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Cartoon turns human beings into ‘others’

To the editor:

What are we to make of the cartoon published in the Gazette Oct. 26 depicting two Arab men talking about murdering “... a child or two.” Where would one begin to explain how racist and inflammatory this is? Why did the Gazette put such a hateful idea onto the editorial page?

The editor told me I am misinterpreting the message. It isn’t a statement about Arabs generally, he said, it is about the Taliban, and their targeting of school girls.

Indeed one character is labeled “Taliban Morals Police.” He is concerned about drinking, watching TV, eating pork and flying kites, but would allow, it seems, murdering a child or two “if it feels good.”

But the man depicted in the cartoon who is thinking of murdering a child or two appears to me to be an Arab on the street — and he doesn’t say let’s murder girls on their way to school.

For most of us in the U.S., the Middle East is a complicated, unknowable mess of people and history. Historians, the media and others in the public square have, over many years, created a powerful and overwhelmingly negative stereotype of Arabs and Middle Easterners.

We see them in video games, movies and news stories. They are violent, stupid, unreliable and ... fill in the blanks. Most of all they are “others,” a term that enables us to feel and think they are not like us and that we surely are not like them.

The narrative that makes groups of people or whole cultures into “others” is dangerous and dehumanizing. Once a stereotype of the “other” takes hold, it doesn’t matter if people are Taliban, or Muslim Brothers, or mujahadin, or just plain Arabs on the street. They are evil and they are violent. They threaten us, our children and our way of life.

The Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange had an exhibit at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in 2006. A woman was slowly coming along that long corridor, looking at the photographs of young Iraqi children and their art work hung on both sides. “It’s sad,” she said when she got to me. “Oh,” I asked? “Yes,” she said, “all these future terrorists.”

We are caught in a dangerous and destructive cultural and political struggle. In light of this, why put such a provocative “cartoon” in the paper?

Claudia Lefko

Northampton

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