Cartoon wars in Europe and beyond

These cartoon images of the other have gone on for decades, even centuries

Chris Doyle
Chris Doyle
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Cartoon wars have been one of the sadder chapters in Muslim-non-Muslim relations from Denmark to Paris. Enough editors appear too eager to provoke, enough Muslims are too easily provoked, including inexcusably into violence. Some Muslims vent their anger and fury at the same time as equally furious anti-Muslim marches throng the streets of Europe. The anti-Muslim group Pegida despite losing much of its leadership has expanded its marches to include Austria. Far right groups in Europe feel full of brim and confidence. An Iranian institute has chipped in by running a holocaust denial cartoon competition as its response to the Hebdo killings in Paris. The newspaper, U.S.A Today promotes a ghastly cartoon originally in the Ottawa Citizen, with a Nazi skeleton mouthing “Allahu Akbar.” All too often the mutual images of the other still echo the cartoons and not reality. Denizens of media-land may be forecasting a full and final eruption of Muslim-non-Muslim violence. However, the extremists and nutcases still remain a tiny minority just with bigger loudspeakers than ever before as any Twitter user knows.

Squeezed between the extremes of the anti-Islam brigades of the far right, and intolerant Muslim extremists, are those who are being made to suffer from this - both Muslim and non-Muslim.

The cartoon stereotype is sex-obsessed, a violent being that can only be eliminated by force. By dehumanizing and reducing all 1.6 billions to this absurd caricature, they can all become the legitimate target in the crosshairs of Chris Kyle’s rifle in 'American Sniper'

Chris Doyle

But supposedly responsible parties are still promoting crude cartoon caricatures of the other whose effect is even more serious ultimately than the Danish cartoons or the Hebdo crisis. What’s more it appears both electorally and commercially profitable so to do.

The cartoon stereotype

The Muslim as violent savages fit-for-killing is an old favorite and a dead-cert money earner. The latest Hollywood blockbuster, “American Sniper,” based on the real-life story of sniper Chris Kyle, starring Bradley Cooper and directed by Clint Eastwood, only fuels the problem. It glorifies the killing of Iraqis, even women and children. In fact the real Chris Kyle described Iraqis as “savages.” The American-Arab anti-discrimination Committee says they are “seeing a significant spike in threats against our community from American Sniper moviegoers after viewing the film.”

Politicians can get votes too in using the cartoon Muslim. Eschewing any signs of responsible leadership, the Mayor of London and British Prime Ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson on a visit to the Kurdish Regional Government performed a ludicrous photo-op pose holding an AK47 prostrate on the ground next to a Kurdish fighter. He gave an interview where he collapses the whole debate around why British Muslims go to fight in Syria and Iraq as being all about sex. Bojo, as he is affectionately known, will perhaps be asking London’s police to be on the lookout for porn-obsessed losers who have problems getting girlfriends. (His lewd comments are triple-x rated so cannot be reprinted here).

Bojo’s comments reaffirm that age-old obsession in the “West” with sex in the orient, the mysteries of the hammam and the harem. Perceived Arab sexual anxieties led to the U.S. neocons conviction that Arab fear of sexual humiliation was an ideal torture technique as discovered at Abu Ghraib. Johnson’s comments are more to do with getting cheap sensationalist comments aimed for quick pre-election headlines. The worrying thing is that it probably works.

Morally bankrupt

In cartoonland, Muslims are of course trying to take over the world. Fox News contributors may invent “No-Go Zones” for non-Muslims in Europe and cities like Birmingham but why do they have be followed into the cesspit by aspiring political figures such as potential Republican Presidential candidate, Bobby Jindal. He spoke of No-Go Zones in Europe as well but with little more conviction and accuracy than Steve Emerson on Fox News. The two-time governor of Louisiana does not see Muslims as immigrants to the United States but warns of a “coming Muslim invasion of the U.S..”

Muslims are also, the cartoon images scream, irredeemably evil and violent. The Muslims as Nazis image is being unfolded ever more often. An Israeli speaker even at a Pegida rally in Frankfurt declared “The Nazis are inside the Islam mentality.” Did I miss the waves of international condemnation and apologies for any offence caused? I am just waiting for the next politician to rehash the myth that the “only thing that people in the Middle East understand is force.”

The cartoon stereotype is sex-obsessed, a violent being that can only be eliminated by force. By dehumanizing and reducing all 1.6 billions to this absurd caricature, they can all become the legitimate target in the crosshairs of Chris Kyle’s rifle in American sniper. The mirror image is the equally vile Jews as monkeys and apes or the “West” as morally bankrupt.

These cartoon images of the other have gone on for decades, even centuries. Whilst too many see “the other” in these terms, as inimically violent and a permanent threat to be eradicated, there is little hope. Maybe mutual understanding has advanced since 9/11, maybe globalization has helped in shrinking the distance, but if ISIS has achieved anything, it is to reverse any positive changes. Just as al-Qaeda has now and in the past, they know that raw violence and brutality does serve to push peoples apart and into the arms of the crude stereotypes.


Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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