"24" glorifies torture, foments hate against U.S. Arabs, Muslims
February 21, 2007
Fox's "24" is giving a new twist to its old standby: anti-Arab and anti-Muslim themes. This time around, dark-complexioned Americans are the villains. Even the U.S. military is criticizing the show's producers for the dangerous message it is sending to our troops.
Now in its sixth season, "24" has super agent Jack Bauer yet again bringing down Arab-American and Muslim-American bad guys and, in effect, justifying the torture and killing of scores of them.
Fox denies that its hit series singles out "any ethnic or religious group for blame," saying in a January press release that the show's "villains have included shadowy Western businessmen, Mexicans, Baltic Europeans, Germans, Russians, even the Anglo-American president of the United States."
What the statement did not say is this: In three out of its six seasons, "24" has drilled home the same falsehoods about America's Arabs and Muslims.
Some political leaders, such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, have applauded "24." Chertoff met with producers and cast members on the set in 2006. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had a cameo appearance in a "24" show. Conservatives commentators such as Rush Limbaugh have endorsed the series, saying that the show is patriotic, apolitical and harmless.
Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan, dean of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and three top U.S. interrogators recently visited the set in California to talk with the show's creative team about the effect the torture scenes are having on U.S. soldiers abroad.
Finnegan told The New Yorker magazine that the show's graphic torture sequences were encouraging U.S. military personnel in Iraq to act illegally.
"They are damaging the image of the U.S. around the world," he said. "I'd like them to stop." He encouraged the show's producers to "do a show where torture backfires," adding that in real life torture techniques never work.
"24" is not the first show to demonize Arab-Americans. Soon after 9/11, Arab- and Muslim-Americans suddenly materialized on TV screens as evil and untrustworthy. Since then, more than 50 TV shows have implied that Arabs and Arab-Americans are waging "holy wars" against our country. These shows have told millions of viewers that Arabs and Muslims run shadowy terrorist sleeper cells inside mosques and shacks, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.
What we rarely see are Arab-Americans portrayed as heroes on television. Instead, producers continue to make few, if any, distinctions between Arabs and American Arabs, between Muslims and American Muslims. The villains are almost always blended together.
Although the majority of Arab-Americans are Christians, TV programs project us as radical Muslims and link the Islamic faith -- a religion of peace -- with violence. There are more than 3 million Arab-Americans in the United States. Four of five were born in this country.
To my knowledge, not one TV show, not one feature film, has ever shown Arab-Americans worshiping in a church or fighting valiantly alongside their fellow Americans in a war drama.
The reality is that an Arab-American is no more likely to turn his back on his country than a German-, Italian- or Japanese-American during World War II, or a Russian-American during the Cold War, or an American of Korean or Vietnamese descent during the conflicts in Asia.
It's no accident that "24" exploits fear and justifies the use of torture. It follows a trend of hysteria that we have seen since 9/11. According to a 2006 Gallup Poll, nearly 50 percent of Americans are reluctant to have homegrown Arabs or Muslims as their neighbors, and Islam is perceived as a repressive, violent faith. Also since 9/11, there have been more than 2,000 hate crimes committed against Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Fox's "24" helps create the atmosphere for hate crimes here and for torture by our troops abroad. It is a toxic part of our culture.
It not only ignores reality, it distorts reality.
Fortunately, sensible citizens know that America's Arabs and Muslims are regular citizens -- just like you and me.
Jack G. Shaheen is the author of "Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People" (Interlink Publishing Group, 2001), "Arab and Muslim Stereotypes in American Popular Culture" (Georgetown University Center for Muslims, 1997) and "The TV Arab" (Bowling Green State University Press, 1984). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.