Simi Valley, Calif.
In Naomi Klein’s brilliant analysis of the Iraqi elections in her February 28 “Lookout” column, she writes, “If it weren’t for the invasion, Iraqis would not even have the freedom to vote…and then to have that vote completely ignored.” Bush did promise to export American-style “democracy” to Iraq, didn’t he? The “freedom” to have one’s vote ignored is fast becoming a hot trend in America.
I read with interest David Corn’s “Democrats & Withdrawal” [Feb. 28], highlighting the need for the Democrats to come up with an Iraq exit policy. My suggestion: Democrats should press for an Iraqi national referendum. Let the people decide if we should stay or go. If the Iraqi people want us to leave, President Bush and Congress should immediately withdraw our troops. Iraq is not a colony. We must prove to the world that Iraq is an independent nation, and we are not occupiers.
Richard Goldstein remarks in “Cartoon Wars” [Feb. 21] that “there’s a long history of bigotry in editorial cartoons.” If we go back far enough into the nineteenth century, we do find some pretty vicious racial and ethnic stereotypes in editorial cartoons. Much of that disappeared fifty years ago, but Goldstein implies that it continues apace today. Mostly it doesn’t. Goldstein is pretty clearly a visual illiterate when it comes to cartoons. He remembers that “during the 1996 campaign, Bob Dole was often drawn with a withered arm, or shown as a patient on an operating table.” The depiction of Dole on an operating table (assuming this picture ever appeared) probably had more to do with his age, which was often the subject of editoon ridicule. But I doubt any full-time editoonist ever portrayed Dole with a withered arm. I know quite a few editorial cartoonists, and none can recall seeing such a cartoon. Can Goldstein produce a copy of even one? Given that he thinks cartoons are from the realm of childhood fantasy and that giving GeeDubya a tiny nose and large ears makes him appear “infantile” rather than chimplike, I pretty strenuously question whether he can accurately decipher any cartoon.
Richard Goldstein writes that Postcards From Buster and SpongeBob inflame conservative tempers, and that right-wingers “aren’t really worried about cartoons turning kids queer. Their aim is to see that homophobia is free to operate, and…to keep children from seeing gays as part of the human community.”
Children’s media generally reinforce heterosexual, white, middle-class norms. Centrist shows and books treat those norms as apolitical and urge adults to think of the child as apolitical (“innocent”) too. So when a cartoon points out that adults and children inhabit the same volatile time and space, and supposedly believe in fairness for all, conservatives bristle. Their hypocrisies have been exposed in what seems like the simplest of forms. “Fundamentalists are convinced that pop culture is stealing the souls of their children,” Goldstein writes, but what is at stake is children’s social conscience. If adults (sentimentally or strategically) withhold information about the world, kids grow up embracing reactionary, unreflective thinking about events. Meanwhile, if adults convince themselves that children don’t share their ugly reality, they can do cheerful lip service to the Golden Rule and rationalize destructive policies.
Progressives and liberals need to think carefully about how, or whether, children’s media promote social justice. Smart cartoons influence kids’ ability to criticize and change the glaring inequities in our shared world.
NATHALIE op de BEECK
Oh, Nation. No, no, no, no, no. The crucified SpongeBob on the cover–you just shouldn’t have done it. No matter how much dishonor the Revs. Falwell and Wildmon and Father Geoghan and Archbishop Gibson and the Venerable George W. Bush have brought upon Christianity, Jesus still deserves our respect. Besides, no representation of torture should be treated as a joke. (For the record, I’m a Buddhist. And, yes, if you’d run a picture of Miss Piggy as Kuan Yin, I would have complained.)
New York City
I haven’t found any sketches of Bob Dole with a withered arm, so they may well not exist, as R.C. Harvey asserts. But cartoonist Michael Ramirez did draw Dole with sticklike, skeletal legs (under the legend “Dead Man Walking”); Sean Delonas rendered him holding a cane, with a seeing-eye dog at his side; and Matt Davies put Dole’s name over an unattended walker. The idea that images like these were a comment on Dole’s advanced age seems disingenuous, since Ronald Reagan was never shown with such morbid features. This was a mocking response to Dole’s disability–a source of much anxiety at the time–done with enough subtlety to provide the artists with deniability. The lesson here is that bigotry in cartoons has grown more indirect, at least when it comes to race. But it’s still permissible to traffic in other stereotypes, as the many images of Hillary Clinton riding a broomstick demonstrate.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Tony Judt’s “Goodbye to All That?” [Jan. 3], about modern anti-Semitism in Europe, rightly condemns the Zionist claim that “there is no distinction between the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” Jews who publicly speak out against the Israeli occupation often find themselves shunned by the Jewish community. How ironic it is that those who have vowed “never again” to allow silence in the face of atrocities have yet to raise their voices on behalf of the besieged Palestinians.
