Bombs, Liberty, and the Muslimah Body

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.

However, why the use of a female suicide bomber? Considering the number of male suicide bombers still supersedes their female counterparts (regardless if increased rates), why choose a woman? If the cartoonist(s) had used a male suicide bomber, the eerie physical similarities between a suicide bomber and the Statue of Liberty could not have been accomplished. After all, they could not have depicted a man in a dress similar to that of the Statue of Liberty. In my opinion, this is yet another instance of a woman’s body being used as a fighting ground. Her body is not her own, but rather belongs to the agendas of the men who wish to ‘say something.’ Using her body was more convenient. Her body, as has been seen in many media reports as well as the quote above, is controlled by the men who make her kill. She does not act out of her volition. She is brainwashed. She acts without thinking. And that is a dangerous person. Using her body was more dangerous.

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.

* Sarcasm

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Review – Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Refusing the Veil
  • Sahar

    Love it Sobia.

    “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”.

    Indeed, neo-colonial mimesis is very disturbing.

  • Philip

    am alternative message could be that the yanks tried to bring in democracy(allegedly) but instead they brought terrorism and female suicide bombers. So the “iraqi statue” could be their(newspaper’s) take that the yanks tried to build iraqi “democracy” but ended building something else.

  • Ethar

    Love this post. Everything is spot on.

    I know you can’t read Arabic, so I just want to add that this is all over Arabic press too, who call it a ‘travesty,’ ‘ridiculous,’ ‘a farce’ and ‘ignorant.’

    One particular beautiful piece starts off with a proverb: “The ignorant does with himself what the enemy does to his enemies.” ie shooting themselves in the foot.

  • Fatemeh

    Great analysis. I especially like the point you make that the vast majority of suicide bombings are still carried out by men; why do a few more women merit this kind of attention?

  • Sobia

    Thanks everyone!

    Interesting analysis. And it would work, except the words “democracy and liberty” written on the Statue’s tablet still insinuate some sort of superiority of America and its values. Even if this was a critique of what the American’s tried to bring in, that definitely wasn’t clear. This depiction of the Statue of Liberty didn’t bring that across. It really does seem like a kiss-up job.

  • jdl

    Seems that a popular joke in the Mid East is a fitting political comment here. “The only real men left in Irag are women”

  • M Thibodeaux

    The Statue of Liberty was a gift of the French Nation to the United States in commemoration of the signing of our Declaration. The French played an important and enduring role in establishing our viability as a free country by helping us deliver a decisive blow to the British at Yorktown. No one seems to like the French these days. The Iraqis seem not to like us either, but…

    How would the Iraqis respond to a very respectful likeness of the Statue of Liberty that was somewhat different, but emblematic of our attempt to liberate Iraq? If there are any Muslim artists out there send me an alternative cartoon.

  • Grégoire

    The first female suicide bomber to get any sort of international attention was Wafa Idris, a self-described atheist who had, in her youth, started a feminist youth group in her Palestinian school. She was nobody’s dishrag. Her family (which included at least one brother who was a religious militant) expressed surprise at her final gesture. When I got around to piecing together her life, it didn’t surprise me at all. She volunteered her time driving an ambulance for the red crescent and was hit by rubber bullets a bit too often.

    Too often we blame religious indoctrination for things that only desperation and a lifetime of humiliation can adequately explain. The bottom line is that if the unhappy base of society wasn’t feeling an overwhelming, hopeless desperation, suicide (by any means) wouldn’t be a social problem.

  • Heather

    Just to comment on origins of statue of liberty, you ask if she is Christian. She is based on the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas. Just thought I would throw that in there. Really enjoying reading through this site.

  • Sobia

    Thanks Heather for the clarification. Much appreciated :)

    I guess what I was getting at was that she represents the West which is predominantly Christian (whether practicing or not).

  • Pingback: American Perceptions of Female Suicide Bombers « Rotten Little Girls()

  • Bleh

    …opinion, this is yet another instance of a woman’s body being used as a fighting ground. Her body is not her own, but rather belongs to the agendas of the men who wish to ’say something.’ Using her body was more convenient…

    Its a fucking cartoon strip.

    Seriously point?