HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Is Hollywood Fueling Terrorism?

The recent release of the intense war drama American Sniper has caused much excitement and anticipation in American movie-goers. This makes sense considering the War on Terror in the Middle East has been the subject of several successful films in the past decade. This makes me question why Americans flock to movies about the Middle East—is it because we are hungry for any details concerning the current happenings in these mysterious countries that are disrupting our daily lives, or is it because we feel like it is our civic duty to see a film honoring the lives of our brave soldiers?  Well, both of these are true, but there is a major error resulting from the popularity of these movies.  Many of these movies do not accurately depict life in the Middle East.   These movies may not be completely accurate, but how can we expect them to be when the writers and directors have probably not experienced the Middle East like our soldiers have.  The result of the popularity of these movies is Americans taking these movies as true depictions of this war. The only other source of information we have about the current happenings in the Middle East are news stations and the media and these are known to not always release accurate information.   The point is that though these movies are a great source of entertainment, they do not always accurately depict the war our country is currently deeply involved in.

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The movie industry in America is a booming business that rakes in billions of dollars a year.  What most Americans don’t realize is that most of the movies released here in the US are also released in many different countries around the world a few weeks later.  So not only are American’s being influenced by these movies but so are many other different cultures.  So the question to ask is, what happens when movies on terrorism are released in countries in the Middle East?  American Sniper was released in Egypt, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Israel, and Iraq just last week.  A theater in Baghdad released the movie and received great success when tickets sold out the entire first week it was released.  A man was interviewed about his experience in the theater during the showing and he commented that most everyone in the theater was rooting for the protagonist Chris Kyle.  A few days later the movie was banned from the theater because it was thought that the movie was “against Muslims.”

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For the average citizen in the Middle East, American movies depicting the war on terrorism might inspire hope that one day the war in their country might end, but this is not always the case.  Looking at the past decade there have been a string of movies released based on the war on terror:  Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker, Green Zone, Flight 93…etc.  All of these movies did not exactly portray Muslims in a good way because Americans often fail to differentiate between terrorists and the average Muslim.  Also, they always leave the United States in a good light, like we are always the great hero for the Middle East, but is this not almost demeaning to the Islamic culture?  Why can’t the United States make a successful movie that respects the Islamic culture?

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Furthermore, it can be concluded that movies like this, are fueling terrorism by giving off the idea that Americans see all Muslims as a threat.  Hollywood is causing average citizens of the Middle East to think negatively towards America.   Not only do the movies insult Islamic culture, but they are not always accurate.  Even movies based on a true story like Argo and American Sniper might not always be accurate, purely to make the movie have a more interesting plot.  So how does a Middle Easterner feel when he is watching a movie like American Sniper that doesn’t accurately describe what being in a war zone is like.  He might assume that Americans are ignorant to what is truly happening in the Middle East.  On another note, a lot of these movies are never released in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran because it is too controversial with the current war.

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Hollywood’s effect on the United States relations with Middle Eastern countries is an interesting thing to consider. How is our country viewed when we release a movie like American Sniper amidst all the violence that is currently happening with ISIS? Also, terrorism only works if attention is brought to the groups violent actions.  Are we not just bringing more attention to past acts of terrorism?

Sources:

http://www.popmatters.com/article/hollywood-goes-to-war-mainstream-movies-focus-on-iraq-terrorism/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/01/29/baghdad-moviegoers-american-sniper/22518333/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/19/american-sniper-seth-rogen-michael-moore-jane-fonda-and-other-stars-take-sides.html

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19 Comments

  1. mdsmith910 says:

    I don’t think American Sniper is fueling terrorism. I actually read something about a man who watched it in Baghdad and said that it was uplifting, and he was surprised when a reporter asked him if he thought the movie was racist:

    “When asked by the Global Post whether he felt the film was in any way racist or anti-Arab, as one MSNBC reporter suggested on Friday, Mohammed replied, “No, why? The sniper was killing terrorists, the only thing that bothered me was when he said he didn’t know anything about the Quran!”

    Mohammed also went on to say that movies like American Sniper gave him “strength to face ISIS.”” [http://townhall.com/tipsheet/leahbarkoukis/2015/01/31/reactions-to-american-sniper-in-iraq-are-not-what-you-think-n1950815]

  2. Travis says:

    I found this to be very interesting. There are many things a person knows is true, but doesn’t really think about, and this, for me, was one of them. I know that the United States is not the only country to make and view movies, but I never once stopped to think “I wonder where else these movies go.” Many of your points were valid. If I were Muslim, and I watched American Sniper, even if I knew that the movie were directed to terrorists I would still feel somewhat bothered. I don’t believe I’ve watched a movie that’s exclusively placed Muslims in a positive light. Hollywood, as well as any other industry that deals with portraying thoughts and ideas through media, are all aware of the effects they can have on society. There are even laws set in place to monitor these types of industries, but special care must be taken regardless. Just because a movie may seem appropriate by our standards doesn’t mean that it will be readily accepted by other countries. Like you mentioned in your post, movies such as American Sniper could serve as a catalyst for already existing terrorist groups.

