"Why Do They Hate Us?": Unpacking U.S.-Arab/Muslim Responses in Post-9/11 Film

By Waleed Mahdi
Submitted to Session P2343 (Between Orientalism and Occidentalism: U.S.-Middle Eastern Cinematic Encounters, 2010 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
All Middle East; Arab States; Islamic World;
Arab Studies; Arab-Israeli Conflict; Arabic; Cinema/Film; Cultural Studies; Foreign Relations; Identity/Representation; Islamic Studies; Middle East/Near East Studies;
Ever since the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, many Americans have wondered, "why do they hate us?" The immediate and dominant response has been a polarizing contention that locates the terrorists' cultural and religious identity as the driving force for their extreme acts of violence. This assessment has advanced on the discursive premises of the 'clash of civilizations' theory, and appealed to both a U.S. exceptionalist and nationalistic narrative that claims uniqueness to the American experience and celebrates America as the world's force for goodness, and a U.S. Orientalist repertoire of images that homogenizes Arabs and Muslims and ascribes villainy to them.
This theoretical interpretation, I argue, does not offer an encompassing account of the complexity surrounding the tension that exists between the United States and the Arab and Muslim worlds. Hence, this paper seeks to present a more elaborate and contextualized reading of the interplay of many American, Arabic, and Islamic discursive formations; a reading that neither brands 9/11 as 'the' turning point in the history of the U.S. encounters with Arabs and Muslims, nor de-emphasizes the relevance of the event to U.S. policy-making and its impact on the lives of millions of Arabs and Muslims, including their diasporas in the United States.
To help illustrate the significance of those theoretical renderings, the paper resorts to an inter-disciplinary analysis of the internationally acclaimed Egyptian film Laylat El-baby Doll or The Baby Doll Night (2008), which, for the first time in the Arabic and Islamic cinematic history, offers an intricate alternative account for the factors that continue to shape the U.S.-Arab/Muslim tension, particularly in the post-9/11 context. Central to such an analysis is an attempt to identify the particularities, and deconstruct the theoretical groundings that constitute the popularized perceptions of the 'Self' and the 'Other,' as entertained by Americans, Arabs, and Muslims alike.