Rad Reading: Arabs and Muslims in the Media after 9/11: Representational Strategies for a “Post-Race” Era

Image is a black back ground with white and grey swirls on the top. A quote reads "Pity for oppressed Muslim women has been strategically used to advance U.S. imperialism" with Evelyn Alsultany underneath. An outline of a white hijab is at the bottom of the image.

Image is a black back ground with white and grey swirls on the top. A quote reads "Pity for oppressed Muslim women has been strategically used to advance U.S. imperialism" with Evelyn Alsultany underneath. An outline of a white hijab is at the bottom of the image.

by Abaki Beck

Our reading of the week, by Evelyn Alsultany, analyzes post-9/11 American media representations of Arabs and Muslims, both in network television and in news media. The author argues that unlike in past wars in which there was strong propaganda against “the enemy” (in this case Arabs and Muslims), after 9/11 there was actually an increase in more nuanced portrayals of Arabs on American television. Yet, there was a simultaneous increase in hate crimes and in laws specifically targeting Muslims and Arab communities. The author argues that this is because America is moving towards what it considers a “post race” era; in effect, that America views itself as an open and multicultural nation.

She argues that despite the sympathetic portrayal (and often victimization) of Arabs on television, it still works to justify racist politics. For example, in a post 9/11 world, the portrayal of Arabs being stopped from boarding a plane is not seen as unjust, despite their nuanced representation, but instead is justifiable and expected in the war on terror. Even if they have a back story, Arabs and Muslims are still primarily seen within the context of terrorism and extremism. Similarly, she argues that in news reporting, journalists often “pay lip service” to multiculturalism and complexity in the Muslim world while reporting only on the brutality, subjugation of women, and terrorism. Indeed, she argues that “pity for the oppressed Muslim woman has been strategically used to advance US imperialism.” Again, the U.S. positions itself as enlightened and “post-race,” while justifying and enacting extreme violence on Arab and Muslim communities abroad and at home. These nuances in media are important to pay attention to. Is this less overt racism in media “progress,” or simply a suppression of true intent? That is, are these portrayals simply color-blind racism?