Muslims complain of Hollywood "bad guy" image

LONDON Thu Jan 25, 2007 11:51am EST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Western movies from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to "Aladdin" promote negative stereotypes of Muslims by casting them all too often as villains, a British Muslim pressure group said on Thursday.

"There is no such thing as a Muslim good guy," said Arzu Merali, co-author of a report by the Islamic Human Rights Commission that argued that movies played a crucial role in fostering a crude and exaggerated image.

The commission's study, based on soundings taken from almost 1,250 British Muslims, also found that 62 percent felt the media was "Islamophobic" and 14 percent called it racist.

"Cinema, both in Hollywood and Britain, has helped to demonize Muslims. They are portrayed as violent and backward. That reinforces prejudices," Merali told Reuters.

"This stretches back before the 9/11 attacks in the United States", said Merali, head of research at the campaigning body.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has commissioned studies into attitudes toward racial and religious minorities following bombings in London in 2005 when four British Islamists killed 52 people in suicide attacks on the transport network.

The government has cracked down on radical extremist preachers who, it says, inspire suicide bombers.

But critics say the government's focus on Islam could backfire if Britain's 1.8 million Muslims feel under attack.

The report pointed the finger of blame as far back as the 1981 blockbuster "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in which "the cultural stereotypes and scenarios are patently obvious" as veiled women hurry through the bazaar to snake-charming music.

The 1998 film "The Siege" starring Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington was accused of reinforcing "the monolithic stereotype of the Arab/Palestinian/Muslim being violent and ready to be martyred for their cause".

Disney's cartoon was criticized for describing Aladdin's homeland as "barbaric".

The report called for British film censors to be given greater power to cut out "objectionable material" and said media watchdogs in Britain should be more effective in ensuring "responsible coverage" of Muslims.

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