Arab-Bashing for Fun and Profit

Laila Lalami holds degrees in linguistics from USC and the University of London. She works as a thesaurus editor and lives in Los Angeles

Stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims in American movies is a common practice, and Jackie Chan’s latest U.S. release, “Operation Condor,” is no exception (“Chan Is in Top Form in Reworked ‘Condor,’ ” Calendar, July 18). But rather than try to raise public awareness by explaining to whomever will listen that this practice is not only morally wrong but also potentially harmful to a large American minority, I’d like to ask for royalties.

Yes, royalties.

After all, Hollywood has made money off of Arab bombers, billionaires and belly dancers for half a century. It is time that they start passing some of those earnings on to the population that has given them so much inspiration and has been the source of so much financial prosperity.

Since I now intend on demanding my fair share of the stereotyping business, I would like to help prospective screenwriters, producers and directors in their efforts by offering my 12-step guide to making a successful Arab-bashing movie.

Step 1: The villains must all have beards. This is a very crucial step and absolutely cannot be skipped.

Step 2: They must all wear kaffiyehs, regardless of where they are from. It is usually sufficient to have a few characters wear black-and-white checkered scarves around their heads, but more of an effect can be achieved if your villains also use it to mask their faces. (Fezzes can also be used as headgear, but be aware that they do not have as much of a dramatic effect.)


Step 3: Naturally, all the villains must speak broken English and be rude in their manner.

Step 4: They must all have easily recognizable names like Ali, Abdul or Mustapha. It is not necessary to have any more than these three names, because you will probably not need more than two or three speaking parts for the villains. The rest of the Arab characters in your movie can simply be called Terrorist No. 1, Terrorist No. 2, Terrorist No. 3 and so forth, as their roles will be limited to brandishing their fists, AK-47s or the Koran, depending on the situation.

Step 5: They should all smoke. No ashtrays are needed, because your villains can put out their cigarettes in someone’s hand.

Step 6: Find a reason for them to have or steal nuclear weapons. This is the first major part of your plot. It is not necessary to go into detail about how they managed to steal the weapons, as most of the story is really about how to get them back before the bad Arabs blow someone up (see Step 7).

Step 7: Have them threaten to blow something up. Great care must be used in the threat scene. The danger must be clear and immediate. It is best if an innocent protagonist is directly and unknowingly a target of the terrorist attack. In all cases, you must make it clear that the motive has to do with holy war.

Step 8: Have a prayer scene. (This follows directly from Step 6.) If unsure what the procedure for prayer is, include enough kneeling and prostrating to make it all look believable. Besides, the only ones who would know what the actual prayers look like are the world’s 1 billion Muslims, and none of those count as your target demographic anyway.

Step 9: If your movie is set in a plane, do not worry because you can still have the protagonists pray in the aisles.

Step 10: Never, ever cast a woman as part of the group. But if you must, she should be entirely veiled in black; preferably, she should be mistreated by other Arabs. Another possible use of a female character is as a belly dancer.

Step 11: It is most useful to have the villains scream “Die, infidels” before the final confrontation. You will find that your audience roots for the hero even more after such a scene.

Step 12: When all previous steps are completed, have your hero kick some Middle Eastern butt. Everyone will cheer and go home happy, and you can sit back and watch the money roll in.

That’s where I come in. As far as I know, mine is the only 12-step guide to sure-fire comic relief and financial success at the expense of a minority. I expect that it will be of great use to screenwriters in this town, and I hope to start receiving my royalty checks soon.