Students Against Othering

Mission Statement

Students Against Othering’s (SAO) mission is to educate the public about the dangers and consequences of othering, specifically in relation to Muslims and Arabs. We here at SAO hope to educate the general public about the existence of othering, and how it effects many minority groups. We hope to raise awareness through showing identifiable examples of othering, and how this is a part of everyday life for targeted minorities such as Muslims and Arabs. Our goal is to show that our differences as human beings should be celebrated, and that we as a people should work toward understanding rather than assimilation. Respect, awareness, and understanding of different cultures are vital aspects to the solution to othering. Unfortunately, othering is one of the many results of unequal power dynamics, but we hope to convince people with and without power to treat one another with respect and understanding, and therefore diminish othering worldwide.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Human Rights First

Human Rights First is a U.S. based nonpartisan, non-profit, international human rights activist group.  One of the issues that the group addresses on their website is torture; they produced a fourteen minute video entitled “Human Rights First Primetime Torture Project”.  This video was shown in class and is available in its entirety on the CTools site. 
The focus of the Primetime Torture Project is to depict how torture is represented in mainstream media and the dangerous effect this has on society.  The film consists of interviews with a variety of experts such as military interrogation specialists, military instructors, and screenwriters.  It also displays various clips from popular television programs featuring scenes of torture.  Scenes from programs such as Lost and 24 are especially compelling, particularly the character Jack Bauer.  Military experts in the video speak about Jack Bauer, and the impact his depiction has had on young military men; there has been a disturbing trend of trainees rebelling against using the interrogation tactics taught in class and attempting to use torture techniques, in the method of Jack Bauer.  This is just one of the many examples the video cites as evidence of how representations in the media of Arabs, Muslims and torture can have harmful results.
            Watching this video also brings to mind the course term essentialism, which is related to the ideas of othering and torture.  Essentialism: “The idea that a group of people possess and can be characterized by an unchanging “essence”- that all members of a group “naturally” share the same characteristics.  Stereotypes are created from essentialist ideas…These essentialist ideas stereotype and over generalize diverse populations".  According to Said, Orientalism relies on essentialist notions about Arabs, Muslims, and the Middle East. According to Mamdani, “culture talk” relies on essentialist notions of Arabs, Muslims, and the Middle East.”  I would argue that othering also relies on essentialist notions about Arabs, Muslims, and the Middle East.  As the Primetime Torture Project demonstrates, representations of Arabs and torture in mainstream media show them being stereotyped as terrorists- innately violent and hating the West.  Mainstream representations such as this feed into essentialist perceptions and create the stereotypes that are so prevalent in American culture.  These stereotypes lead to increased othering and the end result is a military that resorts to torture and a society that allows it.  An analysis of power dynamics is also innate to the examination of othering, essentialism and torture, as the person of power in this situation is always the torturer while the person being tortured is without power.  This can align with general world power standing or represent the reverse (as in the torturer may be from the generally more "powerful" group or may be a member of the less "powerful" side).
            Professor Alsultany writes of this same phenomenon in her article, “Representing the War on Terror in TV Dramas”.  Alsultany’s piece is an analysis of the different strategies that producers and writers have used in mainstream media representations of Arabs and Muslims; she identifies seven different strategies which attempt to show that not all Arabs are terrorist and vice versa, but she posits that, “they remain wedded to a script that only represents Arabs and Muslims in the context of terrorism.” (1).  Alsultany also writes, “However, in response to increased popular awareness of the ethnic stereotyping, and the active monitoring of Arab and Muslim watchdog groups, television writers have had to adjust their storylines to avoid blatant, crude stereotyping.” (1).  In other words, producers and writers have at least attempted to portray a less essentialist, stereotypical representation of Arabs and Muslims, but as Professor Alsultany’s article and Human Rights First’s video show, unfortunately it has not been enough.  Othering, stereotyping and essentialism still prevail.

by Anna Brown
Works Cited 
Alsultany, Evelyn.  "Representing the War on Terror in TV Dramas"
Course Guide Term List: “Essentialism”

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