LAUREL E. FEDERBUSH
Jewish Witnesses for Peace
Tony Judt competently reiterates the obvious facts that not all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism and that the leading cause of Jew-hating in Europe today is Israel’s brutal suppression of the Palestinians. Curiously, however, he makes no attempt to explain the Europeans’ peculiar emphasis on Israeli wrongdoing. The Russians (to give one example) have committed crimes in Chechnya comparable to those of the Israelis in occupied Palestine, but they are not vilified the way Israelis are. Nobody compares modern Russia to Nazi Germany or suggests banning Russian academics from conferences.
Putting the liberation of Palestine at the top of the humanitarian agenda may make sense for a host of practical reasons. But if those reasons are not articulated, the international community runs the risk of seeming to judge the Jewish state by different standards from those it uses elsewhere.
New Haven, Conn.
Citing public opinion surveys that show low and declining hostility to Jews on both sides of the Atlantic, Tony Judt denies that anti-Semitism is worse in Europe than in the United States. But this approach overlooks the well-documented resurgence of particularly intense anti-Semitism among Europe’s rapidly growing Muslim minority. In Europe, a substantial number of synagogues and Jewish schools have been burned, and many others are under police guard. Jews are subject to insults on the street and in schools. Moreover, anti-Semitic propaganda of the most violent kind is disseminated in Muslim religious institutions and by Arabic-language media. These developments have no parallel in the United States.
Judt further argues that Israel is responsible for the upsurge in anti-Semitism in Europe, on the grounds that European Muslims’ anger at Israeli policies explains the recent rise in expressions of anti-Semitism. But this is not an explanation. Many people around the world dislike particular foreign governments, but they do not invariably react with hatred and violence against ethnically similar people in their own country. Following Judt’s reasoning, we should expect to see an outbreak of anti-Arab hate propaganda and violence among African-Americans as they learn of the horrific atrocities being committed by the Arab government of Sudan against the black population of Darfur. Yet this is not happening. In other words, Judt ignores the elements of mobilization and institutionalization that have made possible a discourse of anti-Semitism among many European Muslims. Anti-Semitism on this scale does not simply come into being automatically. It has to be nurtured by particular institutions.
Finally, Judt overlooks the problems of social exclusion and unemployment among European Muslim communities. Given European Muslims’ well-known frustrations with their lives in Europe, it seems reasonable to ask, as Judt does not, whether Jews are being turned into scapegoats by unscrupulous people within the Muslim community. If so, the fault does not lie with Israel. Israel is not responsible for failures of social policy in Europe.
New York City
Alvin Orloff is right: There are indeed some in Europe who have seized the opportunity to criticize Israel with selective alacrity. But his conflation of the widespread condemnation of Israeli brutalities with a tiny minority of zealots who seek to ban Israeli scholars is mischievously misleading–the overwhelming majority of Israel’s European critics propose no such thing. And many of them are engaged in international organizations that are at least as active in publicizing other instances of rights abuse.
If Israel is a particular object of international attention, this is in part because its representatives insistently remind us that their country is the only democracy in the Middle East. This rather complacent self-image invites close attention to Israeli practices. Yes, Russia has done terrible things in Chechnya and there may be worse to come. Yes, the Sudanese government is committing genocidal atrocities in Darfur. But Sudan is not a democracy and nor, regrettably, is Russia. Democracies don’t break international law. Democracies don’t build walls across other people’s land. Democracies don’t use helicopter gunships to blow up residential districts. Democracies don’t impose collective punishments on families. And so on. If Israel insists that it is a fully paid-up member of the international club of advanced liberal democracies, it can hardly complain when it is held to more demanding standards of behavior than Sudan.
Matthew Light is correct to remind us of the growing anti-Semitism in Europe’s Muslim communities. And yes, there has been mobilization and exploitation of this sentiment in the Arab media. But whatever the very real failures of European social policy with regard to ethnic minorities, if Light really thinks that Arab and Muslim anger has nothing to do with Israeli policies and practices in the occupied territories, then I can only conclude that he inhabits a parallel universe: one in which a self-described Jewish state, whose leaders obsessively repeat their claim to speak and act for “all the Jews,” can do as it wishes without bearing any responsibility for the way people think about…Jews. The insouciant ease with which people like Light relieve Israel of any and all responsibility for the consequences of its actions only serves to confirm Laurel Federbush’s depressing and timely remarks.