Thursday, March 25, 2010
While the name Jihad Jane may sound like some warped Hannah Barbara cartoon character, she’s quite real and has been accused of plotting to murder an actual cartoonist, Swedish artist Lars Vilks.
You may recall his name from 2007 when he produced a drawing of Muhammad with a dog’s body. His case also follows the same controversial pattern that erupted back in 2005, when a Danish newspaper printed 12 cartoons of Muhammad. One in particular garnered a firestorm in which the Prophet is wrapped in a bomb-shaped turban. That sketch was the match which actually ignited the burning of Western embassies in a number of Muslim countries.
But the latent combustion was never quite doused out, as the heat from blond bomber, Jihad Jane (Colleen LaRose) who was arrested last year and lived outside Philly, PA now seems to have caught onto a second all-American looking femme fatale - Jamie Paulin-Ramirez from Colorado.
Ramirez was one of seven suspects arrested in Ireland just this month.
Neither quite fit the stereotypical bill, looking more like they fell out of a Dick & Jane story, than an Al Jezeera newsreel. According to her mom, Ramirez was a straight-A nursing student before abruptly hightailing it off on an assassination outing and ditching the Rockies.
Just as these same cartoonists alter depictions of Muhammad, is there not irony in the fact that Jihad Jane and her cohort shatter our image of what a terrorist looks like? Depending on who is doing the viewing both of these alterations are a shock to the familiar senses.
But as the ladies were out for blood, according to an Associated Press interview, Vilks was not interested in offending Muslims with his art, but aimed to show he could make provocative art about any topic he wanted, “There is nothing so holy you can’t offend it,” he claimed.
Commenting on their apple pie looks, a US Justice Department official said the case “shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance.”
Unhappy and discontent with their looks and adding more distortion to the story, the blond gals went in for a makeover, donning Islamic garb including headscarves and a hijab.
Undeniably, appearances can deceive and in both cases, it’s what’s underneath that counts. Their motive reveals their mask.
In 1930’s Nazi Germany, the newspaper, Der Sturmer (The Attacker) depicted Jews as sub-human with cartoons and caricatures. The intent was to create a fear and loathing of Jews. Some may wonder, where does the expressive artist’s line end and the creepy one begin?
After all, both utilize aesthetic techniques to illustrate a point. But one has to penetrate the page to get at the culprit. It becomes less about the art and more about the artisan. Just as advertising can show beautiful imagery, is it art or is it commerce?
"Propaganda tries to force a doctrine on the whole people... Propaganda works on the general public from the standpoint of an idea and makes them ripe for the victory of this idea." Adolf Hitler wrote these words in his book Mein Kampf (1926), in which he first advocated the use of propaganda to spread the ideals of National Socialism
Currently, those words are on display at the US Holocaust Museum where they are showing Nazi propaganda to shed light on this subject. And in our own blurred world of “reality tv” it comes at the perfect time as we can’t always tell what’s a real threat and what’s not.
For example, is depicting Jews as mice in Nazi Germany offensive? In 1992 Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize for his graphic novel, “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale which recounted his father’s ordeal as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust.
Or what about R. Crumb (he’s not Jewish) who last year came out with “The Book of Genesis” published as a graphic novel. In the NY Times review in reference to Crumb’s G-d, it stated, “He is a profoundly — almost grotesquely — human-looking deity, very much the sort of being in whose image vulgar humankind could realistically come forth.”
I am not reading about any death threats aimed at him. Perhaps it’s because Jews have a sense of humor and are used to it? From Philip Roth to Mel Brooks, Jews have taken it on the chin and laughed about it louder than anyone else.
Or maybe it’s because we just understand and can see through the page and we get that their intent is not ugly – though unfortunately, some people’s reactions are.