How Curses Work 2: This Fez is Loaded
The utility to Western imperialism of depicting Arabs with the kind of culturalist discourse of modern vs. pre-modern, secularism vs. cultish religion, democracy vs. theocracy, civilisation vs. medievalism, rationalism vs. fanaticism (translated out of code: good Westerners vs. bad Arabs) that followed in the wake of the “war on terror” is obvious.
This way of constructing Arab and/or Middle Eastern cultural identities in Western art, literature, media and ideology, is very old.
Edward Said‘s seminal book Orientalism outlines the way in which the West has constructed the East as an exotic, romantic, cruel, sensuous, decadent, fanatical, inscrutable Other. (…though it is occasionally weakened – in my presumptuous and insignificant opinion – by the problems underlying Foucault’s notion of ‘discourse’, which Said utilises.)
Jack Shaheen‘s book Reel Bad Arabs reveals how Hollywood has vilified and dehumanized Arabs. Here’s a great short documentary demonstrating his thesis. It’s central message may not come as a surprise to you, but it’s still salutary to see the evidence collated and concentrated.
Such representations of Arabs pop up in the Doctor Who story ‘Pyramids of Mars’ (1975) as part of the show’s tactic, at that time, of raiding the motifs of the pop-gothic… with Hammer as a major influence. The Hammer version of The Mummy is the place, above all others, where the Egyptian Fanatic (that character we were talking about in the previous post) is best seen. The character in that film, played by George Pastell, is the template for Namin in ‘Pyramids of Mars’.
|“Where ‘dem infidels at???”|
Namin is a murderous, raging fanatic. He goes one better than Pastell’s character in the Hammer Mummy: he actually takes over the English country mansion of the Explorer, invading it using forged (or coerced) letters of authority from the Explorer, taking up the Explorer’s place, raging at the Explorer’s servant, barring the Explorer’s brother, insulting and shooting the Explorer’s friend, etc. Inverting real history, the Egyptian invades England, violently taking over. Terrance Dicks’ novelisation makes it clear that Namin is the last in a long line of fanatical worshippers of the old gods, as per standard stereotypes. At one point, Namin even insinuates that Dr Warlock is being racist – or at least xenophobic – in suspecting him of nefarious activities, asking sarcastically if Warlock will report him to the police for being “a foreigner”. Warlock then gets to smash such petty and self-serving nonsense aside. Don’t bring up racism; I only suspect you because you’re a wrong’un. Thus is the depiction of the Arab as a sinister, fanatical invader self-alibied, self-excused… with all criticism automatically and pre-emptively effaced in a “Political correctness gone mad!” moment avant la lettre. It’s a moment when Doctor Who itself says “bloody minorities, coming over here… and then squealing about ‘racism’ when we complain about what they get up to!” It’s one of the ugliest moments in the history of the show.
But Namin isn’t just an evil Arab. He’s an evil religious Arab. In the original version of his essay about ‘Pyramids of Mars’ at his TARDIS Eruditorum blog, Philip Sandifer (while, it should be stressed, criticising the use of nasty stereotypes) accidentally referred to Namin as a Muslim… and got taken to task for it in the comments.…