US vs Arab/Muslim Trauma Unpacked: An Analysis of the Challenging Mode of Depiction in "Traitor"

By Waleed Mahdi
Submitted to Session P2065 (East/West Visual Encounters in the Post-9/11 Era, 2009 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
Arab States; Islamic World; North America;
Pop Culture;
Ever since the Silent Cinema era, Hollywood’s writers, and directors have mostly drawn their images of Arabs and Muslims from a non-transforming repertoire of essentialist myths, uncritically accepted by the majority of the U.S. public as normative modifiers of these groups. The words “Arab” and “Muslim,” which are not normally considered as probable mutually exclusive identities, would usually trigger an image of primitive people; violent folks thriving on claiming each other’s lives and are, at best, plotting to terrorize and shed the blood of the civilized U.S. American.

Unfortunately, this tendency to polarize Arabs and Muslims as a threat-posing Cultural Other has been carried further at the backdrop of the tragic attacks of 9/11. Not only have Arabs and Muslims become victims of the ramifications of an undefined global war on terror, Arab/Muslim Americans have also been subjected to racial profiling, preventive detention, and physical as well as verbal harassment in their home-country; all legitimized in the name of fighting a potential “home-grown terror.” It is in this context that Hollywood’s films have played a significant role in hyping, what I refer to as, the US vs Arab/Muslim trauma, and helped in misleading the US public to believe that the current discourse of terrorism is a mere product of a cultural, if not civilizational, conflict.

Seeking to unpack such a trauma, Jeffrey Nachmanoff wrote and directed the thriller "Traitor" (2008), thereby, challenging Hollywood’s polarizing mode of depiction. Subtitled “The Truth is Complicated,” the film bids to differ through appealing to Arabs, Muslims, and US Americans, revealing the fallacy of stereotypes and misconceptions, and offering an in-depth look at the current discourses of “belonging” and “terrorism” in an increasingly globalized world. Central to this paper is a critical analysis of the film’s sharp contentions, uplifting messages, and realistic images, which I argue, constitute the tenets of a new paradigm that would capture, if not re-envision, a more constructive approach to the current deteriorating US-Arab/Muslim divide. Hence, the paper is considered a translation of an interdisciplinary effort, aspiring to link the methodology of Popular Culture analysis with the US-Arab/Muslim sociopolitical realities.