There’s nothing that makes Hollywood more nervous than portraying Islamist terror. As far back as 1994, James Cameron’s True Lies was denounced as racially insensitive for imagining a chillingly plausible Islamist terror threat involving nuclear weapons. Cameron, anticipating accusations of unfairly linking terrorism with Islam and Arabs, took care to try for “balance” by placing an Arab-American character on the good guys’ side (the actor who played him, Grant Heslov, this year won an Oscar as one of the producers of Argo). Yet the advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) slammed the film anyway. The hysterical 1998 movie The Siege imagined that, in an overreaction to a terrorist attack, Brooklyn would be placed under martial law and all young Muslim men would be interned in Yankee Stadium. Ridiculous.
Since 2001, of course, Hollywood has almost completely avoided showing any Muslim involved in terror, changing the bad guys in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears from Palestinians to neo-Nazis. The 2005 Jodie Foster movie Flightplan, about an abduction on an airplane, used a hint that Arabs might be responsible as a red herring. The actual villain: an all-American air marshal played by Peter Sarsgaard. Several Middle East themed movies like Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies essentially saw a moral equivalence between the U.S. and the Islamists, saying both sides were up to comparably nasty stuff in the War on Terror.