As previously discussed stereotypes can lead to prejudicial attitudes
towards a group. The Webster’s New World Thesaurus (1985)
lists prejudgment, dislike, disgust, aversion, antipathy, racism,
sexism, ageism, misjudgment, xenophobia, as synonyms of prejudice.
While the dictionary explains that prejudice is a: “preconceived
judgment or opinion, an adverse opinion or leaning formed without
just grounds or before sufficient knowledge, or an irrational attitude
of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or
their supposed characteristics” (Marian-Webster online). Prejudice
is permeated by ethnocentrism, meaning that usually people have
a preference or attachment to their own group (Harwood & Anderson,
2002). Prejudiced people have problems viewing members of “other”
groups as fellow citizens, and they are reluctant to learn about
the people they prejudge. The difficulty in establishing the others
as equals leads to feelings of self-proclaimed superiority, while
thinking about a person of a different group as a lesser human being
On September 11, 2001 the World Trade Center Twin Towers collapsed
as a result of a brutal terrorist attack. Many innocent people of
all races and ethnicities lost their lives on this sad and unforgettable
day. This atrocious act was condemned by a world that watched in
disbelief. In the aftermath of this terrible occurrence, many Muslims,
Arabs, and people that looked Middle Eastern, were threatened, attacked
and even killed because people transferred their feelings from the
Twin Towers’s attackers to the people that were or appeared
to be Middle Eastern (Stubbs, 2003/2004).
Understanding that television plays a role in how people are perceived
and consequently how this view can lead to sentiments and attitudes
of prejudice and discrimination, a telenovela specifically portraying
Muslims deserves attention. Thinking dialectically, television may
also help counteract stereotypes and negative attitudes depending
on how they portray or represent a social group.
Coming from the perspective that prejudice conveys difficulty in
seeing the other as an equal being, Richard (2000) argues that to
counteract it, it helps to recognize a common humanity when thinking
of people of different gender, ethnicity, or class, as people who
have the same rich life as ourselves. For instance, when getting
to know something about the other’s memories. Richard (2000)
Yet drawing attention to this fact is hardly the only way to eliminate
prejudice. Another way is to get the prejudiced to see the stigmatized
as having the same tendency to bleed when pricked as they themselves:
they too worry about their children and parents; they are possessed
by the same self-doubts, and lose self-confidence when humiliated;
their difficulties in moving from one stage of life to another are
much like everyone else's, despite the fact that their life-chances
may be minimal. These ways of emphasising commonality rather than
difference have little to do with "cultural recognition."
They have to do with experiences shared by members of all cultures
and all historical epochs, and which remain pretty much the same
despite cultural change.
To this effect, Young & Sharifzadeh (2003) agree that multicultural
education needs to help students recognize that there are many more
things in common between East and West than there are differences.
One of the strategies to reduce prejudice is to involve students
in vicarious experiences, such as films, books, and photographs.
The authors give the example of the power of an image if a firefighter
of Arab descent was portrayed heroically in the aftermath of 9/11.
In line with this statement, Graves (1999) agrees that television
as a vicarious experience may influence children regarding prejudices
Televised role portrayals and interracial interactions, as sources
of vicarious experience, are relevant to the creation of cognitions
about racial groups (stereotypes), the development of negative attitudes
towards these groups (prejudice), and the performance of exclusionary
behaviors (discrimination). Television could influence children
by providing examples of people with or without prejudice, diverse
social groups that stimulate positive and negative affect, and settings
in which racial discrimination is endorsed or rejected.
Taking into consideration the post 9/11 context and the demonstrated
influence of television in perpetuating or reducing prejudice, this
study will attempt to delve into a selected audience of a television
series that had Muslim culture as one of its themes.