The broader levels of logos and caricatures

Debate regarding Native American monikers is missing in the cartoon debacle.

The cartoon debacle is almost analogous to the controversy of Native American nicknames, mascots and logos in sports. Many college and professional sports use images that clearly present Native Americans as the “noble savage.” And even though many proudly contend that these logos are here to present Native Americans as brave and determined fighters, many find the monikers insulting and demeaning.

I could not condone the cartoon and bypass such an offensive caricature as freedom of speech. On the same token, I am offended by the naming of sports teams. It is odd that many groups find protection under certain ethical guidelines, but Muslims, among other populations, continue to be left out of many discourses involving the Muslim community.

Who determines who is protected and who is not protected in the media? When issues with sensitivity rise, are the represented groups consulted with or do news institutions seek the advice of “experts,” white men in white collars, to speak on behalf of underrepresented populations?

Last winter the National Collegiate Athletic Assocation ruled that teams with offensive name associations would be prevented from taking part in postseason tournaments unless tribes give approval. Just as it’s unfair to seek the approval of any other group in this case, Muslims also should be consulted in the caricature situation. To many Muslims, the caricatures present offensive and hostile depictions of Muhammad. The Muslim community expressed its dissent last September. The press organizations are not above the ethical standards other institutions adhere to.

Many groups still consider Native American monikers a complete mockery of the history and culture of Native Americans. In this sense, it becomes important to use common sense and avoid these unnecessary labels. The Native American Journalists Association urged press organizations to ban the usage of monikers representing Native Americans. Although the ban later was lifted, the Star Tribune banned the referencing of Native American monikers in 1994. Few news organizations honored NAJA’s request. Media often operate on the basis of colonial knowledge – knowledge that legitimizes the superiorities of the West as defined against the others. This view allows the media to present the so-called other from a very ethnocentric and biased perspective, which often is based on stereotypes that Westerns hold.

Of all the protesting that took place, why did the image of the gunmen in Gaza appear everywhere when other images easily could have been presented? Is it, perhaps, because the man appeared to be militant and Islam frequently is presented in context of its militant practitioners? The situation became headlines simply because Muslim rioters are deemed more newsworthy than millions of others who have and do protest peacefully. The media failed to cover the initial protests but suddenly became interested in the demonstrations when they became aggressive. The caricature debate exemplifies the problems of the media in covering Islam.

Muslims are presented only as mobs who cannot express dissent without resorting to violence. This selective reporting only increases division. Media, in many ways, do not give justice to those it covers. How is it that we have a global world, a global audience, but not a global press? The press is global in a sense that it touches the far reaches of the earth, but it fails to include a global perspective. If news institutions cannot hire a diverse staff, journalists must leave the newsroom and seek the knowledge that is necessary for a global audience.

The freedom of speech argument is “the surface debate” of the caricature issue. The issue at hand is the coverage of Islam. Beyond the caricature debacle, does anyone care to give thought to the grievances of the Muslim community regarding the constant misrepresentation of Islam by the media? The issue of representation needs to include many of the other underrepresented groups. The discussion concerning Native American monikers must resurface.

Ramla Bile is a Daily editorial board member. She welcomes comments at [email protected]