The 1990-1991 Gulf War again focused the attention of the western world on the Middle East and most specifically on Arabs (Johnson, 1992). American focus on Arabic issues is widely believed to have started in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Israel found itself warring with several different Arab nations. For the west, the attention became considerably focused during the oil embargo of 1973 (Leuchtenburg, 1977).
In 1973, the threat of limiting the supply of oil led to a considerable number of stereotypes propagated by the media. Because the oil industry is still primarily controlled by a majority of Arab nations, many of these stereotypes continue today. Most Arabs are still seen as, “a clan of people who are backward and uncivilized, ruthless and semibarbaric, cunning and untrustworthy, dogmatic and radical Muslims, and who either support or are terrorists themselves” (Johnson, 1992, p. 812).
During the Persian Gulf conflict, evidence arose that the confrontation between Iraqi and American military forces generated a considerable amount of hostility toward Arab-Americans. Reports surfaced that attacks on Arab-Americans increased significantly during the first two months of the build-up in the Persian Gulf region with some airlines barring Arab persons with any connections to certain Arab nations from flying with them (Johnson, 1992).
The realistic group conflict theory has been used to explain
this phenomenon and has applications for both the Gulf War and the 1973
oil embargo (Johnson, 1992). According to this theory, a perceived
or actual threat by an external group to the physical, social, or economic
health of an internal group will lead to the development of negative stereotypes
and subsequently discriminatory actions.
Evidence exists showing that prejudice against all Arabs increases in the United States when it is engaged in an economic or military conflict with only one Arab nation (Johnson, 1992). This prejudice is seen among randomly selected individuals in a given American town, on college campuses and even among our military leadership.
During the Gulf War, then-President of the United States,
George W. Bush, was quoted as saying the country needs to rally support
for military action against that most, “barbaric and evil of all Arabs”
(Johnson, 1992, p. 812).
One of the most obvious offenses made by the president when trying to rally support for the war was the generalization of Arabs. In pre-Islamic times, Arabs were people who inhabited either the Arabian Peninsula or lived in the Syrian Desert. The definition expanded to include speakers of the Arabic language who are brought up in an Arab culture, live in an Arab country and have respect for past great Arabian empires (Sergent, Woods & Sedlacek, 1992). Still, even this definition presents a considerable amount of ambiguity as Iranians and Turks are oftentimes classified as Arabs (Johnson 1992).
Furthermore, students surveyed during the Gulf War demonstrated significant negative emotions toward Arabs joining their social groups, Arab students receiving financial aid, being required to attend an Islamic religious service as part of class or boarding a plane with two young Arab men with whom they were not acquainted (Sergent et al., 1992).
There appears to be a precedent for the United States to ostracize its own citizens who belong to the same ethnicity as the enemy being fought. President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 that forced the evacuation of Japanese-Americans from their homes to 10 concentration camps scattered throughout the Western United States (Drinnon, 1987). This happened despite the fact that the Chief of Naval Operations at the time said that a full-scale Japanese attack on the West Coast was impossible. Although the Axis powers also included Germany and Italy, there was no attempt to incarcerate people of these nationalities during World War II. It wasn’t until late in the war that Japanese-Americans were allowed to fight in the U.S. armed forces—and then only in the European front.
During Desert Storm, Iraqis were banned from flying on Pan Am flights (Cohen, 1991). Scattered attacks on Arab people occurred across the country. In a 2-month period during the Gulf War, more than 40 violent attacks on Arab-Americans were reported, compared to just five incidents in the seven months preceding the gulf crisis. The attacks ranged from an attempted bombing of a mosque in San Diego to a drive-by shooting of a store owned by an Arab-American in Detroit.
In the aftermath of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, the New York Post ran an editorial cartoon which showed the Statue of Liberty about to be assaulted. In the shadows were three men in turbans—one holding a bomb and the others burning an American flag. The famous poem on the base of the statue was changed to read: “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, your terrorists, your slime, your evil cowards, your religious fanatics. …” An expert interviewed on CBS Evening News also quickly opined that Arabs were somehow involved in the bombing, saying, “This was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait” (Bazzi, 1995).
As recently as December of 1998, an Associated Press story and photograph showed a 900-kilogram laser guided bomb on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise with “thoughtless graffiti” during air strikes on Iraq. Emblazoned on the bomb were several inscriptions including one that read, “Here’s a Ramadan present from Chad Rickenberg.”
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon described the incident as an isolated act, saying, “We are grateful for our good relations with Arab and Islamic peoples, and we appreciate the important contributions of Muslim-Americans to the U.S. military…” (Associated Press, 1998).
The American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC) took issue with the Marine Corps’ March 1999 exercise "Urban Warrior” in which some participants portrayed stereotypical Arabs and Koreans in urban crowd situations. The ADC expressed concern that the military was using stereotypes to anticipate the ethnicity of future enemies (American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, 1999).
Applications for the military
To understand how anti-Arab prejudice may pervade the military mindset, the realistic group conflict theory needs to be applied (Sears & Kinder, 1985; Sherif & Sherif, 1966). According to the theory, prejudice and acts of discrimination are developed by a particular majority group when a perceived or actual threat to the physical, social or economic health of their group is generated by a minority group. In order to reduce this threat, the majority group will restrict opportunities of minority group members leading to a development of new stereotypes.
According to Sherif & Sherif (1966), group conflict and war are synonymous terms and are seen as “outbursts of irrepressible aggressive instincts” (p. 33). For a military member, the war, or group conflict produces an actual threat to that individuals’ well-being and an application of the realistic group conflict theory accounts in part for negative stereotypes used by military members when referring to those with whom they are engaged in conflict. Based on the realistic group conflict theory, the military is extremely likely to experience anti-Arab prejudice, because there is an actual threat to its peacetime environment and to the lives of its members. It is within this context that we will try to evaluate the extent of the prejudice and offer several research-based treatments that we hope will better prevent these hostilities from being directed at all Arabs.
These treatments are based in past literature analyzing Anti-Arab prejudice as well as several communication theories. From the studies conducted, Sergent et al. (1992), developed several approaches to reduce or eliminate racism as applied in the cases of the Arab students:
1. Understanding racial and cultural differences
2. Understanding racism
3. Examining racial attitudes
4. Understanding and identifying the sources of racial attitudes
5. Setting goals
6. Developing strategies
An additional suggestion made by Sergent et al. (1992), was to develop a specific course focusing on information, attitudes and behaviors of individual group members. Additionally, it was discovered that certain individuals, based on their own characteristics, are more prone to being less sensitive toward Arab prejudice. These factors include, the extent to which an individual is personally affected by the issue that is causing conflict between the Arab nation and the United States, race, degree of religious fundamentalism and degree of religious tolerance (Sergent et al., 1992).
| Abstract |
Introduction | Statement of Problem/Research
Literature Review | Method | Treatment | Projected Results | Discussion | Appendix | References | OU DoD Page |