American Muslims Object to `Rules of Engagement'

 

(RNS) Arab-Americans and Muslims are angry about Paramount Pictures' new Marine Corps drama, "Rules of Engagement." The film, starring Samuel L. Jackson as an officer facing court martial over shooting Arabs in Yemen, opened April 7 and earned $15.1 million in its opening weekend.

The film shows Arab children pointing weapons at U.S. soldiers,scenes which prompted the 30,000-member, Washington, D.C.-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to deplore the film's "uniformly negative" depiction of Arabs.

"This film has numerous images of armed children," said ADC spokesman Hussein Ibish. "The basic plot is not problematic. What's problematic is the treatment of and depiction of an Arab society. There aren't any positive images."

The Council on American Islamic Relations is asking the Pentagon to suspend military cooperation with filmmakers who stereotype Muslims. In an April 11 letter to Secretary of Defense William Cohen, CAIR executive director Nihad Awad wrote that the film, "seems to justify the killing of Muslim men, women and even children. It also offers a very negative and inaccurate image of Muslims and Islamic beliefs."

In a March 30 letter to the ADC, a Paramount spokesman said, "`Rules of Engagement' is not anti-Arab but, anti-extremist. This film is not a negative portrayal of any government or people." The letter noted that government officials in Morocco, where the film's Yemen sequences were shot, approved the script.

Still, Ibish said because of Arab internal tensions, Moroccans approving a script about Yemenis would not guard against stereotypes, and that racism is viewed differently in the United States than the Arab world. "Moroccan government officials might not have the same concerns as Arab-Americans do," he said.

Last fall, Arab-Americans were elated at the layered portraits of Arabs in Warner Brothers' Gulf War drama "Three Kings." Praise for that film came after years of Arab-Americans complained to Hollywood about Arabs-as-terrorist stereotypes in films such as "The Siege" and "Executive Decision."

Ibish said that since January, the ADC has made repeated requests for meetings with Paramount executives over "Rules of Engagement," but no meeting occurred before the film opened.

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