MUSLIMS: MAKING ENEMIES

Fox's hit series "24" kicks off its fourth season with a disturbing story line: a seemingly normal, suburban American Muslim family is actually a sleeper terrorist cell bent on destroying Western society. The mother, played by Oscar-nominated Shohreh Aghdashloo, is so evil she kills her son's cute blond girlfriend to make sure she doesn't blow the family's cover. The Council on American- Islamic Relations (CAIR) protested the show and eventually met with the network. Fox called the meeting "educational and informative," and released this statement: "We are providing CAIR's PSAs [public-service announcements] to the affiliates. It is their decision whether or not to run them." In case you never see them, the 30- and 60-second spots include the line, "Muslims are part of the fabric of this great country."

Critics, like author Jack Shaheen who catalogs Arab and Muslim images in the U.S. media, worry that "24" represents a new trend, where even the Muslim or Arab next door is a potential threat. Consider the WWE's newest bad guy, Muhammad Hassan, an Arab-American: he wears Arab garb in the ring and vows revenge for post-9/11 discrimination as the audience chants, "U.S.A.!" Shaheen says, "To present a truly balanced image, why don't Fox and other networks create some Arab or Muslim characters who aren't building bombs? Maybe they're just an everyday family, like the Cosbys." Actress Aghdashloo (who does not apologize for her role in "24") is waiting for that day. "As a Middle Eastern actress, I wish to God that there would be more roles--not just the terrorist or the battered woman. I'd love to be on 'Will & Grace'."

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