Indians and Chinese, are therefore otherized and assumed to be foreign. Even those born and raised in Canada.

And of course, the results of the study imply a similar othering. Those with non-English names, it seems, do not appear to be Canadians and as such need not be interviewed or considered. They are considered to be “foreign” and as such are seen to be less competent than “real” Canadians (or Britons it seems). Additionally, the study also found that “Chinese resumes that had English first names increased the chances of getting a callback.” All this hints that those with non-Canadian names are not seen as acculturated or Canadian enough. Take on an English name (ie name from England) and all of a sudden you’re more Canadian?

The irony of course should not be lost on readers. English names are just that – English. They are not Canadian. They originated in England. Yet names from England, and therefore people whose roots are in England (a foreign country by the way), are viewed as Canadian. And those whose roots originate in India, Pakistan, or China are not? Additionally, can we really forget that these English names have belonged to the colonizers – those who massacred Canada’s indigenous populations and stole their land? These English names arrived in Canada via extremely violent and vicious means.

How will this discovery bode for Muslim applicants? The implications for Muslims are clear. Most Muslims in Canada have non-English names. According to what this study implies, we are seen as lesser Canadians, if Canadians at all. Our names, regardless of our citizenship and nationality, are “foreign names,” as CTV would put it. We are thus seen as not “real” Canadians. The racism inherent in such discriminatory practices, whether intentional or not, has tried to define for us our place in Canada – as foreigners.

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While reading this National Post piece by Stewart Bell I got thinking about fear and Canadian-ness. In the piece Bell discusses  a recent report released by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, a partnership of think-tanks in Britain, the United States, Israel and Jordan.

From white supremacist propaganda to radical Islamist recruiting videos, the Internet is awash with extremist content, but a report released yesterday says it is time to “end the current climate of impunity” enjoyed by those responsible.

The report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence calls on authorities to go beyond simply shutting down Web sites used to promote violent political extremism and to prosecute those behind them.

“We propose the selective use of takedowns in conjunction with prosecutions as a means of signalling that cyberspace is not beyond the law,” writes the centre, a partnership of think-tanks in Britain, the United States, Israel and Jordan.

While the report’s focus is Britain, the Canadian government was consulted by the study’s authors and Canada is experiencing similar problems with extremist groups using the Internet to recruit and radicalize followers.

Apparently, in Canada, the problem is not that police do not have the resources to shut these sites down but rather that the police do not use the resources at their disposal.

Initially my thought was “Great! Maybe now they will go after those white supremacist sites that threaten and terrify so many Canadians and that promote violence against so many Canadians.” But alas, it seems this is not the intention.  I should have known. We’re not the Canadians they’re thinking about when they think about protecting Canadians. The authorities want to protect ‘real’ Canadians.

While extremist groups of all stripes use the Internet, Canadian intelligence officials are particularly concerned about the radicalization of young Muslims, which the government calls a “serious problem” and a “direct and immediate threat” to Canada.

Really? So groups that call for ridding Canada of people of colour are not a direct threat to Canada? Does the terror that people of colour feel not count? What about the sites inciting hatred toward Muslims and Arabs? Does the fear that Muslims feel not count? Does the Islamophobia we Muslims living in Canada experience not count as a threat to Canadians? Or are we not real Canadians?

It seems we don’t count. Whether we be Muslims or not, it is not our safety and fear the authorities are concerned about. We are told to fear Caribbeans and Sikhs because they’re gang bangers. We are told to fear East Asians because they’re drug smugglers. We are told to fear Muslims and Arabs because they’re terrorists. But the question is who are they implying should be scared? Those who are scared, those who are threatened, those who authorities are hoping to protect are White and Christian. They are the Canadians authorities seem to mean when they dismiss the sources of fear for people of colour and Muslims. However, the threats to people of colour and Muslims ARE a threat to Canada because we live in Canada. We are a part of Canada.

Instead it seems that Muslims, who are Canadians, are being reported as a threat to their own country. When was the last time a crime by a white, non-Muslim was described as a threat to Canada? The way in which this statement is worded creates a dichotomy  – Muslim vs Canada. This statement has pitted the young Muslim against Canada. All of a sudden he is no longer a part of Canada. He is a threat to the country. Unless they are implying that these young Muslim men are a threat to themselves as well.

