This Steve Bell cartoon appeared on the Guardian a few days ago and it’s completely perplexed me. I don’t get what it’s saying.
For me, it’s one of two things…either that we should fear the onset of an ‘Islamic republic’ here in Britain whilst ‘our’ troops are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, or that we should fear the jingoism of the Government and certain tabloid newspapers following the death of the first British service woman. If it’s the first, then the message is a particularly dangerous one; if it’s the second, then the satire is deeply embedded.
Sadly, I’m tending to lean to the former explanation given the cartoon’s context. In many Muslim areas around the country, the ‘local’ is being force out of business; KFC is where six Muslims died during riots in Karachi whilst another KFC was firebombed during riots against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad; and as for Northern Rock, earlier this year Hizb ut-Tahrir published an article about the failings of the capitalist economic system citing the Northern Rock debacle as evidence as did another Muslim blogger on what is titled, The Zakat Pages. Look more closely at the cartoon and you’ll also see the white convert marching in line with the other ‘fundamentalists’, ‘extremists’, ‘radicals’, ‘Islamists’ or whatever else the Government and other commentators are calling certain Muslims nowadays: a suggestion that ‘you can’t trust any of them’. And of course, there’s the various different colloured burkhas covering the women watching from the sides. Scary stuff…??? On a number of levels, definitely…
Given that I wasn’t entirely sure of what message was being conveyed by the cartoon, I distributed it to various colleagues and asked them what they thought the cartoon was saying. Here are their replies:
“If taken at face value, we have to stop fundamentalist Islam from taking hold here because look what will happen”
“It’s an ironic twist on the tabloid hysteria following the death of the female soldier”
“It’s an indictment on today’s Britain…but Steve Bell normally has a satirical edge”
“It’s a satire on Gordon Brown’s reasons for sending troops to Afghanistan”
“I don’t get it – what’s it supposed to mean?”
“It’s challenging perceptions of who supports the troops remaining in Iraq and being increased in Afghanistan and who will benefit because of this”
“It’s challenging the concept of ‘terrorists’, ‘freedom fighters’ etc and what we think about being encouraged to ‘Support our Troops’ from different perspectives”
“Simple, it’s just saying that you can march on the streets and in public, but you can’t drink in public places any more”
“It’s a comment on way we live in a hypocritical society: that binge drinking bad for your health but you can continue to fill your face with KFC; that overeating and binge drinking is still happening despite the downturn in economy; and that you can’t trust anyone or anything, not even institutions that are trusted like Northern Rock?”
“It could just be a satirical observation that this will never happen”
“It’s not just the ‘normal’ Muslims – it’s the converts also that we should be fearful of”
“The end result of Islam in Britain? Fundamentalists and oppressed women”
“The Government is creating a fear of Muslims just so that the public supports the war – to gloss over the fact that the reality of the war is that it is illegal”
“The UK is NEVER going to get Islamicised – so why are we worried ???”
“It looks like a battle cry…context means everything and with mass communication you cannot control the context that people receive, digest and interpret messages and so the cartoon is likely to be seen as a battle cry to stand up against the growing Islamic army”
I personally don’t agree with many of the interpretatations but they do seem to reinforce the final observation, that we cannot control or even guess how the receiving audience will digest and interpret the message that Steve Bell is trying to convey.
Would be happy to hear your views and what message Steve Bell is (or at least is trying) to get across to his audience…