On November 30th, Jean spoke with Robert Wright about the parallels between homophobia and Islamophobia. Underlying Wright’s argument is the concept of bridges, which means that people harbor prejudice towards groups because they have not met someone who belongs to them. Presumably, if they meet a real person their prejudice would dissipate.
According to Wright, Americans were able to overcome their prejudice towards homosexuals because they knew them before they knew they were gay. So by the time someone would find out they were gay, their opinion of them was formed and assumedly positive. Muslims do not have that luxury because, as Wright states, they are few and concentrated in certain areas, so it is hard to meet a Muslim to alter a prejudice.
This part of the argument I understand about the importance of bridging. However, in my opinion, Wright did not address important issues that relate to why Islamophobia is a challenge that makes the success of bridging more difficult to achieve. For example, in the discussion, Jean asked Wright if media images play a role in continuing Islamophobia. Wright answered by saying that the negative response is probably to the media reporting certain events. That is a large part of it, but images of Arabs and Muslims is not new or restricted to events in the last 15 years.
Prof. Jack Shaheen wrote a book called Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People where he traces the images of Arabs in Hollywood from the beginning of film; many are negative. Films like The Seige that explicitly portrays Muslims as terrorists and even a children’s film like Aladdin perpetuate the idea that Arabs and Muslims are strange, barbaric, and “other.” So for Wright to not address the impact of these kinds of images in furthering negative sentiments towards Arabs and Muslims is problematic. Also, by saying that Muslims are few and concentrated only in cities like Detroit does not relay the idea that they have been immigrating to the United States since the 19th century and are a part of the fabric of this nation.
It is important that Wright is calling attention to the dangerous consequences of Islamophobia and the need to dispel it. But I think it is necessary to recognize to what extent it has been a part of the American psyche for quite some time and how combating these images is an important place to begin.
What did you think of the show? Do you think that images of Arabs and Muslims in the media are related to the increased Islamophobia? Do you think bridging can work for this group? Please share your thoughts below.