And of course, all this is to say nothing about addressing the real causes of the radicalization of these young Muslim men. But that is for another post.

Muslims for too long have been seen as foreigners. This despite the fact that we have been in Canada for generations. Yet, Muslims, along with people of colour, are still seen as not real Canadians. Our concerns are placed behind the concerns of White, non-Muslim Canadians. This is still an unfortunate reality and too often leads to feelings of alienation and displacement within the Canadian context.

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By Special Correspondent Jehanzeb and originally published on Broken Mystic.

When Frank Miller’s “300″ film was released, I was absolutely outraged by the racist content of the film and more so at the insensitivity of movie-goers who simply argued “it’s just a movie.” Later on, I would hear these same individuals say, “The movie makes you want to slice up some Persians.” I wrote an article about the film almost immediately after it was released, and now that I’m still noticing people quoting the movie or listing it as their “favorite movies,” I’ve decided to update my original post and discuss some points that will hopefully shed some new light.

“300” not only represents the ever-growing trend of accepted racism towards Middle-Easterners in mainstream media and society, but also the reinforcement of Samuel P. Huntington’s overly clichéd, yet persisting, theory of “The Clash of Civilizations,” which proposes that cultural and religious differences are the primary sources for war and conflict rather than political, ideological, and/or economic differences. The fact that “300” grossed nearly $500 million worldwide in the box office may not be enough to suggest that movie-goers share the film’s racist and jingoistic views, but it is enough to indicate how successful such a film can be without many people noticing its relentless racist content. As Osagie K. Obasogie wrote in a brilliant critique of the film, “300” is “arguably the most racially charged film since D. W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’” – the latter being a 1915 silent film that celebrated the Ku Klux Klan’s rise to defend the South against liberated African-Americans. Oddly enough, both films were immensely successful despite protests and charges of racism.

Media imagery is very important to study. Without analyzing and critiquing images in pop culture, especially controversial and reoccurring images, we are ignoring the most powerful medium in which people receive their information from. A novel, for example, may appeal to a large demographic, but a film appeals to a much wider audience not only because of recent video-sharing websites and other internet advancements, but also because the information is so much easier to process and absorb.

According to the Cultivation Theory, a social theory developed by George Gerbner and Larry Gross, television is the most powerful storyteller in culture – it repeats the myths, ideologies, and facts and patterns of standardized roles and behaviors that define social order. Music videos, for example, cultivate a pattern of images that establish socialized norms about gender. In a typical western music video, you may see female singers like Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Beyonce wearing the scantiest of clothing and dancing in erotic and provocative ways that merely cater to their heterosexual male audiences. These images of women appear so frequently and repetitively that they develop an expectation for women in the music industry, i.e. in order to be successful, a woman needs to have a certain body type, fit society’s ideal for beauty, and dance half-nakedly. Stereotypical images of men in music videos, on the other hand, include violent-related imagery, “pimping” with multiple women, and showing off luxury. Such images make violence and promiscuous sexual behavior “cool” and more acceptable for males. As we can see from two studies by Greeson & Williams (1986) and Kalof (1999), exposure to stereotypical images of gender and sexual content in music videos increase older adolescents’ acceptance of non-marital sexual behavior and interpersonal violence.

Cognitive Social Learning Theory is another social theory which posits, in respect to media, that television presents us with attractive and relatable models for us to shape our experiences from. In other words, a person may learn particular behaviors and knowledge through observing the images displayed on television. A person may also emulate the behavior of a particular character in a film or television show, especially if a close-identification is established between the viewer and the character. Both theories – Cultivation Theory and Cognitive Social Learning Theory – apply in my following analysis of “300.”

In order to deconstruct “300,” I will start by (1) discussing its distortion of history, then (2) contrast the film’s representation of Persians and Spartans, (3) correlate Frank Miller’s Islamophobic remarks on NPR with the messages conveyed in “300,” and (4) conclude with the importance of confronting stereotypical images in mainstream media and acknowledging the contributions of all societies and civilizations.

