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An American Indian’s View of the Cartoons

Reading the first news reports about the cartoons depicting Muhammid as a terrorist reminded me of the unfriendly media that printed the then Attorney Gerneral of for South Dakota, William Janklows` vigilante order, “The only way to deal with the Indian problem in South Dakota is to put a gun to the AIM leaders’ heads and pull the trigger.” Such ethnically hostile and abusive reporting by mainstream media was what helped to kill more than 60 American Indians and assault hundreds more during the federal governments reign of terror that occurred between 1973 and 1975 on the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota reservation.

The old adage that was popularized in Hollywood westerns,” White man speaks with forked tongue” had a special meaning. It denoted the deceit of European settlers who often lied to North American Indian people as they stole coveted lands and nearly decimated them as a people. The recent split tongue approach used in defending Danish racist cartoons as freedom of speech must be loudly condemned as just more attacks on the rights of Muslims to defend their lands, culture and self determination.

Most European and North American newspapers support the editor of, Jyllands-Posten, the first paper to publish the offensively racist cartoons, expressed position, “we cannot apologize for freedom of expression.”

The word “but” is a favorite transition of hypocrites who would have us believe on one hand that freedom of speech is a democratic principle to be defended at all cost, while on the other hand are quick to condemn when it attacks and incites hatred toward them and those they wish to protect.

Many “Democratic” European countries have laws against anti-Semitism, which are exclusive; they do not protect other cultures from racial attacks. You can insult the prophet of Islam with offensive cartoon messages that deface his image, to create an atmosphere of hatred for Muslims, but dare not tread on the special rights and protections they have formed laws around to protect anti-Semitism.

For years Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian Muslim, had exercised his right to free speech at his Finsbury Park mosque in London. The British authorities attempted to revoke his citizenship and for years never brought criminal charges against him. With the new atmosphere created around the global war on terrorism (GWT) an English tribunal recently convicted and sentenced Hamza to seven years in prison for allegedly “directly and deliberately stirring up hatred against Jewish people and encouraging murder of those he referred to as non-believers.” Certainly the same could be said of the cartoonist.

Despite the fact that more then 10 people have died as a result of the Danish cartoons there has been no criminal charge laid against the offending papers nor the Danish cartoonist. Some countries say that they are looking for ways to prosecute.The cartoons, which many Danish and Scandinavian newspaper editors defended in the name “radical Islam” predictably, resulted in stirring the anger of the Muslim world, rightly so. In defense, they have taken to the streets in unified protests that will, I hope, send shock waves throughout the European Union for sometime to come.

With all the comparisons that have been made and continue to be made between the struggles of Muslim people and North American Indian people, it did not come as a surprise to find similar cartoons historically used to create racism, hatred and war against American Indians. Portraying the popular sentiment about Indians in the 1800`s. A cartoon by Grant Hamilton, called the, “The Nation’s Ward” portrayed the Indian as a savage snake constricting a pioneer family. It shows further the American Indian being fed by Uncle Sam while the pioneers’ home burns. This cartoon and others like it protested the U.S. treaty promise of giving out food rations to Indians through hard winters. Political propaganda fed through various printed media has helped to create the mentality that allowed wholesale, systematic and frenetic killings of Indian men, women and children. One example of such an atrocity took place at Sand Creek when Phil Sheridan gave U.S. soldiers permission to butcher women and children and to hang their sexual body parts on public display at the Denver opera house. Such atrocities have occurred in today,s modern wars currently being waged against Muslim people under Bush,s doctrine of ´preemptive strike´ that has killed more civilians then fighters.

More recently, the United States federal government began using the FBI as a national political police force to put down legitimate protest movements of the 1960´s. A program called the counter intelligence program (cointelpro) was developed to assist the FBI. This program used offensive cartoons as a method to fan the flames of racism that had been spoon-fed to the Euro-American public through newspapers, books, cartoons and Hollywood westerns became part of their standard bag of dirty tricks in putting down peaceful protest.

Today, the FBI, with a mad infinity for maintaining the imprisonment of now world famous American Indian activist, Leonard Peltier, not to long ago, used a cartoon posing him as an Indian terrorist killing their fellow agents. This cartoon is still today on their website, despite the fact that even prosecutors who tried the case admit they “do not know who killed the two FBI agents” during the Pine Ridge reign of terror on June 26, 1976. Leonard Peltier has been confined 30 years in federal prisons as a result of FBI manufactured evidence, much of which the federal government has since admitted to.

There is no question that sports teams who use Indian Mascots, cartoons that portray inaccurate images, symbols insulting to American Indians. One professor speaking out against the use of Chief Illiniwek by the U of I football team in the late 1990s, said,” “I’ve often visited Germany and speaking to younger people there, they all feel great pain when they consider the recent past. Not one university in Germany would contemplate having a rabbi as a mascot.”

Freedom of speech and of the press has been used as a weapon against oppressed people for centuries. It has been nothing more than a smokescreen to justify the actions of a few but in reality incite religious and ethnic hatred. The editors knew these cartoons were clearly drawn as deadly propaganda tools, created with malice and forethought, to neutralize Muslim groups in struggle and deny them “respectability” in the world community. Who now should be charged for inciting a riot? Who now should be held accountable to the Muslim communities for these slanderous, racist cartoons that has forced communities to take sides against each other? How can we share this world, respecting the diversity of ethnic origins if the powers on hand continue to pump the public with hate filled propaganda! It is time for the media to step up to the plate accepting responsibility for their actions and what better place is there to start than in Denmark!

ROBERT ROBIDEAU is co-director of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. He can be reached at: americanindianm@telefonica.net

 

 

 

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