On Friday, September 30th, the Institute for Research in the Humanties (IRH) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison hosted a symposium titled “Arab Spring and the Humanities.” Khalil Bendib, an Algerian American Muslim artist and political cartoonist, was among the speakers. In his presentation, Bendib spoke about his personal story and the challenges he faces as a political cartoonist. According to Bendib, his biggest challenge is finding places that will run his work without censoring it.
Bendib was born in Algeria at the start of the war for independence. His family left Algeria for France because his father was in danger. A few years later, Bendib’s family returned to Algeria where he remained until age 20, after which he came to the United States and has remained here since. Bendib refers to himself as a Muslim American and in 2007 wrote an article titled First Muslim American president? In the article, he laid out the platform for his “campaign” to become president.
In his political cartoons, Bendib explores a number of topics which include racism, the environment, labor issues, the role of the media, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and issues related to Islam and the Middle East. In his cartoons on Islam, Bendib is cognizant of the complex challenges faced by Muslims not only in the Middle East but in countries throughout the world.
He is critical of both the negativity surrounding Islam and Muslims and the conflicts within Muslim communities. For example, in one cartoon with the heading “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” a British Muslim man is depicted as being the possible target of terrorism like any other British citizen but also the target of a backlash against Muslims. In another cartoon, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Muslims who use violence for political aims are the focus. The message of the cartoon is that the victims of the violence many times are Muslims themselves.
While sometimes highly critical, Bendib’s work offers another medium to reflect on the many issues surrounding Islam and Muslims today.
Have you seen Bendib’s political cartoons? What is your reaction to his work? Do you think that political cartoons are a constructive medium to consider issues like terrorism and Islamophobia? Do you think that cartoonist like Bendib should be censored? Please share your comments below.