Distortion of History

Initially a graphic novel written and drawn by Frank Miller, who is best known in the comic book industry for reinventing Batman in his critically acclaimed “The Dark Knight Returns,” the inspiration for “300” stems from true historic events, although Mr. Miller states that it was never intended to be a historically accurate account of the Battle for Thermopylae. In any case, the information we have about the Battle for Thermopylae comes from the classical Greek author, Herodotus, who lived in the Persian city of Halicarnassus. His book, “The Histories,” became part of Western folklore in 1850, when America embraced it as the leading authority on Persian history. Interesting enough, and many people may not know this, is that prior to 1850, the West had a very favorable impression of the Persian Empire, particularly because its main source for Persian history was rooted in the Bible and the “Cyropaedia,” which was written by another Greek author named Xenophon. The “Cyropaedia” glorifies the rule of Cyrus the Great, a benevolent Persian king who will be discussed later. In respect to the Battle of Thermopylae, the events may have occurred, but it was far different than the famous myth explains: 300 Spartans held Thermopylae for three days against over a million Persian soldiers.

This version of history is portrayed in the Hollywood adaptation of “300” in heavily stylized fashion that remains faithful to the comic book. The film’s director, Zack Snyder, said during an MTV interview, “[t]he events are 90 percent accurate. It’s just in the visualization that it’s crazy.” And yet, the film hardly mentions that the 300 Spartans were allied with over 4,000 Greeks on the first two days of the battle, and over 1,500 on the final day (other sources mention that there were 7,000 to 10,000 Greek allies). The battle was fought in a narrow mountain pass of Thermopylae where not even two chariots could pass through side by side; the choice of using this terrain benefited the Spartans and their Greek allies immensely against the Persians. Many historians agree that the massive Persian army would have obliterated the Spartan/Greek forces without much difficulty if the battle were fought on an open battlefield. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the Spartans were heavily armored and wore armor that weighed 30-40 kg, while the Persians were lightly armored.

Ephraim Lytle, assistant professor of Hellenistic History at the University of Toronto, states that “300” selectively idealizes Spartan society in a “problematic and disturbing” fashion, which would have seemed “as bizarre to ancient Greeks as it does to modern historians.” Touraj Daryaee, Baskerville Professor of Iranian History at the University of California, Irvine, criticizes the film’s use of classic sources:

Some passages from the Classical authors Aeschylus, Diodorus, Herodotus and Plutarch are spilt over the movie to give it an authentic flavor. Aeschylus becomes a major source when the battle with the “monstrous human herd” of the Persians is narrated in the film. Diodorus’ statement about Greek valor to preserve their liberty is inserted in the film, but his mention of Persian valor is omitted. Herodotus’ fanciful numbers are used to populate the Persian army, and Plutarch’s discussion of Greek women, specifically Spartan women, is inserted wrongly in the dialogue between the “misogynist” Persian ambassador and the Spartan king. Classical sources are certainly used, but exactly in all the wrong places, or quite naively.

As I wrote in my post on “The Truth About Thanksgiving: Brainwashing of the American History Textbook,” omitting and ignoring an entire race of people in historical accounts is a form of racism because it negates the achievements and stories of the “Other.” In the film, Persians constantly threaten Spartans with slavery, and yet, any honest historian knows that the Persian Empire, particularly the Achaemenid Empire, was built on a model of tolerance and respect for other cultures and religions. According to the documentary, “Persepolis Recreated,” the Persian Empire is the first known civilization in the history of humankind to practice international religious freedom. Images carved on the walls of Persepolis testify how Persians interacted and conversed with nobleman of other nations respectfully and without enmity. Denying another civilization its own accomplishments and contributions to the world is like blotting them out from history altogether and rewriting one’s own prejudice version. As we will learn later, any mentioning of Persian valor, compassion, and sophistication, would have resulted in a potential backfiring to the film’s agenda.

At one point in the film, the Spartan protagonist, King Leonidas, describes the Athenians as “boy lovers,” which, according to Paul Cartledge, professor of Greek History at Cambridge University, is ironic, since “the Spartans themselves incorporated institutional pederasty [erotic relationships between adolescents and adult men] into their educational system.”

