Muslims And Militants
There is a lot of chatter today about the New Yorker cover, which is pleasing, I'm sure, to both the magazine and the right wingers. My feeling is that it isn't particularly creative satire and doesn't really ring true or make anyone think, which is the hallmark of great satire. It's especially disappointing since the New Yorker has the best cartoons in the world and could have done something so much better.
Having said that, I think it does bring up one of the subtexts of this campaign that nobody's talked much about yet, even in this brouhaha. In the cartoon you see the "muslim" Obama and the "black militant" Michelle fist bumping. What's the relationship there? Why would they be married to one another?
I've been wondering since 9/11 when the right would get around to conflating the Muslim terrorists with "black Muslims" and I think it may have finally happened in the couple of Barack and Michelle Obama. It would seem odd that the right wingers would smear him as being muslim. He's black, not arab, and it doesn't fit the stereotype. But it does fit the stereotype of the Farrakhan type of militant black muslims and that's what they're getting at with this. The image of the dangerous black radical is the purpose of the muslim smear, not the terrorist association. It's good old, All American racism.
Here's a transcript from a show this weekend on CNN in which one of their producers is traveling across the country asking people about the election:
HADAD: Next stop, Nashville, to talk American politics with fans of America's pastime.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cold beer on the house.
HADAD: The crowd is fun, politically engaged and about split between Obama, McCain and undecided. But I meet two people that rattle me a bit.
You've been a Democrat your entire voting life. And now, you're going to vote Republican. What is it that's making this huge switch for you after how many years of voting?
JANICE WOLFF, BASEBALL FAN: Well, I don't like the candidate. I think he's a Muslim.
HADAD: For the record, Obama is a Christian. She told me to talk to her friend, Tony, who was very into politics.
TONY SLAYDEN, BASEBALL FAN: Honestly I'm an old southern boy. And I just don't know if I can see a black man making a change. The only black man I've ever seen with change is with a cup in his hand.*
HADAD: Whoa! Did he just say that?
SLAYDEN: The only black man I've ever seen with change is with a cup in his hand.
HADAD: Well, it's a big country.
See how seamless all that is? They're good friends. The women is more "genteel" and uses the more accepted "m" word. Her pal there doesn't try to hide behind the terrorist threat and just admits outright that he's an old fashioned racist. Muslim, militant, black man, cup in his hand, etc. "Muslim" is just a polite word for you know what.
Michele the militant is even more freighted with meaning. A lot of these people seem to think it's perfectly obvious to anyone that all black women are angry and violent:
From John Amato, here's Cal Thomas:
Hall: If they can’t prove he’s a Muslim, then let’s prove his wife is an angry black woman. I think it’s going to get ugly.
Thomas: And who are the black women you see on the local news at night in cities all over the country. They’re usually angry about something. They’ve had a son who has been shot in a drive-by shooting. They are angry at Bush. So you don’t really have a profile of non-angry black women.
This whisper campaign is just a message to racists that they can safely use the muslim/militant tag to explain why they can't vote for a black man. The New Yorker cover snidely laughs at these silly rubes who believe such silly things, but it misses the point entirely. Those rubes know exactly what they are doing. I'm afraid the joke's on us.
For a professional, point by point analysis of the cartoon, click on the ad to the left for BagNews notes. (Or here.)
*The CNN transcriber mangled it. I have it Tivo'd and it's definitely "cup in his hand."
Update: As predicted, I'm watching Matthews and the right winger Michele Bernard is calling this an example of "liberal racism" while liberal "elitist" John Heilman is defending it on television and saying that "thinking people" get the joke.
The other panelist is saying this speaks to Obama's need to explain to average Americans who don't have his"exotic" background, who he really is. Oy.
Update II: From CNN this afternoon:
COSTELLO (voice-over): Offensive or clever? Take a look at "The New Yorker" cover. There are the Obamas in the Oval Office. He's in a turban. She's in full black militant mode, AK-47, ammo, afro. An American flag is burning behind them right below Osama bin Laden's portrait. Oh, the Obamas are doing the dap.
"The New Yorker" says it is a satire not about the Obamas, but about all the outrageous rumors swirling around them, the politics of fear.
But Obama and even his opponent are not amused.
MCCAIN: Frankly, I understand if Senator Obama and his supporters would find it offensive.
COSTELLO: Some of Obama's supporters are even calling for a boycott of "The New Yorker."
BERNARD PARKS SR., LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Millions of people will see this in an atmosphere of the airport, on newsstands. They will never read the article. And this is what is what is so harmful about having this in this depiction.
COSTELLO: And maybe he's right. When we showed people "The New Yorker" cover, they just didn't get it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He reminds me of Islam, and she reminds me of a terrorist killer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, it's not a scary issue. But, you know, backgrounds are what they are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it isn't funny, because I see a flag burning in the fireplace and a picture of -- on the wall. I'm not sure who that is.