Arab stereotypes on the West
AMMAN - Stereotyping of each other by Danes and Arabs has increased since a Danish newspaper published offensive cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in 2005, according to participants in a discussion last week.
Danish, Jordanian and Lebanese comedians, filmmakers and media representatives explored stereotypes of Danes and Arabs at the event, organised by the Danish Centre for Culture and Development, the Danish embassy in Amman and Jordan’s Royal Film Commission…. [continue reading....]
A few years ago, I went to Jerash with a friend. As we were touring the city, Ahmad, a young kid from Jerash, approached us offering his services to be our guide for 3 JDs… And even though, I usually refuse, this kid charmed me with his sense of humour and persistence.
As we were walking, we came across huge stone basins (I can’t think of a better way to describe them). I asked him what were they. “Bath tubs” he said. “ohh” I said, “This is how they bathed their horses? I did not know”. Ahmad looked at me with a smile and explained that these basins were not for horses but for people! I was amused, and so I asked him playfully“what? People used to bathe in the streets. Why? Did they have no shame? “ He looked at me as if I said the most stupid thing on earth, and said “Of course they had no shame, they were Christians!”
Where would a young kid from Jerash dream up this scenario? why would he think that Christians have no shame?
Where do Arabs come up with their stereotypes on the west?
The thing is stereotyping is a normal human behaviour, we use stereotypes to classify and make sense of the world around us…. , the world is divided in two groups, the in-group, which is the group we are associated with, it is always superior. There is the out-group, which is the rest of the world… and of course the rest of the world is inferior!
We are exposed to stereotypes at a very early age, through stories, books, cartoons. Stereotypes also come from the society, mainly people’s comments on places and other people and of course from media.
Growing up, I used to watch the “foreign” Thursday movie on channel 3. These movies were either very violent or discussed social issues that had nothing to do with us or our society… I remember people thinking that this was an American plot to import violence and sexuality (safaleh سفالة was the preferred term) to our side of the world!
I don’t know about that, but I do know that my generation grew up thinking that all foreign women were loose. That they all had sex like they have meals… and that they all have children outside wedlock… The other stereotype we grew up with is that that the west hates us (what a hateful feeling I got when I watched back to the future and the terrorist was Arab, and what a hateful feeling I got from the English patient, in which he shows Egyptians as stupid thoughtless people who are like monkeys more than human beings…
Today, I don’t even get surprised… I do think that Hollywood systematic uses Arabs to increase the rating of any movie… violence sells, dirt sells and using the Arabs is really super easy.
The point is a lot of our own stereotypes about the west, are actually built by the west!
This is one of my favourite Hajjaj cartoons. Kathy the American comes to Jordan wearing clothes that barely cover her body… this is a stereotype that I grew up. My mother, who is a foreigner was very strict, because she understood the Arab stereotypes on foreign women. She told us often that people would judge us harshly for having a foreign mother. And it was very true, we were always singled out as being the daughters of the foreigner, even though what we did was exactly what hundreds of thousands of girls our age did!
It was fun taking part in the event that was organized by the Danish Embassy on Thursday. It was insightful, rich and lively. I particularly enjoyed hearing the Ambassador’s perspective on stereotypes. H.E. Thomas F. Lund-Sørensen is an extremely nice person.
I also liked Omar Marzouk, a stand up comedian.Marzouk, who is Dane from Egyptian origins made several jokes about being confused about whose side to take, as someone who considers himself to be Muslim, Arab and a Dane at the same time. He also made fun of how people around the world always pick on Arabs and treat them like terrorists, especially while flying. When he was asked why he was chosen to be part of this project, he answered casually, that he was asked to come because he is the only Danish product that still sells in the Middle East!
Lebanese Ahmad Ghosein and Dane Georg Larsen then showed us a documentary “An Arab comes to Town” that covers the lives of several Arabs in Denmark. Larsen mentioned that he wanted to know about the Arabs in Denmark, who they are, how they live…etc. It was a good movie, nicely produced and very informative since in showed that young Arabs face different issues in different places.
Adam Hannestad’s showed the role of media in enforcing and suppressing stereotypes. He gave several examples of successful Arabs in Danes. Adam spoke of how an Egyptian changed his attitude towards him when he knew he was Muslim. “All Danes are stupid, except for you!”