  3. khospedales3 says:

    I’m reluctant to say that these movies fuel terrorism, but I do agree that they can and likely do increase tensions to some extent on both sides.

    I’m thinking Middle Eastern citizens may not see these movies as “anti-Islam” as the western generalization that Islam inherently facilitates terrorism obviously isn’t pervasive in the Middle East, and the struggle against the terrorists probably looks just as noble as it does to anyone in western society.

  4. coreilly says:

    I don’t think Hollywood is doing anything wrong really. Their target audience is the average American, and the average American loves seeing a movie about an American hero, or a group of American heroes. Hollywood is a business, their out to make money and right now movies like American Sniper and Act of Valor are making money. Going off of your logic, it seems like you’re trying to say that no one in the Middle East wants to see these movies because Americans come out victorious and heroic. I’d argue that many Middle Easterners would love watching a movie like this. A lot of them don’t like these terrorist organizations running their countries. If America we’re being run by a terrorist organization and another country were to come into America to rid the us of the terrorist leadership, you can count on me wanting to see applauding every time a terrorist leader gets killed. Just another point of view.

  5. kimpgt says:

    Great post!
    You made a great point about errors in depicting Middle East lifestyle. For many people, movies are the only or the main source of information on what war zones are like and the struggles soldiers face. It is important to remember than not all Hollywood movies are depictions of real life or are accurate; most serve for entertainment purposes.

    It is important to consider the viewpoints of Middle Eastern countries on these types of movies, as many Hollywood movies are released over seas.

    I find it very interesting that most people in Baghdad were in support of the protagonist, which led to the movie being banned because their government thought it was sacrilegious. These types of movies have a greater impact in the Middle East and holds more significance because it is interpreted more religiously and politically than viewed as entertainment.

  6. cryan3232 says:

    I think this article brings up a good point that is in contrast to an earlier post about the benefits of filming in the Middle East. While I would agree with the earlier comments that American Sniper is not “fueling” terrorism, I do think there are some negative implications of these movies. They typically focus on a minor segment of the Middle East society but since it is all that people are exposed to they begin to associate the these small groups as indicative of the entire region. And while I do not know if people in these other countries that are viewing out movies see them as an insult, I would agree that it opens the possibility to criticize some of the American views that are portrayed in the movies.

  7. ashumway3 says:

    This is an amazing point you bring up. I’ve thought about how media here in the US is sensationalized and biased, but I never considered how the theater business has influenced opinions on both sides of the issue. It has become a major problem that directors become even more successful by playing off of and worsening the polarization and distrust on both sides. Sadly, I can’t think of an easy way to break this vicious cycle because Hollywood has always had a tendency to capitalize on people’s fears and misbeliefs. All I can say is that I will not be supporting movies or other media that I believe have a negative effect on our complex relations with Middle Eastern countries.

  8. trevormcelhenny says:

    I am also hesitant to say that these movies actually fuel terrorism, but they certainly do not always portray Muslims in a positive way. I would say that, if anything, these movies actually fuel the rampant “Islamophobia” in the US more than they “encourage” terrorists.

  9. lmoghimi3 says:

    I completely agree that these movies fuel “Islamophobia” in America and around the world. As someone who has traveled in the Middle East I generally can’t sit through these kinds of movies because they make me upset about how one sided the entire movie is. If my only source was these movies I would think the region was completely backwards and always in a war. It would be nice to have a movie about the Middle East from the perspective of a Middle Easterner or just a movie about the actual people and culture of the Middle East.

  10. austinsoper says:

    It is difficult to argue with Islamophobia when you see videos of ISIS militants lighting a man on fire and burning him alive. These are the kind of people that we are fighting against in the middle east. The people that have no regard or respect for human dignity or the sanctity of life, not the average muslim.

  11. jyount6 says:

    I think the problem with viewing these movies as fueling terrorism is that the average person in the Middle East isn’t going to watch this and say, “Wow, I had never really hated America, but after watching this movie, I’m going to become a terrorist.” Also, expecting anything less from Hollywood than their attempt to make a buck and maybe cause a few happy feelings is like going to the fridge asking it to be a microwave. Giving America facts just isn’t what Hollywood is about. I have respect for some directors more than others, but even Eastwood isn’t even truthful about some of the aspects of Kyle’s life in the movie American Sniper. He deviates from the book to, you guessed it, make a more enjoyable movie experience. The expectations we have for Hollywood are just plain unrealistic, but they really have you in a bind because if you don’t like the way they run things, then you just have to not support them by staying away from big budget movies. How many of us are willing to make that stand? Maybe WE have to make more of a sacrifice to get the change we want out of this world rather than just complain about how bad we think things are.

