Sunday, April 21, 2013


Nabiha Hashmi:

Harems to Terrorists – the name of the class was what drew me to take this class. I really had no idea what the class was going to be about, I knew it was a film class – an item on my bucket list which I could now cross off. But, aside from the name and the type of class, I had no idea what to expect. I am Muslim so I was interested in how my experiences had come to shape the way I think of media portrayal of Arabs and Muslims. I knew that we were generally conflated with terrorism; but I only thought because of how many terrorists there were…obviously media would only show stories of terrorism. I just thought it was the natural way of doing things – of course they wanted to sell stories. It was a naturalized dogma of mine – everything seemed as if it was common sense and could not be argued. But, I never thought in depth about how this may affect people’s thinking, how it was already affecting my own, and how it even came to shape policies.
So, I wanted to understand. I wanted to understand how others saw portrayal of Muslims and Arabs in media and what they thought about it. I hated how there was this clash of civilizations between the West and Islam, because I knew how Islam truly was. I assumed I already knew what was needed to be known. However, in the first class of American Culture 235, I learned we would not be watching films to understand who Arabs and Muslims are but instead how they’ve been represented. All of my background knowledge went out the door and I realized, I would actually learn about something very different to what I thought I would. This whole idea of representation and the meanings it created made sense to me only in the sense of terrorism and Islam based on my own experience. But, I never realized that there were origins to these representations and that these representations by creating meanings actually led to influencing major decisions. I realized I was going to have to set aside preconceived notions of what I thought I knew about representation of Arabs and Muslims and get ready to be challenged to think in new ways – something I had never truly done in a class format.

Patyn Gillam:

The purpose of this blog is to reflect on how this class (AmCult 235) has changed how I perceive things, both real and fictional. Hopefully those who might read this that have not taken the course learn from my experiences that I will share here. If there’s one thing I want readers to take away from the blog, it’s this: think about your own thinking. I mean, really, critically examine your own beliefs. Why do you believe them? Are they yours, or did someone else put them there? What assumptions do they stem from? What’s the basis for assuming those assumptions? Basically, be skeptical of what gets into your mind, because as much as we’d like to think we put a guard up to filter out all the things that don’t belong there, those things still find a way in. Before this class, I had never really thought about how films impacted my beliefs – I mean, it’s just harmless entertainment, right? But when the same themes and plots are used again and again, it becomes normalized. This is called ideological work. So since this class has started, there have been several instances where I’ve stopped myself, thinking, “What ideological work is this movie/video/etc. doing to me right now?” I would like to share a couple of these instances and my thoughts on them.

Andrew Covert:

Media surrounds us in our everyday lives. Between print, radio, movies, television, and the internet, we are continuously engulfed in a sea of multimedia entertainment and advertising. It's easy to point out that the point of advertisement is to create sales for a product, but it's much harder to pinpoint the meaning of entertainment. For instance, a film is usually written and shot with the intention of interesting the audience, but what if what interests the audience is, intentionally or not, problematic or offensive to distinct groups of people?

Professor Alsultany's class, “From Harems to Terrorists”, asked us as students to consider alternative, critical readings of a selection of films, television, and other media that involve depictions of Arabs, Muslims, Islam, or the Middle East. The intent was not only to point out what features of mainstream Arab/Muslim representation are problematic, but to also show how these representations emerged from contextual world events, and how the common stereotypes, problematic thematic tropes, and outright racism might be counter-acted. The class not only revealed an important standpoint on issues of race in the media, but also suggested progressive solutions to these historical problems. Our mission is to demonstrate how the concepts in this course altered and enhanced our understandings and perceptions of media, Arab/Muslim identity, and the politics of representation.

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