The fact that Frank Miller and Zack Snyder stripped the Spartans of homosexual relations and, instead, made them accuse the Athenians of being “boy lovers” in order to reinforce their masculinity, shows us a distortion of history that favors a heavily masculinized and homophobic take on the Spartans. In modern society, homosexual males are frowned upon the most because society discourages men to behave in ways that are contrary to their expected gender traits, i.e. a man must be strong, emotionless, and courageous – and of course, these play into stereotypes about homosexuals since it suggests they cannot possess any of those traits. Therefore, if a man is a “boy lover,” he can never be as great of a fighter as a heterosexual Spartan. It’s obvious that mentioning the facts about Sparta’s institutional pederasty would not have made a connection with the film’s directed heterosexual male audience. This is evident from Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” film, where many expressed their outrage of Alexander engaging in homosexual relations, therefore never developing a close-identification with the character.

Distorting the history in “300” merely fulfills one component in glorifying the Spartans and vilifying the Persians. In the next section, we will see how the film’s visual representation of Spartans and Persians accompany its biased history for the sake of reinforcing the divide between West and East.

Spartans and Persians: Glorification, Demonization, and Tokenism

Perhaps the most noticeable offense in the film is how the Persians are horrifically depicted as monsters. It is not hard to notice the punctuated differences in skin color: the white-skinned Spartans versus the dark-skinned Persians. The Persian King, Xerxes, is shown as an abnormally tall, dark-skinned, and half-naked madman with facial piercings, kohl-enhanced eyes and, as Dana Stevens from “Slate” writes, “[has] a disturbing predilection for making people kneel before him.” The rest of the Persians are faceless savages and demonically deformed. This demonization of the Persian race extends to malformed characters, including Persian women, who are depicted as Lesbians and concubines. Even the elephants and rhinoceroses look like hell spawns. Stevens also adds:

Here are just a few of the categories that are not-so-vaguely conflated with the “bad” (i.e., Persian) side in the movie: black people. Brown people. Disfigured people. Gay men… Lesbians. Disfigured lesbians. Ten-foot-tall giants with filed teeth and lobster claws…

Also noticeable is how the Spartans wear no body armor; instead they are bare-chested and wear only a helmet, cape, and underwear. This is common in comic books where physical attributes of male characters such as muscles are magnified and exaggerated to symbolize strength, power, and heroism. In sheer contrast, the Persians are dressed in typical Middle-Eastern attire in pure Orientalist fashion, which only degrade them into invisible and insignificant characters without stories. We have seen these contrasting images of West and East cultivated before, and we still see them today. Whenever a crisis in the Middle-East is covered by the mainstream Western media, we tend to see the images of garbed Middle-Eastern men burning flags and shouting like barbarians, but rarely ever see scholarly and intellectual Middle-Easterners who are treated with respect and credibility. As Jack G. Shaheen discusses in his book, “Reel Bad Arabs,” Hollywood is guilty of vilifying Arabs and Muslims; repeating images of light-skinned and attractive Western (mostly American) counter-terrorist heroes blowing away dark-skinned, unattractive, and “rag-headed” Middle-Easterners. These images have been repeated so much in the mainstream media that they become the socialized norm: Arab/Muslim = Evil, oppressive, terrorist, and uncivilized, etc. Although the ancient Persians in “300” are neither Arab nor Muslim, they are confined into the same group through modern-day Orientalism.

Throughout the film, for instance, the constant emphasis on “The Clash of Civilizations” is not just limited to the manner of visual representations, but rather extends to what the Spartans and Persians stand for. Early in the film, we see the Spartan King, Leonidas, resist against the Persian call for “submission” by bellowing about freedom and liberty. Just like the visual depictions of Persians in “300” are no different than Hollywood’s stereotypical and insulting representation of Arabs and Muslims, neither are the themes. As adolescents and fans alike eccentrically shout the film’s most memorable quote, “This is Sparta!” – a line that Leonidas says right before kicking an African man down a well – they knowingly or unknowingly establish a close-identification with the Spartan characters and, subsequently, the heroism they are meant to epitomize. As a result, Persians get perceived, in modern terms, as “terrorists” – monstrous beings that are mysteriously driven by an innate desire to conquer, slaughter, and oppress.

