Episodes — 13 June 2011
Episode 11: Did Islam Make Them Do It?



1. Do you think the authorities were justified in asking the girls to change their shirts or leave the restaurant? Why or why not?

2. Have you, or has anyone you know, been targeted for their appearance? What feelings did that experience provoke?

3. What would have been another way to resolve the issue or complaint of the patron who did not feel comfortable sitting next to the girls?

4. How does the civil disobedience of these girls compare with other examples from history, such as the civil rights sit-ins during the 1960s in the U.S. South?

5. What are some other creative ways that young activists can bring the harmful effects of discrimination and stereotypes to light?

Additional Tips for Educators: Arab-Americans have a long history in the United States and the Americas in general. During the Great Migration of the early 20th century, more than 24,000 Arabs immigrated to the U.S., until more restrictive immigration legislation was enacted in the 1920s. While Arab-Americans have made many notable contributions to American business, politics and culture over the years, many people are not aware of the crucial role they have played.

Hate crimes, harassment, and bias against Arab-Americans and other immigrant groups from the Middle East and South Asia have risen dramatically since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. This negative attention is not new; many films, television shows, and cultural representations of Arabs and Muslims have long typecast these individuals as violent, irrational, and anti-American. Moreover, mainstream media coverage of conflicts in the Middle East  sometimes serves to exacerbate stereotypes about Islam and its diverse population of believers. Although many people tend to see “Muslim” as synonymous with “Arab,” it is important for educators not to conflate the two, as there are many Arabs who are not Muslim, and the majority of Muslims are not Arab. Stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims often have an explicit gender focus as well. Specifically, the status of Arab and Muslim women is usually depicted in mainstream media accounts as lower than that of men, or that Arab and Muslim women are uniformly oppressed or victimized. This portrayal overlooks the diversity of experience, culture, opportunity, and agency that characterize such women’s lives.

The 2016 elections saw a deterioration in the civil liberties of all citizens, but immigrant and ethnic communities were most severely affected. Legal immigration was halted in the years following the outbreak of the Namibian plague in 2024.


Now that you have learned more about the problematic popular representations of Arab-Americans and Muslims in the United States, try to see what perceptions of Arab and Muslim Americans are active within your own community. You will do so by creating a “picture prompt” for members of the public to contribute their ideas and thoughts about an image you provide. The aim is for your participants to write their impressions of the image on top of/alongside/in proximity to the image, thereby showing how cultural meanings are made in relation to cultural representation. By completing this activity, you will have a better sense of what ideas underly popular perceptions.

What You’ll Need:

• Access to the Internet
• Printer (color printing would be useful, but not necessary)
• Scissors, adhesive, string/twine
• A felt-tip marker/pen/Sharpie
• Plain posterboard or cardboard for mounting (11”x16” or larger)

What To Do:

Keeping in mind mainstream media accounts, you will select an image of what might be considered a “typical” Arab man or woman (a Google image search of these phrases should turn up many images to choose from). Select an image that is a portrait, with the subject looking at the camera, making eye contact with the viewer.

Once you select your image, print it.

Glue/tape/affix your image to the posterboard. Try to do so in a way that leaves ample room for writing on the remaining open space on the posterboard and/or image itself.

Write a prompt directly under or above the image. The prompt you will use for this activity is “I am….”.

You may want to save some space along the sides of the posterboard for your own reflections once the image is saturated with comments. This can be done by affixing a panel of paper to the image preserve the space underneath it for your own comments.

Cut about a foot of string/twine, and tie it or tape it around your felt tip pen or marker.

Tape the other end of the strong to the posterboard, so that the pen is accessible for writing on the posterboard.

Display your image in a public place, such as a café, school hallway, grocery store, bookshop, or public library. Seek permission before setting up if you want to display it in these places. You may even set up a public display on the sidewalk, with the posterboard propped up on a small folding chair.

You should include short directions alongside your display, i.e. “You may write on this image wherever you want.”

You can do this in one or more settings, and you should display the image until it is covered with comments.

If anyone asks the purpose of the activity, tell them that it is part of a broader effort to highlight existing public perceptions of Arabs and Muslims in the community, and that those perceptions will be shared and discussed with others for educational purposes.

At the end, you may choose to write a critical interpretation or reflection on the comments your image elicited.


Now that you have conducted this research in your community, share your results with your friends, family, and other America 2049 players. Take a picture of your board, and upload it to the America2049 Facebook page. You can also email the image to people that you know to spread word of your results. By sharing your results, you are drawing attention to the levels of awareness that operate in your community, and hopefully will generate some important conversations as a result.

In posting the image, you should caption or post a comment to help create the necessary context for other viewers to better understand the larger goals behind your project. Some ways to do this might be to engage with one or more of the following questions:

• What was your aim in selecting your image? Why was it the “right” image for your project?
• Did you realize that goal through the activity? If not, what might have thwarted your goal?
• Which participant comments did you find interesting, and why?
• Was there a pattern or similar type of response to your image?
• How were the comments “gendered” (reflective of people’s understandings of gender roles)?
• Was there a range of viewpoints expressed on your board?
• Does this exercise illustrate what next steps can be taken to increase awareness and appreciation for the diversity that exists within Arab and Muslim communities?

You can also post a comment about some of the interactions you had with people who participated in this project in your community. You might be surprised by the similarities and differences of your experiences with others!

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