Fox cuts out Anti-Muslim scenes from “24 drama”
WASHINGTON, January 16, 2005 – The Fox television network has decided to remove some stereotypical aspects about American Muslims from its action drama “24” thanks to immediate action from community leaders.
“We thank Fox for the opportunity to address the Muslim community's concerns and for the willingness of network officials to take those concerns seriously in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation,” Rabiah Ahmed, Communications Coordinator of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a press release e-mailed to IslamOnline.net Saturday, January 15.
Following a January 12 meeting with representatives from CAIR, the largest US Muslim civil liberties advocacy group in the country, Fox officials promised that the popular series will be balanced in its portrayal of Muslims.
“There aren't any positive or even neutral portrayals of Muslims on TV,” the BBC quoting Ms Ahmed as regretting. “When Muslims or Arabs are portrayed, it is always in a stereotypical way.”
Premiered on January 10, the drama portrays a Muslim family as a terrorist “sleeper cell,” who are plotting attacks inside the US.
A young man is seen helping his parents mastermind a plot to kill as many Americans by launching an attack on a commuter train. The drama showed the mother poisoning her son's non-Muslim girlfriend because she poses a threat to their plans. The US secretary of state is also seen taken hostage by the “Muslim terrorists.” It climaxes with the defense secretary shown on an Internet video tape like those coming out of US-occupied Iraq.
Fox further decided to distribute a CAIR public service announcement (PSA) to network affiliates to be aired in proximity to “24.”
CAIR's 30 and 60-second PSA feature American Muslims of European, African-American, Hispanic, and Native American heritage. Each person in the spots states how he/she and his/her family have served America and ends by saying, “I am an American Muslim.”
"What we are hoping to do is to try and mitigate the damages of the stereotypes because it can bring real-life consequences on American Muslims and their lives here," said Rabiah Ahmed, spokeswoman for the Islamic group. Citing a public opinion survey conducted by Cornell University last year, Ahmed said television influences viewers' perceptions of Muslims. "There aren't any positive or even neutral portrayals of Muslims on TV; whenever Muslims or Arabs are portrayed it is always in a stereotypical way," she said.
"When average Americans don't have any personal interaction with Muslims, whether it be at work or at school, they base their perception of Islam and Muslims from what they see on TV," she added. "We did bring that to Fox's attention."
The Harvard Crimson, Cambridge, MA – January 12, 2005
Letting stereotypes slip by
By Jade Jurdi and Magdey A. Abdallah
This past week, the Undergraduate Council presented an advance screening of the first three episodes of Fox’s popular television show, “24.” In doing so, the council insensitively aired an offensive portrayal of Middle Eastern Americans. Given the simplistic depiction of Middle Eastern Americans in Fox’s “24,” the show was inconsistent with the values of cultural awareness and diversity that the Undergraduate Council and the University seek to promote.
The show portrays a Turkish-American Muslim family in Los Angeles, Western in appearance and lifestyle, as a terrorist sleeper cell. In a news story that appeared in the Edmonton Times, a Fox spokesman refused comment when asked about the questionable content of the show. But the fact remains that 24’s facile and harmful representation of this “model” terrorist cell exceeds what is realistic and what is necessary for the show’s entertainment value. The show makes sure to convey how long this family lived in the United States, participated in its commerce and even utilized its public schools. Over the breakfast table, a familiar setting to us all, the father tells the family: “What we will accomplish today will change the world. We are fortunate that our family has been chosen to do this.” “24” has essentially turned the kitchen table of an average Muslim family into the center of all the evil that has gripped our nation. The implication of the episode is that one can never be certain that the Muslim or Arab family next door are not terrorists. Harvard should be the last place such a mentality is accepted.
Many Arabs and Muslims have made America their home, contributing to its economy and culture and appreciating the rights guaranteed by citizenship and residency in our great country. Arabs and Muslims serve in the United States armed forces and intelligence agencies, attempting to fight the very terrorists that they are suspected of being. Arab Americans have also risen to the highest echelons of power in this country, counting among them former Sen. George Mitchell D-Maine, Sen. John Sununu Jr., R-N.H., former Kerry Campaign Chairperson and Governor of New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen and numerous members of Congress. Fox’s show fails to even include an Arab-American translator working in the “Counter Terrorism Unit,” even though many currently do. 24’s only depiction of Arabs and Muslims is as evil terrorists.
Despite Arab Americans’ relative success integrating into American society, the sad reality is that many Arab and Muslim Americans have experienced racism first hand. Such inflammatory programming only serves to strengthen the negative stereotypes that lead to such acts. Many members of the Arab and Muslim communities have lost their homes, places of worship and businesses to arson—some have even lost their lives. Balbir Singh Sodhi, an Indian gas station owner, was murdered in what was concluded to be a hate crime. Sodhi wore a turban and as a result his attackers believed he was Arab. Even in the liberal bastion of Massachusetts we are not immune to such occurrences, as just last month a mosque was burnt to the ground in the Boston suburb of Springfield. In a country where many people are inadvertently suspicious of Muslim and Arab Americans and where few citizens actually have substantial contact with these minority groups, a show like 24 can greatly affect the perception of the community.
Even at Harvard we frequently find ourselves having to prove that despite our heritage we are not supporters of terrorism. While we believe that the members of the Undergraduate Council had no malicious intent in airing this show, we do feel that given the known general content of the show and other Fox programming, the council should have at least reviewed the content before showing the program to the Harvard community. Entertaining the student body shouldn’t come at the cost of alienating different groups of students. Especially in the case of issues surrounding terrorism, it is the council’s responsibility to exercise extreme sensitivity or risk inciting parts of the student body against each other.
On behalf of the Society of Arab Students, we hope the council will communicate, through a statement or other appropriate means, that it believes the screening of the show was a mistake. And we want the members of the Harvard community who viewed the program to consider what we have said today in the hopes it minimizes the impact of “24” and shows with similar themes on a our peers, for whom we hold the deepest respect.
Jade Jurdi is treasurer of the Society of Arab Students. Magdey Abdallah is publicity chairperson of the Society of Arab Students.