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Rape Cartoons are a Riot, Aren’t They?


Nairobi, Kenya.

AIDS jokes are funny if you’ve never loved someone who died of AIDS. If you live in a bubble that allows you not to know that millions of Africans died, thousands of gay men died, of criminal state indifference and denialism. Because they were, after all, only blacks and queers. Comedy material, not lives worth grieving.

Ebola cartoons are funny. Unless your partner is a public health doctor, forced to choose every day between treating patients without protective clothing or abandoning them to save her own life.

Cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed naked, on all fours, anus presented as target, are anti-clerical snigger fodder. Unless you and half the men and boys and boy children and baby boys you know and love are named Mohammed.

Unless you and your brothers, cousins, fathers, sons, friends are at daily risk of random causeless stop-and-frisks, patdown-gropes, strip-searches, cavity-searches inside Enlightened Fortress Europe. Because they can.
Unless your grandfather Mohammed was raped and castrated by the French in their concentration camps in Algeria.

Unless your mother survives daily harassment and threats of violence by Front National thugs in her banlieue by invoking the mercy of the Prophet on the ignorant.

Unless all the naked bodies in the Abu Ghraib torture photos look like you. Naked prone men, trailing blood, dragged on leashes by grinning US soldiers. Naked men piled in flesh sculptures by thumbs-up flashing, beaming young GIs. Naked brown Mohammed buttocks branded with cigarette burns like pointillist skin canvases. Mohammeds hooded and wired, bleeding from mouth and ears and anus, as their torturers laugh and strike poses. Naked violated men who look like you, like your brother, like your father, like the man your sweet baby boy will grow up to be.

Unless you and your friends pass around testimonies like dirty stories from survivors of CIA anal rape, also known as rectal rehydration. Survivors of Guantanamo oral rape, also known as force-feeding. Because you need to testify before they happen to you. This is survival lore.

Unless your little sister came home sobbing last week and screamed she would never go back to school, the school your parents dreamed for her before she was born. It took hours of coaxing and comforting to elicit why. The bully who makes her schooldays hell found a delicious new cruelty, one that follows her beyond school like an electronic ankle tag. He put that cartoon up on the classroom whiteboard, and the teacher left it there all day as a lesson in free speech.

Shailja Patel is a poet from Nairobi, Kenya. She is the author of ‘Migritude‘. See

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