Industry of Inclusion

Industry of Inclusion
Muslims in My Monitor

Saladin Ahmed | 31 Aug 2010 12:34
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A later game in a similar mode is Disney's Aladdin. Arabs and Muslims have had a love-hate relationship with the Disney production of Aladdin since the film first hit theaters. On the one hand, coming after a decade and a half of demonization of Arab men in American action movies and TV shows, Aladdin featured a swashbuckling Middle Eastern character that Muslim boys could root for. On the other hand, the film (and thus, to a degree, the game developed by Sega) seems to equate "goodness" with whiteness. Aladdin and Jasmine's personal style and phenotype are basically Ken and Barbie in Middle Eastern gear. But the corrupt vizier Jafar (why is the evil vizier always a Jafar?) is dark brown with a camel-sized snout. The opening theme song, "Arabian Nights" originally featured the lyrics "Oh, I come from a land /From a faraway place/Where the caravan camels roam/Where they cut off your ear/If they don't like your face/It's barbaric, but hey, it's home!" before protests from Arab-American groups convinced Disney to change the offending lines in home video releases of the film. But the film and the game alike still depict the "Arabian" landscape as being a dirty, dangerous place populated by fat brown guys with huge swords.

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In general, such games set in the "Exotic East" mythologize the Arabian/Islamic past rather than demonizing it. But this is a mixed blessing. These games reinforce the notion that the only Arabs or Muslims worth rooting for are those who exist in the distant, mythical past - and those who are fighting other Arabian types. Videogames in general draw on the mythical past for their heroes - knights and wizards, ninjas and barbarians. But it's worth noting that, as far as gaming is concerned, the safe, distant past is the only realm in which an Arab can be a hero.

Kill 'em All, and Let Allah Sort 'em out

In the James Cameron travesty True Lies, Jamie Lee Curtis' character, after learning that her husband, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a secret government operative and all around bad-ass, asks if he's ever killed anyone. "Yeah," he replies, "but they were all bad." Ah-nold then spends the rest of the movie blowing away Arabs.

It is this sort of spirit that's on display in many videogames: Muslims are villainous killers whose only purpose is to serve as bullet sponges. Like Indians in a 1950s Western, the Arabs of these games are swarthy, savage, bloodthirsty madmen who gibber incoherently at the hero as they try to mow him down. There's only one sane way to deal with such a threat - blow 'em all to Kingdom Come. And that's just what we are encouraged to do in games like Metal Slug 2, Full Spectrum Warrior, Desert Strike, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, America's Army, and so on.

Unlike the "Exotic East" heroes, the villains in these games are present-day Arabs and Muslims. In the slightly less offensive versions of these games, the bad guys are from imaginary or unspecified countries. But increasingly, as games have aimed for more and more supposed realism, the countries and villains depicted are real places where real people live. A truly realistic game would investigate the complexities of the conflicts they depict, and would show that the "hostile levels' of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc., are in reality countries where the vast majority of the population are civilians - women, children, and men just trying to live their lives without being blown to pieces. The aliens of the Halo franchise are more humanized than the bad guys in America's Army, who are really just endlessly spawning born-to-die vermin with AK-47s and rocket launchers.

This type of game reached its noxious pinnacle in 2008 with the homebrew throwback shooter Muslim Massacre: The Game of Modern Religious Genocide. The game was supposed to be a joke, however vicious and cruel - but its viral popularity illustrates that it tapped into a very powerful hatred of Arabs and Muslims. That hatred is evoked, if in less cartoonish form, even in more "thoughtful" tactical games like Full Spectrum Warrior.

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