’24’ Fosters Racism

The new season of the hit TV show ’24’ commenced last Sunday. It continues to perpetuate racism, although this is perhaps unrecognized by the program’s millions of viewers. Unfortunately, the archetypal ‘terrorist’ image has become that of the Arab (or Muslim, between whom the average viewer rarely distinguishes), who occupies the position of ‘threat’ to the economic and political planners of our nation and European elites.
These planners have each sought to violently quell and subjugate endemic populations in the Middle East lest they stand up against colonial powers which exploit the region’s resources for their own profits.
’24’ adds to a growing legacy of Edward Said’s notion of Orientalism, built up for over four centuries by academics, imperial officers, bourgeois cultural icons and, more recently, popular media which have depicted the Middle East and its people as backward, inferior and threatening to the West.
’24’ is a prime example of the way that culture and imperialism are intertwined domestically, promoting tacit and unobjectionable support by audience members for the devastating wars being conducted by the United States and other European powers in Iraq, Afghanistan and, unfortunately, possibly Iran in the near future.
Although the casual observer or audience member may object to my charges of racism and apologetics for militarism in ’24,’ one cannot ignore this particular program’s political undercurrents or the fact that it relies on a standard Orientalist tradition generalizing and stigmatizing the Middle East. I target ’24’ specifically not because of its uniqueness (one needn’t look very far to see Arabs or Islam vilified and targeted in other media), but because of its popular sensationalism and broad fan base (consider, for example, the Arroyo Vista community center at UC Irvine sponsoring a season premiere screening get-together).
’24’ is another fictional yet salient example of the white, logical and heroic European saving the day from the irrational and violent non-western villain, and its contemporary implications being that the United States must eliminate, through imprisonment or murder, any threats or obstructions to its military and economic strategies (in short, controlling oil prices and reserves in the Middle East), which in this case happen to be mostly Arabs and other Muslims who are rightly demanding an end to decades of violence and colonial repression.
This current Islamophobic racist milieu targeting Arabs and Islam directly is simply a logical outgrowth of the need to distract the general public from ‘business as usual.’ A recent study by Johns Hopkins University researchers estimates that over 650,000 people have been murdered in Iraq since the onset of the U.S. invasion in 2003, a clear contrast to the State Department line that we are ‘spreading democracy’ in Iraq. The poignant reality is that oil companies are profiting while thousands of working Americans in the military and Iraqi civilians are being killed and not for their own ‘freedom’ or benefit.
Perhaps the saddest part is that the current racial stereotypes against Arabs are nothing new; think of the legal segregation of African-Americans until the 1960s, the Chinese Immigrant Exclusion Act of 1923, the racial maligning of Japanese during WWII and Hispanic, Jewish and Irish immigrants from the late 1800s onward. Shows like ’24’ and other popular violent thrillers use Arabs as the enemy both because they are plausible and easily digestible by the audience amidst today’s racism, and also because they condition viewers to support the atrocities being committed or those that are soon to be committed in the Middle East.
Given that we celebrated Martin Luther King’s 78th birthday last week, we should recognize the continuing injustices being perpetrated by the United States and its allies, including crimes of war and aggression.
King’s assiduous opposition to the Vietnam War and to publicly and legally sanctioned racism should be commemorated by proponents of social change today by opposing the ‘War on Terror,’ racism against our Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters and against Hispanic immigrants who are the victims of our vicious ‘free-trade’ policies.
Let them also recognize the collusion between popular media like ’24’ and the policies of State Department planners who seek to gain by disadvantaging all of us