Where would the video game industry be today if it wasn’t for Anita Sarkeesian and her Feminist Frequency channel on YouTube? Having left her mark in gaming, Sarkeesian has moved on to social commentary with a new series called the FREQ Show, where she covers representation of marginalized people through the lens of intersectional feminism.
In a new video titled “Manufacturing a Muslim Menace,” Sarkeesian discussed the topic of Muslim representation in the media, which she condemned as “deeply harmful stereotypical representations” that “contribute directly to Islamophobia in our culture.”
Highlighting Arab villains in old movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future, and equating them to more modern depictions in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and the TV series Homeland, Sarkeesian argues that any and all negative depictions of Arabs and Muslims as villains essentially contributes to the public’s negative perception of Middle Easterners.
Sarkeesian omits good or noble characters who contradict her narrative, going so far as to describe the titular character in in Disney’s Aladdin as more like a “tanned American surfer dude” while Jafar looks like a stereotypical Arab. Never mind the fact that almost every one of Disney’s villains is similarly caricatured regardless of ethnicity. She neglects to mention the large cast of good Middle Eastern characters in Homeland, or Indiana Jones’ Sallah.
Partially drawing from historical sources and modifying them to suit her narrative, Sarkeesian offers a one-sided view of European representations of the Middle East in works of art produced during the Age of Enlightenment.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that ignorant representations of people from the Middle East in Western media date back for centuries,” Sarkeesian argues. “Orientalist paintings of the 1800s were often characterized by overly sexualized depictions of daily life. And romantic orientalist literature of the late 1700s and the early 1800s served to justify European imperialism as inherently exotic and strange.”
Curiously, Sarkeesian incorrectly highlights Phryne before the Areopagus by the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, as an example of a negative depiction of Muslims in the Western media—and even censors it. The classical painting depicts Phryne, a legendary courtesan in ancient Greece who was tried (and later acquitted) for impiety. It has nothing at all to do Arab Muslims.
Sarkeesian conveniently ignores the fact that the Ottoman Empire was the world’s largest imperial power over the preceding centuries, laying siege to Europe until its decline in the mid-19th century. Likewise, the Arab world’s perception of Europe was equally unfavorable, seeing it as a realm of degradation and degeneracy—it’s a view that exists to this day throughout the East.
Discussions of media representation are welcome, and even necessary to understand the social and political issues of our time. But misrepresenting the facts and painting a false narrative has no purpose other than to virtue signal.