RacialDiscrimination in “The Citizen”
TheCitizen,is a drama based on a real story about an Arab immigrant, Ibrahim whowon the green-card lottery, then arrived in the United States the daybefore 9/11/2001, and was seen as a “threat” to America after theoccurrence of 9/11 terrorist attack. Furthermore, the filmeffectively reveals the reality of the American dream and addressesthe issue of racial and religious discrimination by showing thestruggles Ibrahim faced as he fought for his American citizenship andsought to be a true citizen of America.
Asa green card lottery winner, Ibrahim has an American dream like manyother Americans. As Ibrahim settles down in a motel after arriving inNew York, he rescues a woman, Diane who stayed in the next room andwas brutally abused by her boyfriend. As a new immigrant who isunfamiliar with America, Ibrahim unconditionally offers help to Dianeand acts responsibly as a good American “citizen” on his firstday in this new country. In return, Diane takes Ibrahim on a tour ofNew York City. The development of their relationship during thisunexpected encounter changes audience’s impression about Ibrahimand Diane Ibrahim’s righteousness and selflessness symbolize thecharacteristics of a good American “citizen” Diane’shospitality and braveness are the reflection of the American society – acceptance, freedom, and justice. Moreover, the friendshipbetween Ibrahim and Diane implies that friendship should not be boundby race, religion, or nationality. Differences create beauty, forinstance, in the film, Diane likes the candy Ibrahim offers and isinterested in knowing Ibrahim’s hometown, and Ibrahim enjoysDiane’s New York City tour. To Ibrahim, America is a new start tohis life, his intention of coming to America is to “reach [his]dreams, plant good deeds”, and his American dream is simple as manyother immigrants, “I want to have a family and have a business,become a citizen”. His brief statement initiates his journey inAmerica, which also foreshadows his cruel future as a terroristattack occurs on the second day of his journey.
Oneof the things that bring out the racial and religious discriminationthat Ibrahim experiences is the manner in which he is treated on thesecond day of his life in America. It is noteworthy that he had cometo America to try his luck with regard to enhancing his personalfreedom and economic wellbeing. However, the America that he haslanded in does not offer equal chance to every individual, especiallyminority. Indeed, he is woken up the next morning by the siren fromthe police cars and fire trucks. Of particular note is the fact thathis arrest does not emanate from his being guilty of any wrongdoingbut rather the fact that he shares the same religion with theterrorists, not to mention the fact that they come from the samecountry. It is noteworthy that, as much as Ibrahim and the terroristscome from the same country and have the same religion, Ibrahim doesnot believe in violence or terrorism. The contrast between Ibrahimand the terrorists lays emphasis on the fact that race and religionare not a reflection of the beliefs or even the values that anindividual holds pertaining to varied matters.
Inaddition, it is noted that the achievement of the American dream byan individual is not always automatic rather numerous issues comeinto play. Indeed, it is evident that the capacity of an individualto live the American dream is determined by or tied to the race towhich one belongs. This means that there are certain races that maybe an obstacle to the achievement of the American dream particularlyin instances where they are the “wrong races”. This comes outclearly in the movie immediately after the September 11 attacks. Asmuch as there is yet to be clarity regarding the individuals who bearthe responsibility for the attacks, speculation is rife regarding theculpability of Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden. The simplefact that Osama is an Arab triggers an unprecedented, unreasonableand undeserved amount of physical and verbal attacks on Arabs.Indeed, one scene in the film demonstrates the way innocent Arabs,including Ibrahim, were treated after 9/11 occurred. In this scene,an American fiercely attacks Mo’s convenience, then yells at Mo andIbrahim, “terroristsand niggers! Go back to your country!”Consideringthe risks of being attacked, Mo has to close the store to securehimself, and he tells Ibrahim that “thisis just the beginning.”For Ibrahim, 9/11/2002 is only his second day in America, but thelesson of the true America from what he experiences and hears on thisday inspires him to reevaluate America and rethink his Americandream. The labeling of Ibrahim as a terrorist despite the fact thathe has not committed any wrongful act is testament to the manner inwhich race could be an obstacle. In fact, the only wrongful act thathe has committed is belonging to the “wrong” race, about whichthere are numerous stereotypes pertaining to their nature, beliefsand values.
Inaddition, it is noteworthy that the racial segregation is not limitedto the citizens or the common people but rather the government seemsto sanction it and even encourage it. This comes out clearly duringthe arrest of Ibrahim. It is noteworthy that his arrest is done in asecret manner with the police requiring no arrest warrant toincarcerate him, nor basing his arrest on prior record of behavior orcrime. According to the article, YourRight of Defense Against Unlawful Arrest:
Anarrest made with a defective warrant, or one issued withoutaffidavit, or one that fails to allege a crime is withinjurisdiction, and one who is being arrested, may resist arrest andbreak away. If the arresting officer is killed by one who is soresisting, the killing will be no more than an involuntarymanslaughter.(Your Right of Defense Against Unlawful Arrest)
Thismeans that, right from the beginning, the arrest of Ibrahim isunlawful since the officers did not provide a warrant. After thedisappearance of Ibrahim, Diane goes to the police office andinquires the arrest records for him. However, everything happens sosuddenly, Ibrahim’s arrest records are not found in the system. Theunlawful arrest and unfound arrest records reveal the dark side offreedom, equality, and justice in America – human rights are notgranted by the government, in fact, oppression, inequality, andinjustice can be the result of one’s skin color. As stated in TheCitizen, “Whydo they hate us? They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion,our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagreewith each other”(The Citizen). The hatred and stereotypes against Arabs and Muslimsis not based on any wrongdoing that they may have committed againstthe Americans but rather the fact that their religion does not appealor is not similar to the religion that Americans are used to, just astheir freedoms are not.
