Problem of ‘The Other’

In his documentary “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People” Dr. Jack Shaheen indicates how Hollywood movies show all most allArabs as terrorists and how these stereotypes strike on our brains and affect our thinking way about Middle Eastern’s lives. In the documentary Dr. Shaheen claims that these kind of stereotypes comprised especially after 9/11 but if we look at the old Disney movies, or even old Orientalist paintings and the books -at 19’th century- we can see that even that times there was otherization against Arabs. However, there is a certain difference between Orientalist paintings and current Hollywood movies; when one of them gives exotic meanings about Arabs with the visuals of belly dancers and big expensive palaces, the other one represents Arabs as animals, like they do not think, feel; they only know how to kill, thus there is nothing wrong about killing them.

Especially in the action movies, you can see the hero -leading role- while he was fighting for the freedom of his country, kills lots of terrorists and except these terrorists shouts while they are dying, we do not know anything about them, and we will never know. They are just like the numbers, they have nothing special or significant about their lives.

The existentialist French philosopher Sartre, while he was composing his philosophy, points out that in human essence there is an interaction between the object and the subject to know who you are. Thus, the self consciousness comes with the idea of ‘the other.’

In his book Anti-Semite Jew (1948), Sartre touches the anti-semitism issue on and states “The Jews have one friend, however, the democrat, but he is feeble protector (p.1.)” After that he explains his idea about ‘democrats’ and states

“He has no eyes for the concrete syntheses with which history fronts him. He recognizes neither Jew, nor Arab, nor Negro, nor bourgeois, nor worker, but only ma man always the same in all times and places. “

You may think this approach is healthy and true, but Sartre maintains that because the democrat defends ,for example, Jew avarice is an universal feature that does not exist only in Jews, he separates Jews from their culture, family, language and so on. Despite that the anti-semite does not step back because the greediness is universal, and according to Sartre he distinguishes the greediness between Jews’ and the others’. Because the anti-semite has a specific hostility for Jews, not greedy people. Thus, this approach of democrat does not help anything.

Why am I telling all these things? Because this democrat approach is using on Arabs too. Lots of people defend Arabs with the idea of ‘Not all Arabs are terrorist.’ But this approach is not enough to stop hostility against Arabs. Instead of this, we should focus on the question that why there is a hostility like that.

As I said before, 9/11 or 1973 oil crisis are not the starting point of this otherization. As Dr. Shaheen points out in his documentary, there may be a correlation between politics and Hollywood. For example, before and during the Iraq invasion there were released bunch of war movies to justify the invasion and create animosity against Arabs. However while the human being history has been writing, there have been always superiors and inferiors. In my opinion, the real problem is in the orientalist/euro-centric perception which came from 19’th century for Middle Easterners, and from colonization period for African people. Defining human essence with rationality has excluded almost half of the world, but because this ‘rational side’, West, keeps the power on it’s hands. The other group which consisted of the outsiders, has obliged to obey Occidental perception. The danger on this situation, if the outsiders do not accept this occidental life style and rules, they might be die, literally. We saw that the people who died because they did not accept ‘the democracy’ which West wanted to give! We saw this situation on the last century of Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam.

As a result, in my opinion, defining himself with creating an opposite side and named it ‘the other’, and creating the superior and inferior between the cultures and people, may be the real problem for the hostility which causes not only racism, but also sexism, fascism etc.


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