Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Is For Arab

For those who missed the "A Is For Arab" display, here are some photos I took this morning before the exhibition was taken down.

The Richard Ettinghausen Library at KEVO also screened the 1943 film Adventure in Iraq:

The film was shown parallel to the exhibit as a live reflection of anti-Arab depictions in mainstream American culture, especially in Hollywood - the most powerful of mediums.

The film certainly excels toward that end: Three Americans crashland their plane in the desert between Syria and Iraq and are welcomed by a perfidious sheikh. The sheikh is refined - the bejeweled, ostentatious Arab; he naturally harbors a harem but still maintains a flirting eye for the irresistible Western woman - but openly denigrates his people ("my people are primitive"); who are not even Muslims but devil worshippers who mouth a gibberish feigning as Arabic. The only Arab women are veiled and nearly ghost-like in their ephemeral motions, along with informing the American women that "the man has many wives".

The Americans are eager to leave (one of them inquiries how far they are from "civilization"), but the Sheikh is a Nazi collaborator eager to bargain them off to Hitler! Our courageous and civilized Americans plan their escape and naturally outsmart their capturers [Spoiler Alert!] until they're cornered in the desert, brought back to the palace and in the end saved by an army battalion that receives their coded message. The American officer stares down the Sheikh: the United States does not negotiate with gangsters (this line has been lifted into the contemporary "the U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists") and the cowardly Sheikh obliges. The Americans are free. Classic happy ending. The End.

Arab Nazi collaborators, devil worshippers, the cliched invisible harem hands...it sounds awful. And the depictions are, of course, crude Orientalist fantasies. But I really enjoyed the film as - and purely as - a work of art. It is offensive to Arabs, but such a high-class offense. I am, of course, being tongue-and-cheek. But compare Adventure in Iraq to, say, the exceptionally vulgar and imbecile True Lies and other recent Hollywood anti-Arab fare and you'll understand my affinity for the former. If Arabs are to be made to watch films that portray them as lascivious savages, then, please, let the dialogue and acting appeal to our finer taste and old Hollywood lore.

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