Yet another cartoon controversy has hit the Muslim world. This time it’s not in the West, but rather in Iraq. In their September 14th issue, the weekly Iraqi magazine/newspaper, Al-Isbouiyah (or The Weekly), published a cartoon depicting a female suicide bomber holding a lit bomb fuse in her left hand, standing, left arm raised, like the American Statue of Liberty, with an altered drawing of the Statue of Liberty itself next to her. On the bomb held by the female suicide bomber is written “terrorism and female suicide bombers” and on the tablet held by the Statue of Liberty, “democracy and liberty.”
As the Los Angeles Times tells us:
The drawing reflects the growing number of female suicide bombers in Iraq, but members of Iraq’s parliament denounced it as an insult to Iraqi Muslim women and voted Sunday to sue the newspaper for defamation.
And the reaction of the magazine/newspaper itself? As reported by the Associated Press:
“It was clear that al-Isbouiyah meant to condemn al-Qaida and extremist groups who use religion to brainwash women and push them to carry out suicide operations that claim the lives of dozens of innocent Iraqis,” the magazine said.
The newspaper’s supervising editor, Mustafa Abed Latif Kahdimy, said the lawmakers’ reaction to the cartoon in question was unreasonable. He dismissed legislators’ claims that it was insulting to Muslim women. “The caricature was … clearly against Al Qaeda and terrorism,” he said. There have been at least 30 female suicide bombers in Iraq so far this year, compared with eight all of last year. U.S. and Iraqi officials say Al Qaeda in Iraq is recruiting women because it is finding it harder to find male bombers.
The number of female suicide bombers has increased this past year. Here on MMW, we’ve covered the media’s coverage of the issue before: here, here, and here. That this is happening comes as no surprise. However, considering the number of female suicide bombers is minimal compared to their male counterparts, does the increased rate really justify this cartoon? Does it really justify depicting a Muslim woman in this manner? In my opinion, it certainly does not. And here’s why.
Let’s first take a look at the placement of the suicide bomber in the cartoon. The Muslim, Iraqi female suicide bomber has very strategically been placed next to the American (Christian?) Statue of Liberty. My suspicion is the main message of the cartoon was not to depict the issue of Al-Qaida’s recruitment of female suicide bombers, but rather to show the contrast between the liberty of the US, and the oppression by Al-Qaida, via Iraqis. Lady Liberty, or the United States of America, stands for “democracy and liberty” as attested by her tablet. She is the symbol of hope, freedom, and strength. The suicide bomber, or in this case the Iraqi woman, is the symbol of terror and fear. That this cartoon is forwarding the American imperialist agenda seems quite clear. American values are superior. American values are to be aspired to. Sure, the values of suicide bombers are cruel. Yes, their actions are unequivocally wrong. However, why the need to contrast with American values? Why portray the invaders and occupiers as liberators? I’m not an expert on Iraqi culture or history, but I know Iraqi values also include freedom and liberty. There are figures in Iraqi, or even Middle Eastern, history and present who represent and symbolize democracy and liberty, just as the Statue of Liberty does for the U.S.
The depiction of a Muslim woman in a niqab holding a bomb further propagates the dangerous connection between outwardly and obviously Muslim, and terrorism; between the niqab, specifically, and terrorism. (The niqab’s association with terrorism and fear was considered in this MMW post.) A woman with her identity covered, her loose robes hiding who knows what, instills fear in the hearts of many in the West, and now it seems that even some in the East are trying to instill the same fear in the hearts of their own people.
Also, how can we ignore that both the suicide bomber and the Statue are women. One a Muslim woman, the other an American one. The Muslim woman an oppressed woman (because of her niqab, of course*), controlled by Al-Qaida, dangerous, murderous, heartless killer, ending the lives of innocent people, while the American woman a liberated individual, welcoming, warm beacon for those looking to begin their free lives afresh. American female superiority.
Sexism, racism, and Islamophobia all tied into one – depicted by an Iraqi cartoon. It seems they’ve been trained well.