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Fear mongering in the name of satire

By       Message Abdus Sattar Ghazali     Permalink
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"The cover of The New Yorker depicts the Obama's for who and what they really are! Now, I know this is going to make the Obamaniacs mad...but it is the truth, and as we all know..... "

This comment on NBC's article titled, Inside this week's New Yorker, perhaps best reflects the impact and controversy caused by the New Yorker cover about Senator Barak Obama and his wife Michelle.

The image, drawn by artist Barry Blitt, shows presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Barak Obama, wearing traditional Muslim dress, while his wife, Michelle, is dressed in combat trousers and carrying a machine-gun. The couple are shown standing in the Oval Office, greeting one another with a "fist bump", with an American flag burning in the fireplace, and a portrait of Osama Bin Laden on the wall.

As the French say a picture speaks a thousand words and so this one needs no explanation for those who have only heard and believe that Obama is a "secret"- Muslim. However, the New Yorker editor, David Remnick, insists that the cover cartoon is a satire. Defending the cartoon he said "It's a lot like the spirit of what Stephen Colbert does "" by exaggerating and mock some thing, he shows its absurdity, and that is what satire is all about."-

Tellingly Comedian Stephen Colbert, in a telephone interview, told the New York Times, that a running joke on his show has been that Mr. Obama is a "secret Muslim"-; the New Yorker cover, he said, was consistent with that.

To borrow Don Hazen, the executive editor of AlterNet, unfortunately the impact of this image will extend far beyond the reading audience of the New Yorker; cable news and the right-wing media noise machine will amplify the derogatory image to millions more. "The cover turns the magazine into a potential Molotov cocktail, to be gleefully tossed by Fox News and the conservative blogs, into the already combustible tinderbox of race and Muslim stereotypes just below the surface of America's public discourse."-

Fulfilling Hazen's prophecy, FOX and Friends featured the cover near the top of their first hour on the Monday morning show (7/14/08). Throughout the segment the lower third proclaimed "Obama camp slams Muslim portrayal," although Obama spokesman Bill Burton only said: "The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

A reader's comment on Hazen's article further amplified his argument: The artist of the cover put into a visual image everything that Fox has been trying to get us to believe. Fox did bring up the hand jab that you see in the cover long before the cover was created. Fox did show photos of Obama in a Muslim out fit and many of us has seen the photo before the cover was created. Fox did bring up Mrs. Obama's patriotism via her comment about being proud of America long before the cover's portrayal of her as a terrorist. Fox questioned Mr Obama's patriotism long before the flag burning in the fireplace as shown in the cover.

Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle told Politico about the New Yorker cartoon: "I think, as a piece of satire, it utterly fails." Anderson believed that the cover might have been more effective if it had included the title of the cartoon, "The Politics of Fear," on the front of the magazine.

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It will not be too much to say that depicting Barack Obama and Michelle Obama as militants and terrorist sympathizers "feeds into the terrible rise in anti-Muslim sentiment" during this election season. The problem with this kind of so-called "spoof" -- which taps into deep and far-reaching racist imagery -- is that a lot of people just won't get the joke. Or won't want to, and will use it deliberately for their own Islamophobic purposes. Playing into the worst fear of voters with the image is not thought-provoking, it's just hate-provoking or fear-provoking.

The Washington Post argues that the main problem with the New Yorker cover -- if it's a problem at all -- is that its humor is intended for a relatively insular, like-minded readership: subscribers to the New Yorker, a presumably urbane audience with strong Obama tendencies. No matter what the New Yorker says about holding up a mirror to prejudice, the cartoon certainly didn't do that. " .We live in a society so fractured and full of secretly nursed grudges and privately held prejudices, that there's no hope of unmasking ugly beliefs through humor.

Senator Obama himself described it as an unsuccessful attempt at satire that would likely fuel misconceptions he has long battled over the course of his presidential campaign. He told CNN "I've seen and heard worse. I do think that in attempting to satirize something, they probably fueled some misconceptions about me instead. But that was their editorial judgment."

What is the hidden agenda behind the so-called satire? I believe that the online newspapers and blogs readers' comments best expose this design. As unfortunate this cover is, it is protected by our constitutional right. And being cloaked under the thin veil of "satire" it's not covered by "Slander or Libel" litigation.

The Cover of the New Yorker depicts exactly what's lacking in American journalism today. Honesty and integrity.

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- And the New Yorker of course will reap enormous publicity, clearly translating to increased sales and notoriety for the brand, and for corporate owner Conde Nast -- one of the largest and most powerful media companies in America.

My IQ has dropped dramatically as I've grown older but are you suggesting that Obama is a Muslim and his wife a terrorist?

The brain deads that aren't sure about Obama ("What do we really know about him?") and don't have the requisite IQ for the magazine will take the cover as further evidence that Obama is not to be trusted, and "may be" a Muslim.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)

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