Monday, July 14, 2008

The Obamas Lampooned as " Flag-burning Islamic Terrorists"

As the general elections get closer with Barack Obama enjoying a big lead over John McCain, the smears and whisper campaigns against the Obamas are getting nastier by the day. Now a cartoon on the cover of the New Yorker Magazine's latest issue caricatures Barak Obama in the Oval Office dressed as Usama Bin Laden, bumping fists with Michelle Obama wearing military style fatigues with an AK-47 machine gun slung over her shoulder. The background has a picture of Osama Bin Laden over the fireplace and American flag burning in the fireplace. It captures all the lies, rumors and innuendos against Barack Obama. For those unfamiliar with the polls, about 10-12% of the Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. Another 12% believe he took oath of office for the Senate on the Quran. A whopping 39% believe he attended an Islamic madrassa in Indonesia. All of these beliefs are completely baseless and repeatedly denied by Obama. In fact, some of the Obama staffers have become so sensitive to this "charge" that they refused to seat hijab-wearing Muslim women supporters behind Obama on stage in front of the cameras at a recent rally in Michigan. Obama later apologized for it.

The New Yorker magazine does have a reputation for its satirical covers. It is generally regarded highly by its supporters and critics. The magazine claims that its controversial cover is meant to satirize the campaign of lies and fabrications against Barack Obama. It has definitely got people talking about it. But the magazine's defense does raise a lot of questions about the approach it took. For example, could it have debunked the lies about Obama more effectively by showing this cartoon inside a thought bubble coming out of easily identifiable bigots? Or by showing it as a figment of Karl Rove's political imagination?

The way the New Yorker has chosen to satirize the issue comes across as really "tasteless and offensive" as the Obama campaign put it. By creating this controversy about someone like Obama with an unconventional background for a US presidential candidate, it is clear that the right-wing negative campaigns are getting a boost with much wider publicity. And it is serving to perpetuate and reinforce the worst possible stereotypes against Muslims in the United States. It is clearly unhelpful for people hoping for peaceful dialog and coexistence with the Islamic world. Given the current toxic environment in the United States against Islam and Muslims, Obama's stereotyping as Muslim could also expose him to great personal and physical harm.

If it is really not an innocent or botched attempt at satire, then what is its intent and who is behind it? In addition to Republicans who have successfully used whisper campaigns and smears in past presidential elections, there are other individuals and groups who are nervous about having Obama in the White House and they are trying to subvert his campaign by all means they consider necessary. For example, there are many who are vehemently opposed to Obama's insistence on direct talks with the Iranians on all issues between the US and Iran. Others see Obama as a problem because his presidency could hurt those who profit from the massive US military spending. Then there are those who believe Obama opposes the Iraq war and he wants to reach out to the Muslim world because he may have a soft corner for Muslims.

I expect to see a lot more insidious and inflammatory attacks on Obama for allegedly being "un-American", "unpatriotic", "unsympathetic to working class Americans", "closet Muslim", "Manchurian candidate", etc. etc. At the same time, I sense some level of discontent among some of the traditional Democratic Black and Jewish constituencies because of Obama's positions on personal responsibility and outreach to the Islamic world. I hope the Obama campaign is up to the task to deal with unconventional challenges from all kinds of bigots and interest groups plotting to derail his history-making run for the President of the United States.


Anonymous said...

its interesting to note that everybody who fears muslims (islamophobe.. eg:americans generally) and misoislamic (eg: french) ppl are called "bigots" right way not giving merits to why they do that.When ppl blow themselves up by saying "god is great" and instigate riots against stupid cartoons..what do u expect! The Saudis especially with their petro-dollar could easily turn Pak/Afganistan/Bangladesh to a highly educated society with high std of living. No they won't coz they need cannon fodder jehadis for their sharia disneyland like Taliban and follow a dont-live and don't let others live policy. I think the Obama satire front page will turn "Muslim Offense Level Meter" to RED and world will go up in flames!..Peace!

check this saudi guy out - The Religious Policemen.

