Screenwriters, the new mujahideen

While we’re talking about the power of the hardline pro-Israel lobby (I say "hardline" to distinguish these rogues from responsible friends of Israel who sincerely strive to accomodate the needs and rights of Palestinians), let’s talk about its most powerful arm.  No, not AIPAC.  Not Alan Dershowitz. 


This isn’t an anti-Semitic conspiracy rant.  It’s a matter of fact observation about the way Hollywood consistently frames stories involving Muslims in a manner that justifies bigotry, paranoia and doublestandards.  Sometimes this is admittedly more out of sloth than malice, but that fact makes little difference.  From "Ben Hur" (Remember those disgusting kafiyyah-wearing savages that Charleton Heston encountered in the desert?) to, well, almost every movie about the Middle East you can think of today, the sympathies of Hollywood have been crystal clear, and that is the greatest lobbying weapon of all in our day of hyper-media consumption, spineless corporate journalism and historical illiteracy.

William Pfaff  in the International Herald Tribune ("Israel’s Personal Superpower"):

The predecessor of today’s main Washington pro- Israel organization, Aipac, was formed in 1954. But more influential in changing American popular opinion was probably the novel "Exodus" and the movie made of it, and in 1960, the trial and condemnation of Adolph Eichmann, which brought home to many the full horror of the so-called Final Solution.

That movie was rather a bit before my time and I’m not particularly aware of its cultural impact–though I know its author, Leon Uris, is a hardline Zionist and inveterate Arab- and Muslim basher–but I think he makes a very important point about the hidden political power of media and popular culture.

We all realize that skewed news coverage causes great harm to Muslims, but given how most people get their "facts" about the world from popular culture and entertainment–Everyone has heard of the Yakuza, though I suspect exceedingly few have actually read a book on Japan, much less Japanese crime.–popular movies and TV programs (e.g., "Roots" and "The Cosby Show" in the case of race relations) are far more likely to decisvely impact policy debates than mountains of facts because of how they unconsciously color people’s worldviews and predispose them for or against the various parties in conflicts.

When you really get down to it, screenwriters and movie financiers are the new mujahideen.   The pen is indeed mightier than the sword when you’re a storyteller in an oral culture (which basically what America is becoming).  Makes me wish my own writing were a bit livelier and my imagination more fertile so I could be part of the vanguard.

Instead of buying skyscrapers and investing their money with a constant eye on how to curry favor with Washington,  the mega-wealthy Muslims of the world need to take a page from Al-Jazeerah and focus on establishing alternative media and studios (not to mention stop investing in those that actively villify Muslims, such as Fox and Disney) that have the potential to change the terms of debate and give them and Muslims in general a fair hearing in the Beltway and in Middle America.

Update: Check out this very apropos op-ed by Diane Winston in the Los Angeles Times, "So where are the Muslims on CSI?"

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