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From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

No, Not That Ashanti, the Other Ashanti. Or, What Was Your Least Favorite Movie In 1979? I found Fisk’s latest column, which I mentioned yesterday, posted over at CounterPunch. Fisk doesn’t disappoint, and dishes up a screed chock full of hysterical, almost paranoid, hyperbole:

Add to that the poisonous, racial dribble of a hundred Hollywood movies that depict Arabs as dirty, lecherous, untrustworthy and violent people -- and soldiers are addicted to movies -- and it's not difficult to see how some British scumbag will urinate into the face of a hooded man, how some American sadist will stand a hooded Iraqi on a box with wires tied to his hands.

The sexual sadism -- the bobby--sox girl soldier who points at a man's genitals, the mock orgy in Abu Ghraib prison, the British rifle in the prisoner's mouth -- might be a crazed attempt to balance all those lies about the Arab world, about the desert warrior's potency, the harem, polygamy. Even today, we still show the revolting Ashanti on our television stations, a feature film about the kidnapping of the wife of an English doctor by Arab slave--traders, which depicts Arabs as almost exclusively child--molesters, rapists, murderers, liars and thieves. It stars -- heaven spare us --Michael Caine, Omar Sharif and Peter Ustinov and was made partly in Israel.

Indeed, we now depict Arabs in our films as the Nazis once depicted Jews. But Arabs are fair game. Potential terrorists to a man -- and a woman -- they must be softened up, "prepared", humiliated, beaten, tortured. The Israelis use torture in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem.

Odd, how of all the countries in the Middle East Fisk consistently singles out Israel. And the only thing more heinous, I suppose, than a bad movie—that is, a flick Fisk fancied foul—is a 25-years-old bad “feature film” that was (horror of horrors!!!) made partly in Israel. Heaven spare us, indeed!

Fisk concludes with the obligatory Hitler/Holocaust reference, which is particularly gratuitous coming from the same darling who not only puked up false accusations of Israeli mass murders (and mass graves!) in Jenin, but now defends those accusations. “Sheer callousness” and “poisonous, racial dribble,” anyone? Anyway, this latest column reminds me of all the similarly outraged protestations Fisk has penned over the years decrying the maiming and torture of Israeli soldiers at the hands of Arabs. Er, never mind.

The movie Ashanti seems to be a favorite bane of Fisk’s delicate multicultural sensitivity. I notice his earlier references to the film are fairly similar to the comment above, replete with the comment about Israel. Writing in 1999, he had this to say:

Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the former US ambassador Edward Djerejian, the Arab editor Khaled al-Maeena, Rabbi Neuberger and sundry diplomats and journalists will spend three days discussing the ever-more-dangerous "Islamo-phobia" currently infecting our reporting and vision of the Muslim world - especially the Middle East. [TBON editor’s note: One can only imagine what Saudi Prince “The Zionists did it!” Abdullah and the editor of Arab News could have possibly contributed to a discussion about phobias and stereotypes, except perhaps their own charming expertise in such matters.]

They will have a lot to talk about. For the portrayal of Arab Muslims over the past 30 years - in our cartoons and films as well as words - has reached Nazi-like proportions. Greedy, hook-nosed, vicious, violent, rapacious, turbaned or "kaffiyehed" Iranians and Arabs have replaced the cartoon Jews of Voelkischer Beobachter or Der Ewige Jude.

I had just arrived in the Middle Fast, more than 20 years ago, when I first saw, on television, the movie Ashanti. It starred Omar Sharif and Roger Moore and portrayed Arabs as slave-traders, murderers, child-molesters and sadists. The film was, said the credits, partly made on location in Israel.

I was stunned. [TBON editor’s note: No kidding.] No wonder so many reports spoke of Arabs as "terrorists". No wonder so many editorials referred to "terrorist animals". [TBON editor’s note: No wonder, indeed.] And the more films I watched, the more cartoons I saw, the more editorials I read, the more our fear of the despicable, fearful, alien Muslim seemed to be spreading. If the Nazis could portray the Jews as sub-humans who threatened Western "civilization" and "culture" so could we portray Muslims as sinister, evil, over-breeding and worthy of destruction.

This strikes me as hyperbole. The American media, for example, is not (and was not, in 1999) regularly portraying Arab Muslims in “Nazi-like proportions.” I wonder if, say, falsely accusing Israeli soldiers of murdering hundreds of Palestinians in Jenin falls into a similar category of sinister mischaracterization and phobia. But perhaps Israelis are exempt from Fisk’s oh-so principled considerations of accuracy and stereotypes.

Fisk bewailed the same movie again in 2003:

Now I know the Beirut argument on all this. If the Americans are so hot on racism, why don't they suppress the cruel sterotypes (sic) of Arabs portrayed by Hollywood? Why do they still show Ashanti, a potboiler about the Arab slave trade that portrays Arabs much as The Protocols portray Jews: as venal, child-molesting murderers? (We shall forget that the Lebanese-born actor Omar Sharif acts in this vile movie.) Why does the US government permit American newspapers to cartoon Arabs as hook-nosed murderers, much as Jews were depicted in Der Sturmer ?

What newspapers was Fisk reading? Regarding Ashanti: I dunno, but I don’t recall this movie being shown anywhere. I wonder if Blockbuster even has it. Incidentally, “the Lebanese-born actor Omar Sharif” was born in Egypt

How delightfully progressive that Fisk is “always careful about accusing Arabs of anti-Semitism. They are themselves a Semitic race.” Not that one’s race has anything to do with one being antisemitic or not, of course, but “You can see how the semantics break down,” or something. Perhaps Fisk will exercise a similar caution the next time he rails about the mass killings and mass graves in Jenin.

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