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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 (Richard 2000).

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) adds that:

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 and stereotypes:
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.



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