Further,it is evident that irrespective of the number of years that one staysin America, the color of one’s skin comes as more superior thanone’s actions in determining his or her place in the society, aswell as the manner in which he or she is treated by others. In thisregard, one may examine the manner in which Ibrahim was treated evenafter being in America for quite a number of years. Indeed, Ibrahimis seen as a threat in spite of being a good citizen and giving thegovernment no trouble in the five years that he had been in thecountry. Indeed, he had, at one time risked his life to save thelives of two people, one of whom he did not know, to the extent thathe made it to the front page of the “New York Post” where he wascalled the “Immigrant Hero”. The positive behavior does not countin qualifying him to become a permanent citizen of the United States.Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security goes ahead to recommendhim for deportation back to his country. This means that America isno longer the place he imagined where “whowill judge [him] by [his] action, not by [his] skin color.”It is not until Ibrahim’s supporters puts pressure on thegovernment, coupled with the deficiency of evidence pertaining to anywrongdoing that Ibrahim is cleared of any wrongdoing and the“security threat” tag eliminated by the courts. The success ofIbrahim fights for his citizenship in the film implies that theAmerican dream is not equal to everyone, but the American dreamspirit is significant to the success of everyone who tries to achievehis or her American dream.
Moreover,the color of one’s skin determines the levels of interaction thatis allowed for different groups of people. For instance, Ibrahim’sincarceration as a result of what are seen as suspicious activitiesseparates him from Diane for sixmonths.The separation of Ibrahim and Diane symbolizes that racialsegregation could be the result of government treating peopledifferently by categorizing them based on their race, religion. Evenafter being released from prison, Ibrahim still suffers inequalityand immoral judgments living in America. His race also determines theopportunities that come his way as seen in his failed attempt toapply for a job. In one scene, Ibrahim walks in an office to ask fora job application, but he is ignored by the receptionist at the frontdesk. In another scene, an interviewer tells Ibrahim, “ifyou’re serious about being hired, you’re gonna have to changeyour name.”Based on some of my research, these two scenes are realistic andvalid examples of how Arabs were treated unequally after 9/11. In thepublished article, Attitudestowards American Muslim,by Khan and Ecklund, they found that “theFederal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported a 1,700 percentincrease of hate crimes against Muslim Americans between 2000 to2001” (Khan and Ecklund). Clearly, the occurrence of 9/11 hasaffected the lives of many innocent Arabs. The reason of the increaseof hate crimes is “MuslimAmericans are often perceived as a monolithic group, conceptualizedas a religious minority thought to act, think, and behave similarlydespite wide ethnic differences that exist within the Muslim Americancommunity”(Khan and Ecklund). People’s lack of knowledge about “ethnicdifferences” in the Muslim American community can be seen in aconversation in the film. At the beginning of the film, when Ibrahimand Diane first meet, Ibrahim tells Diane “I’m from Lebanon.”Then Diane asks, “Like Gadhafi, right?” To correct Diane, Ibrahimanswers, “No. Gadhafi means Libya.” However, Diane still seemsconfused and asks, “So you speak Persian?” In order to correctDiane without embarrassing her, Ibrahim answers, “This would beIran.” In this conversation, Diane represents a typical Americanwho does not have the knowledge of ethnic differences in the Muslimcommunity.
Needlessto say, it is evident that the movie uses emotion to send themessage. For instance, there is the case of Ibrahim intervening in anassault that was being meted on a Jewish man by a gang of criminals,where he is severely beaten. This is also the case when he develops aconnection or relationship with Diane, a friendly American girl thathe had rescued from her abusive boyfriend.
Overall,thecitizenis a successful social-issue film which not only address the issuesof inequality, injustice, and oppression in America, it also showsthe dark side of American dream and the significance of the Americandream spirit from the perspective of an Arab immigrant.
TheCitizen.Dir. Sam Kadi. Perf. Khaled Nabawy and Agnes Bruckner. MontereyMedia, 2012. Film.
"YourRight of Defense Against Unlawful Arrest." Your Right ofDefense Against Unlawful Arrest. Constitution Society, n.d. Web.17 Nov. 2014.
Khan,Mussarat, and Kathryn Ecklund. "Journal OfMuslim Mental Health."AttitudesToward Muslim Americans Post-9/11.Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 2012. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.