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Is There Islamophobia In The Movies We See?

Posted by Vivashwan Singh in Culture-Vulture, Society
December 28, 2016

Movies act as a medium through which we can affect the general viewpoints of individuals. Shockingly, most Indian movies happen to depict Muslims and Pakistanis through a predominantly negative perspective. Books might be read by many, but movies are seen by too many. The movies have a long lasting impact on its viewers. Sometimes, the audience is able to connect even with a fictitious animated plot. At the same time, movies can be the creator of the worst stereotypes that we believe in. The depiction of Islam and Muslims in films and TV influences our behaviour and intimidates our own personal freedoms. Mainstream movies ranging from Hollywood blockbusters to Bollywood masalas portray rough and overstated stereotypes of Muslims and perpetuate Islamophobia amongst the society. It would be unfair to deny that films have belittled Muslims as vicious, dangerous, violent, threatening, and reinforce biases among viewers.

I believe it is wrong on our part to depict terrorists or gangsters by misusing Muslim names for the characters of antagonists in our Bollywood films. One of the best movies of Aamir Khan is “Sarfarosh”, where an extremely popular Pakistani vocalist Gulfam Hassan (Naseeruddin Shah) sustains and supports the spread of terrorist activities in India. There was another movie called “Fanaa”, where Aamir khan himself enacts a Pakistani terrorist named Rehan. There is a list of movies where Pakistanis and Muslims from various countries are being implicated as terrorists. “Agent Vinod”, “Roja”, “Kurbaan”, “Fiza”, “Dhokha”, “Aamir”, “Phantom” and “Neerja”, to name a few. Sadly, this fuels the feeling of hatred and enmity against Islam. An ideal terrorist in movies is someone who wears a skullcap, has a misbaha in his hands, with surma in his eyes and a tawiz around his neck.

The possibility of terrorism inside India is frequently brought up with regards to the Kashmir issue in movies like “Mission Kashmir” (1998) and “Fiza” (2000), where Muslims are portrayed as terrorists. Old movies demonstrated Kashmir as being generally populated by Hindus (“Kashmir Ki Kali”, 1964; “Jab Jab Phool Khile”, 1965). But at the same time, two recent big budget movies, “New York” (2009) and “Kurbaan” (2009), contend that its American Islamophobia which gives rise to terrorists.

Generally, Muslims in the Hollywood silver screen exist as one-dimensional characters: ignorant and intolerant menaces who simply kidnap or execute westerners in the name of their god. If you are really the one who has the buzz for Oscar movies, then you’d have realised that Hollywood now stands out from literature and music. It has been focusing on the same political stuff for almost two decades now. It has been a long time since 9/11 and more than three decades since the Iranian hostage emergency, yet two of the most commended movies in recent times were, “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Argo”, which were; Best Picture finalist and Best Picture winner, respectively. As usual, both movies focus on the enmity between the Western and Muslim world.

In “Zero Dark Thirty”, for instance, Muslim characters are displayed as an undifferentiated mass of foes, with a beard or being disguised in a burqa. They are tortured in the worst way possible to get information regarding Osama Bin Laden. Their purpose behind fighting is irrelevant as they were not even a part of any agency.

A definitive accomplishment of the “Zero Dark Thirty’s main characters serves to legitimise torture. All through the motion picture, horrific instances of torture are excused due to the possibility of eventually capturing Osama Bin Laden and put a stop to his terrorist activities. Torture is portrayed as something that was essential to find Bin Laden. Initially, the very first scene in the film, “Zero Dark Thirty” uses accounts of good guys and bad guys for spectators’ identification with the CIA and outrage towards the terrorists. Various CIA authorities had apparently confirmed that none of the intelligence that resulted in the death of Bin Laden even originated from detainees that were in the United States’ possession. This historically false portrayal serves to create an image of the Arab/Muslim as someone who would surely be involved in terror activities. This serves to take extreme measures against them, which later seems to get justified. At the point when a detainee questions the allegations put on him, he’s portrayed as a liar. This strengthens the stereotype that Muslims as violent, dangerous, and tricky liars. Torture is once again legitimised on the grounds that they never come clean and third degree measures are needed to make sure they do accept the crimes which they never even intend to do. Movies like this have the potential to encourage negative thoughts regarding the Muslim community.

The movie Argo, on the other hand, demeans the image of Muslim men and ladies for brutality and lifting AK-47s. This gives the feeling that the whole Muslim world is barbaric and savage as a result of Islam. Another Oscar winning movie, “The Hurt Locker” makes us perceive that every Muslim in Iraq in a suicide bomber. I’m not advocating Osama Bin Laden or Ayatollah Khomeini. They definitely committed sins which can’t be defended by anyone. Unforgivable atrocities have been committed in the name of Allah, just as Americans have carried out their disguised terrorism for god and country. The distinction that Hollywood regularly sustains is that the Americans are working for a more prominent good, while the inspiration of the whole Muslim world is both barbaric and totalitarian.

When will the film industry realise the impact of their one sided movies on the public opinion? Movies like “Zero Dark thirty”, “American Sniper”, “Argo”, “Taken”, “The Hurt Locker”, “Body of Lies”, “Munich”, “White House Down”, “London Has Fallen”, “A Mighty Heart”, “13 Hours, and every other action movie which has a Muslim antagonist has just paved way for more intense Islamophobia in the West.

If you are a fan of Hollywood action films such as James Bond movies then you’d have noticed that initially the villains were Soviets, then Chinese and now they are Muslims. In a way, they spread their propaganda through their films. Hollywood never disregards any culture that could give it huge incomes and revenues. Henceforth America’s grudging admiration for China’s communist government despite ideological differences does have a reason. No production house can bear the cost of not showing its movies in China when the market opens. Chinese individuals are currently being depicted as hardworking and also boring sometimes in Hollywood movies. This is in contrast to their depiction of Chinese people as poor labourers and immigrants 50 years back. Muslim countries, on the other hand, don’t contribute anything to the revenue of Hollywood movies.

Coming back to Bollywood, We have a director who makes a beautiful movie like Bajrangi Bhaijaan, but after a few months, the same directors releases Phantom. Is the collection of movies really more important than national interest? It is horrible that elected governments are doing nothing against this open defamation of Muslims and Pakistanis. It is the matter that these movies are exceptionally harming the Muslims everywhere throughout the world and are having far worse impacts. I don’t recall Pakistanis films depicting Muslims being slaughtered in India after 9/11 or the genocide of Muslims in 2002 Gujarat riots. In times where India and Pakistan are not on good terms and are attempting to resolve their past clashes and advance peace, we have to realise that such controversial subjects and films can really upset the efforts made by both governments.

Bollywood has ended up being greatly inspired by Hollywood in the last few decades. Muslim representation in Bollywood has gone from ‘exoticization’ to ‘demonisation’. Despite the fact that they were stereotyped, they were reclaimed by their representation as the custodians of tradition, culture and customs in the nation. The 1950s and 1960s were the years of Muslims as royals, the lustful Nawabs, their Havelis and tawaifs. They were evident in films during that time. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Nawabs turned into the protagonist’s friend, or his or her friendly neighbour. The Americans had begun their tussle with Muslims in 1990 during the Gulf War. After the opening of the market to the Americans in 1991, Bollywood began erasing the characters of meek and benevolent Muslims from the movies. Soon enough, the Bollywood industry began imitating Hollywood in vilifying the Muslim community by depicting them as villains, either as Pakistanis or as a terrorist. Also, the pious Maulavis were being shown as masterminds inducing terrorist activities in ‘India’. Sadly, the stereotyping continues till date.


Images source: YouTube