Edward Said’s Trailblazing Work Continues to Shed Light on Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab Attitudes
As anti-Muslim hate continues to proliferate in the U.S. and around the world, and as the Trump administration and Congress now ramp up their efforts to silence and even criminalize pro-Palestinian speech on America’s college campuses, the pioneering work of the late cultural critic Edward Said has never seemed more relevant or important.
Said, a Palestinian-American academic and public intellectual who would have turned 84 tomorrow, spent the better part of his life writing about the cultural roots of the West’s deeply distorted views of Arabs, Muslims, and the Middle East, and was a fierce advocate for the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
Toward the end of his life, we had the privilege of collaborating with Said on a pair of videos that lay out the basic tenets of his most influential work. These two titles continue to speak to some of the most common and dangerous misconceptions about the Middle East and the wider Arab World today.
In On Orientalism, Said offers a brilliant summation of his groundbreaking book Orientalism, which examined the origins of distorted Western perceptions of the East. And in The Myth of the Clash of Civilizations, he dismantles the us-versus-them, Islam-versus-the-Christian-West mentality that undergirds so much Western foreign policy to this day.
In the years since his death, we’ve also produced a number of other films that have been shaped by Said’s ideas, his activism, and his commitment to clear and critical thinking. These include Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People and The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States.
We hope you’ll re-visit all of these videos in your classes as anti-Muslim and anti-Arab attitudes and misinformation continue to spread in the U.S. and around the world.
In this adaptation of his paradigm-shifting book, Edward Said examines the origins and evolution of Western attitudes towards the Middle East. Said shows how perceptions of the Middle East as an exotic land full of villains and terrorists are deeply rooted in the Western imagination, and argues that this caricatured cultural heritage continues to blind too many Europeans and Americans to the complexity and diversity of the region.
In this important lecture delivered at the University of Massachusetts, Said takes aim at one of the central tenets of recent foreign policy thinking — that conflicts between different and “clashing civilizations” (Western, Islamic, Confucian) characterize the contemporary world.
This groundbreaking documentary dissects a slanderous aspect of cinematic history that has run virtually unchallenged from the earliest days of silent film to today’s biggest Hollywood blockbusters. Featuring acclaimed author Dr. Jack Shaheen, the film explores a long line of degrading images of Arabs–from Bedouin bandits and submissive maidens to sinister sheikhs and gun-wielding “terrorists”–along the way offering devastating insights into the origin of these stereotypic images, their development at key points in U.S. history, and why they matter so much today. Shaheen shows how the persistence of these images over time has served to naturalize prejudicial attitudes toward Arabs and Arab culture, in the process reinforcing a narrow view of individual Arabs and the effects of specific US domestic and international policies on their lives.
Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land provides a striking comparison of U.S. and international media coverage of the crisis in the Middle East, zeroing in on how structural distortions in U.S. coverage have reinforced false perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This pivotal documentary exposes how the foreign policy interests of American political elites–oil, and a need to have a secure military base in the region, among others–work in combination with Israeli public relations strategies to exercise a powerful influence over how news from the region is reported.
Over the past few years, Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territory and repeated invasions of the Gaza strip have triggered a fierce backlash against Israeli policies virtually everywhere in the world — except the United States. The Occupation of the American Mind takes an eye-opening look at this critical exception, zeroing in on pro-Israel public relations efforts within the U.S.
The Mean World Syndrome, based on the groundbreaking work of the late media scholar George Gerbner, offers a timely and clear-eyed take on the origins of some of our most irrational and unrelenting fears. Taking dead aim at a commercial media system that thrives on violence, stereotypes, and the cultivation of anxiety, the film argues that the more television people watch, the more likely they are to be insecure and afraid of others — and shows how these media-induced fears and anxieties provide fertile ground for intolerance, extremism, and a paranoid style of politics that threatens basic democratic values.