Riaz Haq said...

You concluded your comment with "Peace!". I like that. But the best way for all of us to ensure peace is not by demonizing all Muslims or by using "Muslim" as an epithet or a synonym for "terrorist", as is being in Obama's case. Instead we should work toward marginalizing the tiny minority of Muslims and non-Muslims who are engaged in terrorizing the world to advance their own hateful ideologies. Only by marginalizing such "terrorists" and bigots can we isolate them and rid the world of their terror and bigotry to live in peace.

Anonymous said...

Newyorker by their own explanation is trying to ridicule the American public which believes that Obama is a closet Muslim and he is a trojan sort of way. Talk of talking with maniac Iranian leadership have turned many people nervous fearing Obama is a Jimmy Carter type dreamy idealist. Anyway it was over the top. It should have been more subtle and humorous. It didn't look funny anyway.I guess all the candidates this time lack that fire in the belly thing. It would have been awesome if Gov.Arnold was there to spice things up. After blowing up a Black Guard Bin Ladenji's hideout he would say "Astala Vistala Baby!!"

Anonymous said...

Fail to understand why Muslims have got problems with Christians, Hindus, Jews etc.. Whereas the rest don't have any problem with each other... Any clues ???

Riaz Haq said...

"Fail to understand why Muslims have got problems with Christians, Hindus, Jews etc". This comment shows a total lack of knowledge of the history of relations and reality of conflicts among different religions of the world. You need to lean more about Jewish persecution by Christians, Buddhist persecution by Hindus, the killing/burning of Christians in India etc. etc. Read some literature, too. Such as Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" and "Othello". And about the Holocaust. And the Spanish Inquisition.

Anonymous said...

Why is the muslim world so backward? Now please don't the excuse that because of the western world the muslim world is backward. We have heard enough of it. Your own native country is now among the best backward nation on earth. When all world believes in export of goods and services, pakistan believes in export of jihadi. Pakistani Jihadis are terrorising the whole world. The world needs to stop them.

Riaz Haq said...

"Why is the muslim world so backward? ..." Good question. Every region, nation, religion etc have see cycles. The reasons vary, but the common theme is that they fail to adapt to change and insist that their way is the best way for ever. This thinking is part of human nature.

There was a time when ancient Greece dominated the world. Then the torch passed to Muslims ( Arabs, the Abbasids, the Ummayyads etc.) and the Europeans went into the dark ages after the fall of the Roman/Byzantine empires. Then came the Renaissance (which Muslims enabled with their work) and the industrial revolution (which Muslims and the East completely missed) followed by colonization that decimated Asia and Africa where most of the Muslims lived. Post-colonial era has seen Muslims humiliated and consumed by anger and negative energy. I don't mean to give you complete history lesson, just a brief outline. What Muslims are going through now is a phase that will pass and hopefully, depending on how they deal with it, they can emerge better and stronger from it.

Anonymous said...

Mr Riaz,
I am a Pakistani Christian, who left Pakistani 17 years back. My family has gone through horrible horrible conditions because of extreme intolerence in Pakistani society towards anybody of faith other than Islam, especially Christians and Hindus. Minorities in Pakistan live in a perpetual state of fear. You very well know the reason and I need not explain.
So much so I even fear to put my name lest some harm come to my remain family members in Karachi.

I have read some of your writing where you are more concerned about comparing India with Pakistan. You have put forward all logic in describing how Indian democracy is under rated and Pakistan's enjoy a higher living standard. All right granted that Pakistan is better than India but was it only for Muslims you were speaking. What about us, the minorities who increasingly are finding suffocating to stay in Pakistan anymore. I am one of the lucky who could get out Pakistan but the countless millions of minorities, it is an absolute suffering. I would appreciate if you can highlight the plights of minorities because you are one of the most successful Pakistani and we look up to you. May be your voice will be heard.