These differences between Spartans and Persians ring eerily similar to modern-day tensions between the West and the Middle-East. As Obasagie writes, “this racialized depiction of freedom, nation, and democracy becomes central to “300’s” take home message,” but what remains even more unnoticed is the film’s “unapologetic glorification of eugenics.” In the very beginning of the film, for example, we see the newborn Spartans being inspected for “health, strength, and vigor,” while the weak and disabled are hurled off a cliff onto a large pile of dead babies. Obasogie further elaborates:

The film suggests that this rather crude form of eugenics is put in place for military reasons: every Spartan child should either be able to become a soldier or give birth to one… Initially shocked, audiences are quickly reassured that this is all for the greater good: nation, freedom, and the Spartan family. How else can Sparta defend itself – and inspire modern democracies – unless it reserves scarce resources for the strongest?

Strongest men, that is, which brings me to my next point: the exploitation of female characters. A blog posting written at “FirstShowing.net” explains “Why Women Should Go See ‘300.’” The list, which is not even written by a woman, reads: 1. Gerard Butler, 2. Gerard Butler Naked, 3. Empowered Women, 4. Strong Relationships, and 5. 300 Nearly Naked Men with 8-Pack Abs. The author apparently thinks that male eye-candy, romantic relationships, and a dash of “feminism” constitute a “good film” for all women.

At first glance, the Spartan Queen Gorgo may look like an empowered woman, but she is a token character, at best. In a predominately White male film, she serves as the only central female character and assumes a pseudo-feminist role of flaunting her femininity for the sake of reinforcing the film’s racism and singular image of masculinity. For instance, early in the film, the Persian messenger angrily responds to her, “What makes this woman think she can speak among men?” She responds proudly, “Because only Spartan women give birth to real men.” Yes, real men, i.e. the one-sided view of masculinity: aggressive, violent, dominating, muscular, etc. It seems that any man who doesn’t meet these characteristics is not a “real man.” It also seems that Spartan women are treated as merely “manufacturers” of these “real men.”

pantea1

The mentioning of women occurs enough times in the film to establish that Spartans     treat their women “better” than the Persians. The only Persian women we see are sex slaves and disfigured lesbians. In actuality, there were Persian Empresses such as Azarmidokht, who ruled Persia under the Sassanid Empire. Ancient Persian women not only engaged in political matters, but also served as military commanders and warriors. One of the great commanders of The Immortals was a Persian woman named Pantea (pictured left), and during the Achaemenid dynasty, the grand admiral and commander-in-chief for the Persian navy was a woman named Artemisia. Persian women also owned property and ran businesses. Unfortunately, we do not see any such representation in “300.”

A counter-argument may state that Queen Gorgo actually plays a pivotal role in the film   since she convinces the council to send more soldiers to aid the Spartans. But her success could never have been accomplished if she did not do what stereotypical female characters usually do: use her body to get what she wants. Queen Gorgo realizes she has very little choice when the corrupt Spartan politician, Theron, says he wants sex in exchange for helping her.  After she drops her top, Theron forces her against the wall and rapes her.  Later on, Theron stands before the council and accuses Queen Gorgo of being an adultress and a “whore Queen.”  Although Queen Gorgo stabs him in this scene, it’s nowhere near as disturbing as the rape scene.

As we have seen in this section, the glorified violence, racism, and erotic imagery of the Spartans, as well as the use of women, accentuates their superiority over the Persians, but perhaps nothing can drive the point home more than Frank Miller in his own words.

Frank Miller and Islamophobia

It should be in the interest of those who may disagree with my analysis of “300” to listen to Frank Miller’s interview on National Public Radio (NPR) on January 24th, 2007 (or read the transcript). The interview followed former President Bush’s State of the Union address and is pasted below (emphases added):

NPR: […] Frank, what’s the state of the union?

Frank Miller: Well, I don’t really find myself worrying about the state of the union as I do the state of the home-front. It seems to me quite obvious that our country and the entire Western World is up against an existential foe that knows exactly what it wants … and we’re behaving like a collapsing empire. Mighty cultures are almost never conquered, they crumble from within. And frankly, I think that a lot of Americans are acting like spoiled brats because of everything that isn’t working out perfectly every time.

NPR: Um, and when you say we don’t know what we want, what’s the cause of that do you think?

FM: Well, I think part of that is how we’re educated. We’re constantly told all cultures are equal, and every belief system is as good as the next. And generally that America was to be known for its flaws rather than its virtues. When you think about what Americans accomplished, building these amazing cities, and all the good its done in the world, it’s kind of disheartening to hear so much hatred of America, not just from abroad, but internally.

