Vol 40 No 4
Martin Wilson MSC
GSELL CENTENARY. MISSIOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
Pat Mullins SJ
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
Peter Hearn MSC
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
John Wilcken SJ
THE ALICE SPRINGS ADDRESS AND THE CONCEPT OF NATION
THE ADDRESS OF POPE BENEDICT ON FAITH AND REASON
DEMONISING AUSTRALIA'S CHRISTIAN AND MUSLIM ARABS IN CARTOONS
WHAT'S IN A NAME? PART II: 'ORDAINED' AND 'LAY APOSTOLATE'
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS FROM AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
Australia's Christian and Muslim Arabs in Cartoons
AUSTRALIAN AND other Western ignorance about the Arab worldits
people, religion, culture and literaturehas mutated into many stereotypical
forms: jokes, cartoons, TV commercials, serials, songs and films.
Cartoons are particularly a unique species. They require different criteria
of assessment and approach. Unlike editors and news analysts, cartoonists
may not feel obliged to present all sides of the story. Rather they make
a blunt assault on the characteristics of their subjects, and pride themselves
on being selective in their presentation.
Clearly cartoons are created for a quick fix of entertainment. They present
information and transmit unambiguous messages. They have also played a
significant role in the defining of racial stereotypes.
The long-term effects of racist cartoons are enormous. My intuition compels
me to believe that the damage caused to Australias Arab imageChristian
and Muslimis arguably beyond repair. Other minorities such as Aboriginals,
Asians, Greeks and Italians have been the cartoonists delight since
WWI, but with a difference. The pitch of imagery targeting Muslims finds
no match. Its persistence has exceeded thirty yearsthe longest of
what any other minority has endured. The extent of psychological maim
may warrant a nationally funded survey. Admittedly, the so-called Arab
(Christian and Muslim) community leaders have made bad lawyers in presenting
Following the Six-Day War Australian cartoonists adopted a different standard
of assessment from those of ordinary journalists. To them an objective
political caricature has been considered a contradiction in terms. For
a Muslim caricature to help sell more editions, the political or social
comment must be graphic, blunt and succinct. It should also lead to a
distortion of selected behavior or morals.
Cartoonists in the Australian/Western press tend to pride themselves on
their independence, and so they consider protests from their victims as
attacks on their own integrity. On several occasions they recognised that
their success depends on their ability to reflect the prejudices and preferences
of their readership. On most other occasions they seem to reflect those
of their employers.
When the recent racial vilification laws were introduced most Australian
cartoonists defended demonizing Muslims in cartoons as satire. A cartoonist
of a regional paper rejected the accusation that he was a propagandist
promoting a particular editorial posture. However, he recognized that
Muslim caricatures were often more effective in influencing community
attitudes than news and current affairs programs
A 20th century Punch-like caricature of a bog Irishman or long-nosed Jew,
or Norman Lindsays grotesque Huns or Chinamen now seem repugnant.
Not so the caricatures of Australias Christian and Muslim Arabs.
Clearly the cartoons are now infrequent, but are highly pitched when they
surface. Early in the nineties a sign placed in the foyer of a Melbourne
theatre, where Barry Humphries An Evenings Intercourse was
being staged, offered an unequivocal directive: Arabs, use the dunnies
[toilets] please. Barry, despite undergoing wholesome education,
lapsed in projecting a golden heart on this occasion. He triumphantly
offered a full range of tired clichés concerning power-mad dictators
and Middle Eastern squalor in his film Les Patterson Saves The World.
The human side and grievances of ordinary citizens deprived of basic human
rights remained untouched. Other ethnic groups (notably, of course, Jews)
have protested admirably and steadfastly against such vilifications, aided
by changes in community attitudes.
Why is such stereotyping still considered acceptable when it is applied
to Arabs and Muslims? Part of the answer may lie in the inability of Australias
small Arab Christian and Muslim population to counter such propaganda.
Occasional complaints made to the Australian Press Council or the Human
Rights Commission appear to be brushed off. As a group, Arabs are an economically-deprived
group within Australia. Arriving relatively recently, many of them (34%)
are without a jobthe highest among 144 ethnic groups. Arab and Muslim
communities have an apparently limited understanding of the workings of
Australian media and politics. And by extension, it seems, they are still
novices in the art of public relations. One day I called a Muslim editor
of a leading paper in Sydney suggesting ways to repair the damage inflicted
by cartoonists. His immediate response was Why should we? We know
The lecherous Arab has long been a pervasive stock figure in Western popular
culture. This preoccupation with sexuality reflects images of the harem,
the polygamist, the white slaver and the like. Even the old standby the
Gypo selling dirty postcards still seems to be potent enough
to titillate cartoonists. Trading on these images a leading book publisher
in Melbourne now sells postcards projecting Muslim obsession with sex
for forty-five cents.
Another potent cartoon shows a Muslim-Arab oil sheikh holding the West
to ransom. The image is rooted in mistrust of those oil sheikhs held responsible
for threatening others lifestyles by controlling oil flow. (This
scenario, of course, ignores the fact that only 10% of the worlds
Arab population lives in the major oil producing states). Pre-WWII German
and French cartoonists caused similar damage on Jewish bankers and, by
implication, the rest of their community.
Thirdly, the myth propagated by the Western media is that all Arabs are
Moslems and all Moslems are Arabs was equally damaging. Thus, Indonesians
and Malaysians are not generally portrayed in cartoons bearing the appurtenances
of Islam. This despite the reality that they are among those oil producers
who held the West to ransom, and at times pose a vague threat
The well-being of some twenty-five million Christian Arabs minority worldwide
who are minority groups (namely Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Iraqi,
Jordanian and Syrian), is conveniently ignored. Presumably because all
organised Christian-Arab activity is non-political and non-violent, the
community hardly ever hits western headlines. Said an independent journalist:
Islamists are equated with terrorists whose stories sell more copy
than people who congregate for Bible study.
There is little evidence that a direct hostility to Islam is part of the
ideology of the secular Australia. This has little bearing on the prejudices
that have survived from European history. They reveal a destiny to which
an ordinary Muslim is chainedone that fixes him, and also students
at school, to a series of set reactions. Several books in Australian school
libraries were found to show that the ordinary Muslim does not escape
the fanaticism image of Ayatolla Khomeini in several school
textbooks. One of these is The Book of the Year (Allan & Unwin, 1981).
These books depict dozens of cartoons. They show various caricatures depicting
greedy exploiters, terrorists and arrogant nationalistsall subject
to the irrationalities of religious belief. The book has never been banned
from school libraries.
These cartoon stereotypes may eventually disappear if the media changes
its approach to the situation. The media needs to report the very real
pain experienced by Christian and Muslim Arabs in Australia, and their
brothers and sisters who suffer daily due to the absence of human rights
in the Middle East.
And whilst any cartoonist, Australian and others, must perforce deal in
stereotypes, there are stereotypes which are outdated, insensitive and
threaten community harmony. It is reasonable to suggest an end for satirists
pens in drawing these old images, and to withdraw such books from Australian
Demonizing the cartoonists prejudices is always a better option.
Abe Ata is a Christian Palestinian born in Bethlehem.
He is a senior fellow and associate professor at the Institute for Advanced
Research, Australian Catholic University, and was a temporary delegate to
the UN in 1970.
Oppression is the negative outcome experienced by people targeted by the
cruel exercise of power in a society or social group. The term itself derives
from the idea of being weighted down.
) Oppression is most commonly felt and expressed by a widespread,
if unconscious, assumption that a certain group of people are inferior.
Oppression is rarely limited solely to government action. (Cf. Oppression