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Arab Stereotypes in the Media


Nowadays, the world faces the problem of battling terrorism and its expansion. Many countries are involved in the confrontation with terrorists, which causes the formation of certain stereotypes of a typical Arab portrayed in the popular and news media. It is generally recognized that a negative image of Arabs and Muslims created by the media helps to promote military actions in the countries of the Middle East and influences American Arabs and Muslims who are not connected to the terrorist organizations and do not support extremism. Therefore, it is crucial to study the issue of typical stereotypes created by the media over the past decade.

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Although the United States is making progress in confronting racial stereotypes, the new ones are arising in the course of time, including the recent popularity of labeling all the Arabs and Muslims as terrorists. Some researchers state that “after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, discrimination in the workplace against persons perceived to be Arabs or Muslims is rising” (Saleem and Anderson 84). It is also admitted that “according to the FBI, hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims multiplied by 1,600 percent from 2000 to 2001” (Alsultany 161). After more than a decade the image of Arabs as extremists and terrorists is common in the mass media. It is generally recognized that the majority of Americans rely on the media as the main source of knowledge about Arabs who are often presented as aggressive and angry because of the War on Terrorism. Thus, negative images of Arabs linked with violence and terrorism are widespread and popular today.

It is stated that these negative stereotypes are prevalent not only in the news and newspapers but also in the films and video games. Some researchers emphasize that in such games as America’s Army and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare “being an Arab video game character is almost synonymous with being a terrorist” (Saleem and Anderson 85). According to some social-cognitive models, people’s memories and attitudes are formed through the complex network of nodes, which represent emotions and cognitions. Therefore, the negative description of certain groups in the media activates unpleasant associations in people’s minds and is more likely to be remembered. Some researchers state that the association of Arabs with terrorists is similar to the way the Afro-Americans are associated with crime (Saleem et al. 843).

It is crucial to note that any stereotypic presentation of a certain ethnic or social group as violent may cause the outspread of negative attitudes and aggression against the members of this group. Moreover, it is emphasized that even positive representations of Arabs “have helped to form a new kind of racism, one that projects antiracism and multiculturalism on the surface but simultaneously produces the logic and effects necessary to legitimize racist policies and practices” (Alsultany 162). Thus, it is possible to say that the Arabs are demonized because of the war with terrorists that the United States is waging.

Although the majority of political leaders differentiate the general outgroup of Arabs from the small subset of Muslim extremists implicated in the War on Terror, most Americans tend to generalize the concept of the Muslim as an enemy. It is generally recognized that the stereotypes serve as an example of a human’s inclination to categorization, elevating one’s group above the others. The main purpose of stereotypes is to understand whether the given group threatens the well-being of an individual or it is safe to interact with it. It is also stated that most Americans have the goals that differ from those of Muslims.

According to some researchers, “content analysis of news coverage of Muslims does not necessarily support the strongest claims of negative media bias but does find patterns that may contribute to the perception that Muslims are threatening” (Sides and Gross 587). It is emphasized that the stories about Arabs and Muslims in the media usually include crisis, conflict, and war, aggregating them by their religion and nationality. Nevertheless, the media recognizes that they may be wealthy, referring to the image of the powerful sheik. Thus, in the minds of common Americans, the typical Arab or Muslim is associated with the enemy who is powerful enough to threaten their existence. This attitude is milder towards American Arabs still they are regarded as untrustworthy.

The Islamophobic content in different kinds of media tends to grow increasingly. The role of social media has become significant over the last years as well. Some of the internet societies are gaining the functions of newspapers and may influence people’s attitudes on certain issues. As the analysis of Törnberg and Törnberg shows, the Arabs are usually portrayed in the internet forums as “a homogeneous outgroup, embroiled in conflict, violence, and extremism: characteristics that are described as emanating from Islam as a religion” (133). It is stated that Arabs and Muslims are negatively represented not only in the American media but also in the European media and social media worldwide. It may be related to the constant terrorist attacks in the various cities of Europe as well. Moreover, it is a widespread opinion that promoting the negative image of the enemy is common during the war.

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The studies on stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims in the media prove that they are rated as violent and untrustworthy. It is also stated that the negative image of Arabs in the media encourages people to support the War on Terror. Thus, the negative Arab stereotypes form the image of the enemy that influences the minds of common people.

Works Cited

Alsultany, Evelyn. “Arabs and Muslims in the Media after 9/11: Representational Strategies for a “Postrace” Era.” American Quarterly, vol. 65, no.1, 2013, pp. 161-169.

Saleem, Muniba, et al. “Exposure to Muslims in Media and Support for Public Policies Harming Muslims.” Communication Research, vol. 44, no. 6, 2017, pp. 841-869.

Saleem, Muniba, and Craig A. Anderson. “Arabs as Terrorists: Effects of Stereotypes within Violent Contexts on Attitudes, Perceptions, and Affect.” Psychology of Violence, vol. 3, no. 1, 2013, p. 84.

Sides, John, and Kimberly Gross. “Stereotypes of Muslims and Support for the War on Terror.” The Journal of Politics, vol. 75, no. 3, 2013, pp. 583-598.

Törnberg, Anton, and Petter Törnberg. “Muslims in Social Media Discourse: Combining Topic Modeling and Critical Discourse Analysis.” Discourse, Context & Media, vol. 13, no. 1, 2016, pp. 132-142.

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