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Re: <nettime> cartoons? come on.
coco fusco on Sun, 19 Feb 2006 21:51:14 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> cartoons? come on.

I've been perusing the barrage of commentary on this issue for several days,
surprised at the amount of outburts in has generated on this list. But then it
continues to be a characteristic of this list that the sacred cow is freedom of
expression, over and above everything else - leading to all sorts of imbalances
and erasures both within the discussion and in its relationship to the rest of the
world. While I acknowedlge that there are Islamic governments and religious
leaders who call for protests, I am really stunned that Cramer characterizes all
angered Muslims as manipulated by their leaders and maintains such an absolutist
stance about the supremacy of his concept of free speech. Don't get me wrong - my
family hails from pseudo-socialist Cuba, where I have spent a good deal of time,
and know full well what it is like to be coerced into attending rallies. I also
live in the US, where very esteemed journalists have been summarily fired for
criticizing the Bush White House during wartime, where images of body bags with US
soldiers are banned from television, and where news about the war is virtually
censored without organized dissent. 
 Critical race theorists in the US have tackled this question for years - what do
you do with hate speech, with expressions that are designed to inflict harm, whose
effects can be documented and are lasting? Had there not been some calls in the US
once upon a time to control rampant racists stereotyping of blacks, we would still
have obese black mammies on pancake boxes, blackfaced darkies on toothpaste,
watermelon eating pickannies all over TV and so on. Whites were not stoping their
racist tirades in the media of their own free will or awareness of the damaging
 We don't need an Iman or a fatwah here nowadays- even good liberals have
internalized fear of dissent and fear of Arabs. i recently tried to hire a
commercial illustrator for a project about sexual humiliation of Muslim detainees
and found that everyone solicited was afraid of tampering with the subject matter.
I had to hire a foreigner who lives outside the country. A colleague of mine who
does activist work about media representation of Muslims in the US post 9/11
recently noted that even good liberals who attend his lectures are far more
sympathetic toward the adolescent Muslim girl who was deported than they are
toward the hundred of men who remain detained here. Teenage girls in veils are ok,
but swarthy Arab guys are not. My local supermarkets have signs warning employees
that they can't speak their native languages (Arabic and Spanish) in front of
customers who can't understand them - talk about linguistic fascism!!!
 But Cramer dismisses all concern for context as cultural relativism, and that
leads to gross generalizations that do not permit any attention to the actual
situation of warfare that we are in, or the gross inequities in power and access
to media that characterize the situation of muslims in Europe, etc. 
 Liberal regimes are also manipulating public opinion, silencing dissent and using
free speech as a way to create an impression of themselves as embattled by their
minorities, hence justifying more control and repression of immigrants in Germany,
France, Denmark and elsewhere. And all those championing the cartoons take the
bait on this - why not give racist and xenophobic representations of Arabs,
foreigners and immrigrants in European media equal airtime here? Why not analyze
the weird representations of immigrants by the European left? 
 Even the US's free speech mandate has some limits, like you can't scream fire in
a crowded theatre without getting in trouble. 
 And even Germany has some images that no one can play with without getting in
trouble, - swastikas being number one. 
 Finally, Cramer will probably never agree on this, but one thing I can say after
spending time in countries where governments are more openly repressive and
religions carry more weight is that some people there and elsewhere just get
offended - really offended - by having American and European insist that their
view of freedom and democracy is the right one and the only one and universal.
It's not that they don't believe in freedom, it's that they don't appreciate
having your version of it shoved in their face. That attitude generates a lot of
hostility from those who might otherwise share values with Europeans. Even secular
muslims I have spoken to find the imposition of American protocols of democracy in
the Middle East to be a form of imperialism.
 Coco Fusco

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