  12. corypope6 says:

    Very thought provoking post, but I would like to make a point about a question you posed in your article. You stated that “Even movies based on a true story like Argo and American Sniper might not always be accurate, purely to make the movie have a more interesting plot.” If we recognize and understand that the movies that are produced in Hollywood are not 100 percent accurate, why would the citizens viewing the movies in the Middle East not be able to understand that same truth? However, you do raise some great points about these movies clouding Americans’ view of what a typical Muslim looks like and acts like. Most people do not realize that the main victims of terrorism are the people that live in the Middle East. The average Muslim hates terrorism just as much if not more than the average American. Finally, this has no relation to anything I previously said, but Chris Kyle is an American hero. (Not that you said he wasn’t)

  13. apabst3 says:

    I would love to see a movie about a soldier or a hero from the Middle East who is fighting against terrorism just like the American soldiers are. When the only movies we see are about American’s being good guys and Muslim terrorist being bad guys we get used to that. Like many of the commenters have already said Muslims hate terrorism just as much if not more then Americans. Muslims are the ones that are truly suffering from the extremism. It would be great if Hollywood could depict that in a film, because everyone in America knows how most Americans feel about terrorism, it is hammered into us from a young age. Unfortunately we sometimes forget the Muslims all over the world and especially in the Middle East feel the same way that we do. If Hollywood spread that message around the world I think it would be very beneficial to our collective fight against terrorist.

  14. ssweeny3 says:

    I’m not sure how American Sniper could possibly be portrayed as a movie which fuels terrorism, even from the movie which is usually twisted from the book. At no point in the movie did Chris Kyle kill any person who was not causing imminent danger to another member of the United States Armed Services. From Chris Kyle’s first confirmed kill to his last, he faced moral decisions that tore his mind apart, as evident in the movie. The way that the people in Iraq are portrayed as they are in the movie is because this is the mindset of Chris Kyle in his book. An example from the movie is when a man welcomed them into their house to eat and relax while they performed reconnaissance on an enemy stronghold. Little do they know that he is holding weapons in the house that are more than likely used against the United States Forces. In a war when the enemy blends into the normal population, it forces military movies to view every person as a threat until proven wrong. In the end, only feelings are hurt but human lives are not lost.

  15. jkempa3 says:

    I do not agree with this piece. All of the films mentioned ARE war movies and therefore need to be viewed in context as such. They are not documentaries on the lives and social climate of the middle east. They are mostly about the struggles many U.S. soldiers deal with while fighting in conflicts. Many of these movies portray the best and worst in people by showing scenes of brutal acts of savagery but also scenes of compassion and moral reasoning. A movie that was not mentioned was Lone Survivor. This movie showed and explained to minor degree the culture of a particular group of people in the middle east who under a centuries old custom saved an American from certain death at the risk of their entire tribe. Yes, if viewed in the wrong context, the movies mentioned above could portray the people of the middle east in a negative light. However, as with any film, novel, or story, it must be analyzed and understood in the proper context.

  16. missypittard says:

    A couple questions are asked towards the end of this blog post: “How is our country viewed when we release a movie like American Sniper amidst all the violence that is currently happening with ISIS? Also, terrorism only works if attention is brought to the groups violent actions. Are we not just bringing more attention to past acts of terrorism?”

    To the first, American Sniper was made and released in honor of an American Hero. While there is a a great deal of violence going on in this world, we are living amidst some of the most peaceful times in history, and I see no reason “Hollywood” should not release such a movie. (more info on this topic: http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence?language=en)

    I would argue terrorism does not only work if attention is brought to it. While it does not calm the fire by any means, the root cause of today’s acts of terrorism is religious based. Think on the converse side of things. If no attention were brought to it, what would be the outcome? It deeply concerns me that moderate Muslims have not stood up in some capacity to combat ISIS acts and other demonstrations committed in the name of their religion. It would be an interesting topic of discussion for class next week.

  17. zhuyutong202 says:

    I disagree that Hollywood movies fuel terrorism. Most of these movies are more for domestic audience. Very few people from the middle east even watch these films. Only 20 percent of American sniper’s revenue made internationally. A large portion of terrorist are recruited from people with very poor background and these people probably never even heard of these movies. However, I do believe these movies can affect the American public’s sentiments toward Muslims and this can affect our governments policies towards the middle east.

  18. jenglish7 says:

    On one hand you could say that Hollywood and the media are actively fueling sensationalist views regarding terrorism and Muslim peoples, but from an economic standpoint you could approach it as a matter of supply and demand. American movie-goers enjoy action films and fast paced cinematography. And when it comes to developing plots, often it is easier to jump on the anti-terrorism bandwagon as it lends itself well to developing movies. I would argue against the existence of a media agenda, and instead say that the economic drive to produce anti-Muslim films is simply an unfortunate coincidence.

  19. wcarter31 says:

    I feel like when it comes to high-profile movies set in the Middle East like American Sniper, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, etc., Hollywood is driven more by profit through entertaining the viewers than accuracy. Zero Dark Thirty in particular was called out as being very inaccurate on many levels including the effectiveness of torture and the importance of one single person in finding Bin Laden, but it was still a great success in the box office and a movie I greatly enjoyed. I feel like I’m not alone when I say that I go to the theater to be entertained rather than to learn, and I would also disagree that Hollywood is fueling terrorism.

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