View Full Version : Muslims 'R' us, not them

lord patch
02-11-2006, 01:39 PM
Muslims 'R' us, not them

RICK SALUTIN (rsalutin@globeandmail.ca)

>From Thursday's Globe and Mail - Feb 10, 2006


A week ago, I'd not have guessed that the response among Muslims to those Danish cartoons, and the response to their responses, would still be escalating. What accounts for it?

Let me suggest it's not due to the specific cartoons. It's a reaction to a long, even centuries-long experience of being the object of someone else's caricatures with no effective way to reply. Cartoons of Arab "oil sheiks" began to proliferate after the 1973 Mideast war: hook-nosed, leering, lascivious and greedy. Add cartoons of menacing Arab terrorists, not just in newspapers but in movies like Black Sunday and True Lies. There was an older tradition, too -- like that depicted by Rudolf Valentino in the silent film, The Sheik -- going back to the 19th century and before.

Other groups have also been caricatured. But Disney films like Peter Pan or Song of the South -- perfectly good as films -- were largely taken out of circulation due to complaints from aboriginals and blacks. The Arab-Muslim caricatures continue to thrive. Look at

24 and all its swarthy terrorists;

9/11 breathed new life into a cartoon mode that had never really faltered.

Note that this cartooning (in the broad sense) was always done to "them" by others like "us," the West etc. It was never by them or for them. That's why the argument that they can't take a joke or that "everyone" is fair game for cartoonists doesn't apply. The late Edward Said noted in his book Orientalism that Western scrutiny of Arabs and Islam was always one-way and a form of control. It assumed the sole right to define the situation and write books on it. There were no Institutes for the Study of the West in the Mideast. When the locals try to turn it around -- Iran announces a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust -- it sounds stupid and smacks of nyah, nyah. It's like saying: We are sick of being your cartoons. But if you treat us that way, we'll become those very cartoons! That'll show you.

I once had the unpleasant experience of being the subject (or object) of a nasty newspaper caricature. A cartoonist friend said the caption should have read: Try washing. I survived but it still smarts. Imagine a far worse insult multiplied over decades or centuries, applied impersonally and abstractly, and worst of all, you have no chance to state your case or categorize the categorizers back.

It hasn't helped that a frequent Western response to the anger over the cartoons has been to create more cartoons. A Globe and Mail editorial stated: ". . . something is askew in the psyche of a civilization, to put it plainly the Islamic world has a chip on its shoulder." That's editorial, not editorial cartoon. Globe cartoonist Brian Gable would've been way subtler. What's cartoony here? It's the broad strokes and lack of specifics. I don't think there is such a thing as a civilization, Muslim or Western. It's an abstraction that can occasionally be useful but you shouldn't treat it like an individual with a psyche. Nor does the Islamic world exist in any singular sense. It's massive and multifarious. In other words, it's not an it. Therefore, it doesn't have a shoulder which it couldn't have a chip on. It's a cartoon.

But I've been seeing cartoons everywhere since this uproar began. What "war on terror"? Where? Where is terror's army? Where's its border? How do you win? How could it ever end? It's a cartoon, not a war. Or the clash of civilizations, much invoked during this hubbub. I've already said I don't think there are civilizations. As for clash: There are conflicts and grievances, all specific. There's Israel and Palestine, there was Saddam versus the Bushes. There's a huge mess in Afghanistan. I think you can deplete your brain spelling out details and causes for them, without invoking grand civilizational clashes. There's no need to, there are too many causes for those conflicts already. A clash of civs is just a big cartoon to get your mind off your headache from thinking about what's really out there.

Why the change now, and the protest? For the first time, the "Muslim world" isn't just out there and the other. They're here, they're us. So they, too, can protest. It's stressful, but it's democratic. rsalutin@globeandmail.ca


02-11-2006, 01:43 PM
I didn't make this mess.