NPR: A lot of people would say what America has done abroad has led to the doubts and even the hatred of its own citizens.

FM: Well, okay, then let’s finally talk about the enemy. For some reason, nobody seems to be talking about who we’re up against, and the sixth century barbarism that they actually represent. These people saw people’s heads off. They enslave women, they genitally mutilate their daughters, they do not behave by any cultural norms that are sensible to us. I’m speaking into a microphone that never could have been a product of their culture, and I’m living in a city where three thousand of my neighbors were killed by thieves of airplanes they never could have built.

NPR: As you look at people around you, though, why do you think they’re so, as you would put it, self-absorbed, even whiny?

FM: Well, I’d say it’s for the same reason the Athenians and Romans were. We’ve got it a little good right now. Where I would fault President Bush the most, was that in the wake of 9/11, he motivated our military, but he didn’t call the nation into a state of war. He didn’t explain that this would take a communal effort against a common foe. So we’ve been kind of fighting a war on the side, and sitting off like a bunch of Romans complaining about it. Also, I think that George Bush has an uncanny knack of being someone people hate. I thought Clinton inspired more hatred than any President I had ever seen, but I’ve never seen anything like Bush-hatred. It’s completely mad.

NPR: And as you talk to people in the streets, the people you meet at work, socially, how do you explain this to them?

FM: Mainly in historical terms, mainly saying that the country that fought Okinawa and Iwo Jima is now spilling precious blood, but so little by comparison, it’s almost ridiculous. And the stakes are as high as they were then. Mostly I hear people say, ‘Why did we attack Iraq?’ for instance. Well, we’re taking on an idea. Nobody questions why after Pearl Harbor we attacked Nazi Germany. It was because we were taking on a form of global fascism, we’re doing the same thing now.

NPR: Well, they did declare war on us, but…

FM: Well, so did Iraq.

Iraq declared war on the United States? Not only are Frank Miller’s words filled with incredible absurdity and ignorance, they’re also plagued by disgusting prejudice that should raise questions about his underlying messages in “300” and other recent works of his. One of the things I found really disturbing in Miller’s interview was how he suggested that “teaching all cultures are equal” and “every belief system is as good as the next” is a bad thing! What is he implicating here? Are we to teach that certain cultures and belief systems are better than others?

In his next response, he essentially calls Islam “sixth century barbarism,” and then lumps the entire Muslim world into one stereotype. Then he says “I’m speaking into a microphone that never could have been a product of their culture, and I’m living in a city where three thousand of my neighbors were killed by thieves of airplanes they never could have built.” Perhaps someone should educate Mr. Miller that the Islamic empires preserved the beloved Greek philosophical texts by Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Aristotle, and many others. He should also be informed that algebra was invented by a Persian Muslim, Mohammad Al-Khwarizmi. The word English word for “algorithm” actually comes from “Al-Khwarizmi” and the significance of algorithms in computers, programming, engineering, and software design is immensely critical. As stated by Michael H. Morgan, author of “Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists,” Al-Khwarizmi’s new ways of calculating “enable the building of a 100 story towers and mile-long buildings, calculating the point at which a space probe will intersect with the orbits of one of Jupiter’s moons, the reactions of nuclear physics… intelligence of software, and the confidentiality of a mobile phone conversation.” Ironically, the Western achievements that Frank Miller boasts about could not have been possible without the collaboration of civilizations.

Conclusion

As I have written many times in my previous essays, racism is most dangerous when it has been made more acceptable in society. When the Nazis dehumanized the Jews, they did so in cartoons and propaganda films so that the rest of the country didn’t feel sorry about killing them. When early American cartoons and cinema depicted African-Americans, they drew them with ugly features and had White actors wear blackface makeup, respectively. At the time, these obviously racist acts were acceptable. In modern times, when the insulting Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, were released, many non-Muslims were too shocked at the Muslim world’s reaction than actually taking the time to realize that the cartoons were drawn out of hate and sheer Islamophobia. Rather than seeing the cartoons as racist or prejudice, many defended it as “freedom of expression.” The manner in which certain people in the Muslim world reacted to the Danish cartoons is another subject altogether, but it’s worth mentioning that their response represents a sensitivity that the West has made very little efforts to understand. For Islamophobes, demonizing the Prophet of Islam wouldn’t be such a bad idea since dehumanizing the enemy is an essential process of war. Vilifying the “Other” makes racial slurs acceptable – slurs like “rag heads,” “camel jockeys,” “towel heads,” “dune coons” among much worse things.

