By Anna Daggett and Alex Freedman, Eliot Neighborhood News
originally published in 2017
On October 31st, Black Hat Books, a radical bookstore located on NE MLK Boulevard, hosted a delegation of Arab language political cartoonists. Organized by the World Affairs Council of Oregon in collaboration with the Oregon Cartoon Institute, the event aimed to foster cultural diplomacy and conversation across cultural difference. The cartoonists represented a wide variety of styles and messages, but share a passion for imaginative expressions of marginalized ideas, fighting for liberation with their pencils and paintbrushes. Many are putting their lives and livelihoods on the line when they publish their work.
“The cartoonists share a passion for imaginative expressions of marginalized ideas.”
Portland has its own storied comics scene, as the birthplace of legendary Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons and Futurama. At the event were Portland’s lauded illustrator and journalist Joe Sacco, author of award-winning Footnotes on Gaza and Palestine, and widely published Irvington-based cartoonist and lecturer David Chelsea. Fred Nemo, who owns Black Hat Books, was the former business manager of the Scribe, a 1970s Portland counterculture newspaper.
The Arab language cartoonists spoke about their experience of censorship and even violent silencing in their home countries. Mr. Hamdi Mazoudi said through a translator, “The main problem we are facing in terms of expressing ourselves is the social system and the government policing its citizens.” Any critiques of religion, the army, the government, or the judiciary could result in loss of employment. In Iraq, according to Mr. Ahmed Kahleel Hadi Al Obaidi, “after the American occupation, a red line was drawn all over. Now, we have many religious parties and many, many Saddam Husseins. If you step on any of those red lines, you might lose your life.” The pervasive danger of expressing dissent has caused the majority of cartoonists to leave Iraq in order to work freely.
One of the Algerian cartoonists, who chose not to have his name disclosed, told the room that he was stopped and beaten by police seven months ago for his work. The newspaper he worked at has been shut down by the government, along with 60 other Algerian newspapers in 2017 alone. The only largely uncensored places where many cartoonists can publish their work are social media platforms. “The only underground newspaper is Facebook,” the cartoonist said.
The October 31st event at Black Hat Books created connections between Arab and English language cartoonists and allowed everyone present to distance ourselves from what Nigerian author and storyteller Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the single story”. The tension between the Middle East and the United States is ever increasing and in order to combat stereotypes, it is crucial that we all seek out different perspectives, finding stories that enable us to inhabit nuance and inhibit hate.