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February 18, 2006

Cartoon Violence

Originally I had intended this post merely as a pointer to the Nation interview with Joe Sacco (linked below), but as I began to write I wanted to connect a few more dots on this issue, in part because it is so deeply linked to the issues of representation that concern me as a scholar of media studies.

Like many people, I've been thinking about the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad over the last several days (I'm not going to link to the images--you can find them easily enough). Like Manorama, I'm less interested in debates about free speech when it comes to these images, which were clearly intended as a provocation, and more interested in the degree to which these images participate in what she aptly calls "an entire visual economy which dehumanizes Muslims, and specifically, Muslim bodies, as a means of expressing and visually reinforcing western dominance."

In the interview with Joe Sacco and Art Speigelman (Maus) in The Nation, Sacco echoes this point:

To me the bigger context is that there are segments of the Muslim population around the world that have been pummeled with other images, like Abu Ghraib, that are also offensive. And you also have to see this in the context of how some Muslims around the world are viewing the actions of the US or allies of the US, for example Israel. You add all these things into the mix, and it's just another thing, another part of this ridiculous war that is being forced on people, that is supposed to be about a "clash of civilizations."
These cartoon depictions of Muhammad, who is not supposed to be depicted visually in the first place, merely extends this network of visual images that dehumanize Muslim people, most vividly represented by the Abu Ghraib photographs, which continue to leak to the public. Thus, what appears to be an overreaction is in fact part of a larger context, and while it seems plausible that the violence is far from spontaneous (Amardeep makes the point in Manorama's that the governments of several countries have encouraged this response), I think there are some reasonable questions about how visual images can be used to dehumanize other people (and I'll add here that I also find the call for anti-Semitic images deplorable). I don't condone the violence by any means, but I think it is worth expressing my objection to the process of dehumanization in which these cartoons and the Abu Ghraib photographs participate.

Posted by chuck at February 18, 2006 12:36 PM

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Ah.. so I see. Muslims feel dehuminized because of photos of prisoner's with bags on their heads. Now it all makes sense.

So let's take that notion a little further. Let's see some photographs of the Christians ond other non-muslims (i.e. infidels) that have been "dehumanized" by Muslims. How about innocent people falling from the world trade center, or getting their heads chopped off, or being killed over cartoons, or watching their churches and businesses burned to the ground for no reason.

Would it be OK for Christians or Jews to react with extreme violence under the excuse that they felt "dehuminized"? Rubish.

This is not about cartoons, or about the dehuminization of Muslims. They're rampaging and burning flags. They're looking for Europeans to kidnap. They're threatening innkeepers and generally raising holy Muslim hell not because of any outrage over a cartoon. They're outraged because it is part of the Islamic jihadist culture to be outraged. You don't really need a reason. You just need an excuse. Wandering around, destroying property, murdering children, firing guns into the air and feigning outrage over the slightest perceived insult is to a jihadist what tailgating is to a Steeler's fan.

Posted by: bleh at February 19, 2006 1:20 AM

Bleh, if you had read my post with any attention, you would have noticed that I believe the violence is wrong no matter what, and the primary goal of this post was to explore the causes of the outrage, not to justify the violence. Your disregard of the photographs that document torture (not, as you put it, merely putting "bags on their heads").

If you had read my post carefully, you might also have noticed that I also expressed criticism of anti-Semitic images that are intended to dehumanize Jews. I'll leave aside your crass stereotyping of the Muslim people other than to say that it illustrates my point that these kinds of representations dehumanize.

Posted by: Chuck at February 19, 2006 2:11 AM

Bleh, the torture photos are only of Muslims with bags on their heads? Have you seen the most recent photos which were released, including a man with his body and face smeared with feces?

Also, Chuck pretty clearly condemned violence. Supporting peaceful expressions of anger, and contextualizing the narrative from which the anger stems, is not the same thing as supporting violence. All of the protests were not violent, while your description paints a very different picture.

Posted by: Mano at February 19, 2006 2:22 AM

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