Al-Ahram Weekly Online   31 December 2009 - 6 January 2010
Issue No. 979
New Decade's special edition
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Cartoons for starters

Thanks to the Internet, I have been able to carefully examine Egyptian, Arab, and international cartoons since 1998. In that year, I began presenting a weekly programme called Gomaa Koll Gomaa (Gomaa every week) on the Nile News channel, where I chose one key piece of news and demonstrated how cartoonists dealt with it across the world. After a decade of looking in-depth into local and domestic cartoons, I have developed an insight that I wish to share with you.

For starters, all cartoonists in the world take an interest in their local concerns, which are their absolute priority. And, when they comment on regional and international events, they are often influenced by the views and stereotypes of their society as well as by their own intellectual, ideological, and religious prejudices.

Let's now look into detail on three regions of the world: America, Europe and the Middle East.

AMERICAN CARTOON: American cartoon was perhaps the most prolific in the period I am examining. Since the election of George W Bush, American cartoonists have drawn attention to the shallowness of the president's thinking and his ignorance in world affairs.

A big change took place after 9/11, when all cartoonists stood firmly behind the US leadership in an attempt to boost the spirits of the American people and rally the nation behind the war on terror. They backed the Bush administration during the Afghanistan war and rallied behind its effort to track down Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, they also started drawing parallels between their nation's experience with terror and that of Israel, a country that has a problem not with terror but with legitimate resistance.

When the neocons drove the country into a war with Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling mass destruction weapons and helping Al-Qaeda, American cartoonists were in two minds. Some supported the war on Iraq and others opposed it. Still, American cartoonists began to expose the twisted mentality of the neocons, who were only making excuses to control Middle East oil. Eventually, most American cartoonists became opponents of the war.

American cartoonists, among the first to ridicule US attempts to dominate the world, exposed the perils of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

American cartoonists had no qualms exposing the subservience of Britain to the US. They were the first to depict Tony Blair as Bush's poodle.

American cartoonists commented on most world events. Almost all American cartoonists took the side of the Bush administration against Iran and its alleged nuclear programme. None pointed out that Israel has nuclear weapons.

American cartoonists approached the Palestinian issue from a standpoint of complete bias to Israel. Even when Israeli leaders changed, American cartoonists commented on their policy only in a timid way, while being utterly dismissive of the Arabs and Palestinians.

Most American cartoonists regard Arabs and Muslims as backward and ignorant fanatics with a penchant for violence.

EUROPEAN CARTOON: Although most European cartoonists didn't oppose the war on Afghanistan, many ridiculed the war on Iraq and made fun of America's bid for world domination.

The image of Arabs is less stereotyped in Europe than in America, perhaps because Europeans are closer to us geographically and historically. Still, the bias against Muslims is common, fuelled perhaps by terrorist attacks in the continent. Cartoons offensive to Islam depicting Prophet Mohamed in a negative light were reprinted across Europe in defence of free press. The emotional and ill-conceived outrage of the Muslim world only served to make matters worse. To America's credit, the offensive cartoons were not reprinted in the US.

Some European cartoonists sided with the Palestinians, showing sympathy to the Arab cause during the Palestinian Intifada, uprising; the Israeli aggression against Lebanon and then against Gaza.

ARAB CARTOON: Arab cartoonists continued to defend pan-Arab concerns throughout the period, although some got their cartoons banned in certain countries in the region. The Palestinian issue remained a priority for many cartoonists. Some cartoonists took particular interest in exposing Israeli-US interference in Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen.

We in Al-Ahram Weekly have showed great interest in regional and international issues. We don't seem to be commenting that much on domestic politics, perhaps because it is hard to know where to begin, and end.

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