Although the Persians in “300” are not Muslim (the movie takes place in the Pre-Islamic and Pre-Christian era), the visualization of Persians are identical to the stereotypical images we see of Muslims in other media representations. Demonizing the Persians during a time when Middle-Easterners and Muslims are already being vilified simply makes dehumanization of the “Other” acceptable and more recognizable. I remember having one odd conversation with a young man who started his argument by saying, “Xerxes and his Muslim army were a bunch of tyrants.” I stopped him immediately and told him that his ignorant comments are precisely the reason why I raise awareness and accuse “300” of being a propaganda film. Xerxes and his Persian army were not Muslim, yet I saw many people correlating the film with present-day tensions between the United States and Iran.  Joseph Shahadi recently informed me, the right-wing party of Italy even uses images of “300” in their campaign posters! It’s sad how many don’t seem to realize that dehumanization of certain groups has dangerous consequences; after all, before the Holocaust, Jews were dehumanized.

“300” may look like a visual breakthrough in cinema “art”, but that doesn’t make up for its blood-spattering jingoism or its racist content. Counter-arguments in the film’s defense are often weak with excuses like, “it’s just a movie,” or “it’s based on a comic book” or “it’s simply meant to entertain.” The counter-arguments are short and weak because the film is unapologetic and doesn’t contain anything sympathetic or appreciative about Persians, their culture, and their history. It would benefit Frank Miller and Zack Snyder if they saw Ridley Scott’s brilliant film, “Kingdom of Heaven,” which explores the complexity of war and celebrates dialogue between great civilizations. Such films are beneficiary to society because they convey much-needed messages of coexistence, respect, and understanding that reach wide audiences.

On a personal note, it is discouraging that so many people, including academics, doctors, and scholars, are either not bothered or don’t see the racism in “300.” And every once in a while, another one of my friends will do the Spartan “Ha-oooh!” chant around me and not realize how offensive it is. The fact that so many people cite the movie and enjoy watching it provides enough support for the cognitive social learning theory, where people find the Spartan characters likable and admirable. It is likely that this may be the reason why so many are defensive of the film – simply because they like the movie so much. But we, as a progressive society, need to be bold enough to stamp our foot down and say we will not tolerate racism, just like we would never tolerate watching or promoting films that glorify the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. As Dana Stevens writes, “If “300” had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside “The Eternal Jew” as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war.”

My personal hope is that people will appreciate this analysis and realize the immense impact media has on shaping our thoughts, perspectives, and views of each other. I would also hope that people are inspired to study ancient Persian history and learn about the countless contributions of the Persians, who were among the greatest philosophers, thinkers, poets, artists, physicians, mathematicians, astronomers, and innovators in the history of the world – before and after the Islamic era. I must point out that almost 90% of the paintings I post on my blog are Persian paintings (compare them with Frank Miller’s horrific depiction of Persians in “300″ and you will understand how upset and offended one can be).

The Arab, Iranian, and/or Muslim communities need to make their mark in the film industry and I cannot stress that enough. The release of “300” angered, but also frustrated me because I felt like I could not respond with a film about Persians due to my low-budget. It is a personal dream of mine to make a “Cyrus the Great” film someday, and I’m sure many of us have dreams of certain films we’d like to see about our communities, but they cannot remain dreams. They must be manifested and brought to life, and only through perseverance, sheer dedication, and passion can we achieve our dreams. As evident in “300,” there are people making a living out of vilifying our cultures, histories, and religions while many of us stand by and watch the propaganda machine do its dirty work. I understand that not all of us are aspiring filmmakers, but to those of you who are: the longer we remain the silent, the less people will know about our beautiful stories.

I believe very firmly that Truth prevails in the end and I have faith that the new generation of progressive-thinkers, Middle-Easterners, South Asians, and Muslims alike are on their way in making a profound difference in our world. Someday, the Middle-East and Muslim world will no longer be demonized and feared, but appreciated and respected. The media has the power to turn tables around in such a way.

Someday…

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