And yes, the most important aspect of any nation is how the state(not the people) treats it minorities. The constitution of Pakistan has made us second class citizens. The irony is that the Muslim majority country of Pakistan mades its minorities second class citizens but the Hindu majority state of India gave equal rights to its minorities(including Muslim). This is what I consider higher living standard. A life with dignity is the highest living standard that Pakistan continuously denies us and which India has granted to its minorities.

Last but not least, I would like to state that I really appreciate your blog and do frequent it regularly. Please keep your voice open always.


Riaz Haq said...

"And yes, the most important aspect of any nation is how the state(not the people) treats it minorities." I agree. Minorities in Pakistan definitely deserve better in Quaid-e-Azam's Pakistan who spoke eloquently in laying out his vision for Pakistan as follows: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State."
Please read my post titled "Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah's Vision for Pakistan" to see the whole text. This was our founding father's vision he laid out to Pakistan's first constituent assembly in Aug 1947. Unfortunately, many Pakistanis and their leaders have strayed from this vision and done a lot of damage to Pakistan by fanning the flames of fanaticism in the name of Islam, a peaceful and tolerant faith. I have been writing about this to argue that it is in the best interest of Pakistan to implement the founding father's vision of a modern, tolerant, peace ful, democratic nation with equal rights for all of its people.

Riaz Haq said...

Lately, there have been some arrests of American-Muslim and Pakistani-American youths on suspicions of terror. The Internet has been identified as a tool for radicalization and proposals made to deal with it. Here's an interesting post by Reem Salahi in HuffingtonPost on this subject:

Yet even in cases where agent provocateurs were not employed, the reality is that the government and media have too long treated Islam and Muslims as a homogeneous, non-dynamic, suspect group. Whenever a Muslim engages in a criminal act, the individual is always qualified by his religious background. Very rarely do we see similar treatment of non-Muslims. For example, I have never read an article describing Timothy McVeigh as the Christian white man. But nearly every article on Nidal Hasan qualifies him as a Muslim and Palestinian within the first few sentences.

As a consequence, Muslims are forced to account for the (negative) actions of a fourth of the world's population. Ironically, I have never been congratulated for the positive actions of other fellow Muslims. The acts of a few bad apples or even a few misguided youth become the norm and not the exceptions. Put differently, it would be like suspecting that every White high school student was prone to commit a massacre as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers at Columbine High School, did.

The reality is that the discourse on radicalization and homegrown terrorism is fundamentally racist and Islamophobic. It is based on seeing Muslims as the "other" and viewing our actions through an "orientalist" lens which frames any Muslim's questionable action as terrorism. Hence, a Muslim overstaying an immigration visa or improperly filing taxes or even paintballing becomes evidence of terrorism and radicalization, justifying the government's infiltration of our mosques, surveillance of our youth groups, and mapping of our populations. Maybe, just maybe, Muslims don't need to be understood by a different rubric than other populations. Further, by framing Muslims as terrorists and as the internal enemy within, the government and media have alienated and disenfranchised many law-abiding Muslims who seek nothing more than to actually live "unremarkable" lives.

Those in the media, in the government, and in Muslim organizations who have jumped on the bandwagon, you have missed the boat. Muslims and Muslim youth are not intrinsically prone to radicalization through the aid of the internet, just as White youth are not intrinsically prone to commit massacres or lynch ethnic minorities in solidarity with the KKK. Rather, the problem is the media and the government's continued vilification and the consequential disenfranchisement of the Muslim community. It is the government's infiltration of mosques and community centers with informants and agent provocateurs. It is the FBI's prolonged fishing expeditions and false prosecutions of many innocent Muslims. And it is an ever-worsening foreign policy that wastes away our tax dollars on killing innocent civilians throughout the world. So please stop parroting the misguided construct of homegrown terrorism and Islamic radicalization as the problem, when the real problem is xenophobia couched in politically correct terms.