After Paris, the Backlash?

Cartoonists and others worry the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ attacks will lead to yet more hatred.

(Photo: Khalid Albaih/Twitter)

Jan 8, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Like many outraged artists armed with an Internet connection, cartoonist Khalid Albaih immediately took to Twitter to try to make sense of the fatal shooting of 12 people at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris on Wednesday. Albaih is plenty familiar with the magazine’s satiric political cartoons mocking religious leaders such as the Islamic prophet Muhammad, which he says were “shocking” to many Muslims, himself included.

Like other cartoonists in the wake of the murders, Albaih expressed deep concern over what the attack’s ramifications might be for freedom of the press, and over the possibility of pressure developing on cartoonists, journalists, and satirists to self-censor out of fear.

He’s also worried that the attackers, who were reportedly heard speaking Arabic, will provoke Islamophobia at a time when “the world is already in turmoil,” he said, mentioning the anti-Islam protests that have been occurring in Germany in response to growing immigration by Middle Easterners.

“People need to understand what’s going on,” he said from his native Doha, Qatar. “Not just pointing fingers and saying ‘Islam is a violent religion.’ It’s a religion. You take it where you want to take it, just like any other religion.”

Cartoonists around the world have banded together in the wake of the violence. Lalo Alcaraz, an L.A.-based Chicano cartoonist whose work addresses topics such as Latino immigration, responded to the attacks by scrawling a pen-and-ink cartoon on a Southwest flight to Houston Wednesday afternoon. It depicts a masked gunman being attacked by pens and pencils. Alcaraz pointed out that the masked figure running away is “not in any way denoted to be a Muslim.” Instead, “it’s terror, it’s hate.”

The cartoon contains no words, but the message is loud and clear, he said: “Everybody has to get together and show that [attackers] can’t stop everybody. They can’t shut everybody up.” (He may not have known at the time that thousands of Parisians were on the streets holding up a pen.) Alcaraz said he prefers the international “no words” style because it translates to more audiences. “I want people in France to see my cartoons and get it right away,” he said. “No Google translator.” The sketch has been retweeted thousands of times. (Albaih also posted his latest cartoon on Twitter.)

“Cartoons are a powerful medium,” journalist and cartoonist Susie Cagle wrote in an email from Oakland, California. “They transcend the filter of language and are immediately impactful.” The artist has received death threats for her political cartoons, which comment on gentrification, capitalism, diversity, and more.

“Cartoonists around the world face violence and persecution at the hands of extremists and governments, but they have few champions, even among the self-described free press and speech advocates,” she wrote.

Albaih posted his lastest cartoon to Twitter Wednesday afternoon, with the caption “I’m just a Muslim...” The black-and-white image depicts two men pointing fingers at a man in the middle. “You’re with the infidels!” one says. “You’re with the terrorists!” says the other. “I’m just a Muslim,” says the man being accused.

Albaih rose to prominence when his images became one representation of the Arab Spring. Protesters in Cairo saw his political cartoons on his Facebook page, Khartoon!, and adopted them as a symbol of their own antigovernment cause.
He’s learned firsthand that comics hold considerable political weight, and he’s hoping to use his for good. “We’re trying to connect the world; we’re not trying to push them further apart,” he said.