Re: Cartoon meme

From: Wade Allsopp (
Date: Sat 11 Feb 2006 - 14:05:01 GMT

  • Next message: Douglas Brooker: "Re: Cartoon meme"

    On 2/11/06, Kate Distin wrote

    > Your analysis strikes me as having hit the nail on the head. I've had
    > conversations with very moderate, culturally English, not particularly
    > religiously observant Muslims in the UK, who feel very strongly that
    > although they condemn violence and terrorism they can nonetheless
    > understand the feelings behind the violence and terrorism. As you say,
    > there is a perception of being marginalised and not having their needs
    > met within Western society. And another part of the problem is of
    > course the entanglement of any encounter between Islam and the West with
    > the situation in Israel/Palestine. All of this creates a strong feeling
    > of identity with fellow Muslims, whatever their behaviour, and a
    > consequent reluctance to condemn even very extreme behaviour by others
    > within that brotherhood. Heightened in this case by identifying with
    > the feelings of outrage about the prophet being ridiculed and
    > denigrated. Then we as non-Muslims hear even our very moderate friends
    > expressing sympathy with the feelings underlying terrorism - and the
    > alienation is exacerbated.

    I agree, this is the point I was trying to make when I said that the main losers of all this have been the moderate Muslims living in the west whose main goals are not jihad but simply to get on well with their lives and live peacefully with their neighbours.

    My sense is that many moderate British Muslims and those such as Jack Straw who strive to represent their views, were wrong footed by the cartoons. The initial reaction was:
    "this is outrageous, people are linking Islam with terrorism, this is yet another example of the
     prejudices we face, these publications should not be allowed."

    We then saw maybe 50-100 radical Islamists (representing about 0.007% of the British Muslim population) outside parliament screaming "behead the cartoonists, let's have another 7/7, go go Bin Laden etc etc"

    In an important sense it was these people who the REAL cartoons. Remember the idea behind a cartoon is to exaggerate real features of the subject to comic effect.

    Whereas the original cartoons were pretty weak images published in a Danish newspaper months previously and would have had approximately zero impact on British people's perception of Muslims, these real live cartoons got headline coverage on every TV news channel and just about every serious newspaper in the UK for 2 or 3 days. They will have had a material effect on reinforcing the prejudice against Muslims in the UK. It was only a day or two later that moderate Muslim opinion seemed to wake up to this and begin a largely ineffectual counter offensive.

    What I think moderate Muslims have not woken up to is that successful cartoon images "work" because they magnify aspects of the subject that are really there. Think of the domineering, handbag bashing Spitting Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher or the grey, mousy puppet of John Major.

    I think the comedy side of this whole story has not received much attention to date. The Muslim reaction to the cartoons has generally been that because they are cartoons they are there to
    "ridicule" and perhaps humiliate Muslims. In fact I would say that this is to mistake the nature of comedy and cartoons, at least in British society. Comedy is there to bring us down to earth in a non violent, non threatening way, to prevent us from taking ourselves too seriously. When successful it is perhaps the most effective form of criticism, which is presumably why in just about all of the major world dictatorships, from Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein to the current Islamic theocracies, making fun of the leader and regime in public was something that could rapidly lead to prison or in many cases death.

    Most discussion of the cartoons has centred on the one with Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, which is really just making the point of the link between Islam and terrorism. I think most people have said that the only one of the cartoons which is actually funny is the one with Muhammad sitting on a cloud being approached by a line of suicide bombers saying "sorry we've run out of virgins". This is the one (or something like it) which should be on posters all over Gaza, Baghdad, Kabul and Bradford, because there is a very dangerous meme out there which needs to be doused and the traditional forms of argument simply don't work against it.


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