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Will Sacha Baron Cohen Bring His Muslim Bashing To An End?

Sacha Baron Cohen loves to mock all things Arab and Muslim. All three of his most popular movies have gone out of their way to vilify Arabs and Muslims. Now, as brave men and women in the Arab world courageously and resiliently face down the despots that have beaten and killed them, Baron Cohen portrays a dictator. Not only is the movie horribly ill-timed, but it stands as a testament to his horrid disdain for Arabs and Muslims.

In Bruno, he interviews a Palestinian and labels him a terrorist. That Palestinian is Ayman Abu Aita, a non-profit worker who would later sue Baron Cohen in the district of Columbia two years ago. Exactly what a show about a gay model has to do with Palestine is beyond me. Borat in its entirety is about a journalist from a Muslim republic who does crazy stunts and shows a great deal of ignorance and resentment toward Israel–it feels forced.

Now comes Baron Cohen’s third movie, The Dictator, which centers around the stereotypical caricature of an Arab/Muslim leader designed to make the entire Arab world and Muslim faith look bad. The very premise of the movie is offensive. It trivializes the senseless torture, imprisonment, and murder of civilians when death is never funny. In my conversations with Libyans and Iraqis, not one has ever told me that the deaths of their family members under the rule of their respective despots and dictators was funny.

It seems that Baron Cohen also makes the point that only mad dictators would resent Israel. Really? Try telling that to the dozen European countries who have been voicing their concerns with Israel’s occupation and land grab. While the movie has not yet been released, from the many clips and trailers available online, it’s hard to conclude that it will have anything nice to say about Muslims and Arabs.

Coming from an observant Jewish family, Baron Cohen is a partisan for the Israeli cause. He is a graduate of the London-based comedy group Habonim, which describes itself as “a Socialist Zionist Culturally Jewish youth movement”.

Baron Cohen makes movies in America in a way that reminds me of Israeli TV shows. When television programs in Israel feature an Arab character, he or she is always a stereotypical, dumbed-down version of the real thing. Why has no one called Baron Cohen out on his racism yet? Does it matter that in his three movies, not a single positive Muslim character is portrayed? I do not think his brand of racism is particularly popular since Hollywood studios have mostly abandoned it.

Baron Cohen should not be immune to criticism when he deliberately wages an assault on entire cultures and religions to serve his own agenda. He invents characters and uses them as a mouthpiece for his views on entire groups of people. Indeed, he has run into trouble because of racist or prejudiced comments his characters have made.

Per his Wikipedia page

Regarding his portrayal as the anti-Semitic Borat, Baron Cohen says the segments are a “dramatic demonstration of how racism feeds on dumb conformity, as much as rabid bigotry”, rather than a display of racism by Baron Cohen himself.[35] “Borat essentially works as a tool. By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice”, Baron Cohen explains.[9]

I’m sure when the topic of his support for Israel and its illegal occupation of Palestinian land comes up, he probably replies, “I am not engaged in those discussions.” Fair enough, but why does so much of his work focus on making Arabs and Muslims look despicable? An analyst from Bitterlemons.org, who was duped by one of Bruno’s pranks, had this to say about him: “He is exploiting our tragic and painful conflict in the most cynical and deceptive manner. I doubt he’ll give us anything in return.” Baron Cohen cannot just punch one guy, smile in the face of another, and then look at the camera and say ‘I am not taking sides.’

Take this example, Cohen found enough time to slam the protest over the Toronto Film festival for its Tel Aviv event. Even celebrated Israeli filmmakers protested the ‘celebration of occupation.’ as a multi-million dollar propaganda campaign on behalf of Israel but Sacha begs to differ.

Even a Palestinian American journalist –whose wife happens to be Jewish took issues with Sacha’s characters in his op-ed “Sacha Baron Cohen’s antics – good or bad?”. To the best of my knowledge no Arab or Muslim has ever been consulted in the making of these movies movies. This means Sacha’s action suggest, “Yo, Arabs and Muslims, Let me teach you about yourself”

Cohen’s movies clearly propagate stereotypes against Arabs and Muslims that increase western ignorance and subsequently animosity, specifically benefiting Israel. The marketing of his movies often target a segment of society with low IQ (which may have racist proclivities of their own) with this type of overgrown juvenile humor.

I have yet to see one Baron Cohen movie that picks on someone other than Arabs and Muslims. Sure he did a decent acting job in both Hugo and Sweeney Todd (good movie by the way), but it seems that any movie in which he stars, writes, and produces will do nothing more than advance stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims. He wins when his movies make a killing, but also when he sees his political agenda creep into the mainstream American discussion.

Baron Cohen’s big thing is Holocaust awareness, a worthy cause indeed. But neither Arabs nor Muslims had anything to do with it, so how is he achieving his goal by making Islam the butt of each of his jokes? Baron Cohen is free to think what he wants and make any movie he likes to make, but he is not free to claim he is impartial to the conflict. This issue is akin to a white actor in blackface for many in the Arab and Muslim communities. Can you imagine an Arab actor lampooning a Jewish character in a mainstream movie? What if that actor had made questionable statements in the past about the Jewish people? Not in a million years would a movie like that see the light of day.

All I ask is that Baron Cohen be labeled accurately based on his well established distaste for Arabs. Habonim Dror, Baron Cohen’s former “Jewish cultural youth movement” includes as one of its ideals “fixing the world.” It’s hard to see how systematically using Arabs as punchlines will achieve that end.

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