Brian K. Vaughan on Arabs and Muslims

Here is an analysis of Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, both ongoing comics series by writer Brian K. Vaughan. My criticisms deal with his portrayal of Arabs and Muslims. I am focusing specifically on Y: The Last Man #48 (hereon referred to as “Y”) and Ex Machina #19 and #20. If you haven’t read those, you will have no idea what’s going on. And I’m too lazy to cut and paste images. I might tighten this up into a proper essay sometime in the future.

The problem in Y #48 — and Y in general is that the Israelis speak for the Arabs. Literally no Arabs speak in the entire series, except at one point early on where two assassins communicate with each other in Arabic (“qaf” — i.e., stop) — and I don’t even know if they were actually Arabs. While I agree that Vaughan’s presentation is more sophisticated than a lot of other portrayals and media sources, it’s still lacking, sorely. Can the Palestinians speak? Not for Vaughan, they don’t. Palestine is a place for Alter to prove her tenacity, intelligence, bravery and just fury — and to explain her subsequent obsessions. It’s not a place for the Palestinians to speak, not a place for Palestinians to live and to be Palestinian (maybe this is a reproduction of the occupation itself?).

I believe Vaughan reflects the widely distributed view, “Yes, Israelis engage in some oppression of Palestinians, but if only the Palestinians would stop their terrorism, then the Israelis wouldn’t have to do this.” Here, we’ve got Alter blaming the Palestinians for the death of her sister, Rachel (definitely an allusion to Rachel Corrie) who dies standing in front of an IDF bulldozer. When Sadie questions her about this, Alter responds, and ends at how the IDF is forced to take such action because Egyptians and Palestinians build arms-smuggling tunnels beneath houses.

Again, two things, first Rachel is the peaceful defender of Palestinians — Palestinians, whenever shown as resisting, are violent (whether they shoot, bomb or throw stones). Second, none of them engage in any kind of rational explanation for why they do what they do, Rachel explains it, and then takes the “rational” ( i.e., nonviolent) step in their defense.

We can see this view (“if only the Palestinians would stop with their mindless terrorism”), again, in Ex Machina #19. Mayor Hundred calls for a meeting of religious leaders to inform them about something. We have a relatively belligerent (and African-American) imam talking about racial and ethnic profiling. Rabbi Levy interrupts to say “I’m sorry to interrupt the obligatory reminder about Islam being synonymous with peace, but I find it difficult to listen to speeches on morality from a man whose organization provides material support to Hamas.”

Hundred pulls Levy out of the meeting, and Levy then says, “Forgive me, Mr. Mayor, but my nephew was killed in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, and I have very little patience for–” before Hundred interrupts him and tells him that that’s not why he pulled him out of the meeting.

But let’s see what’s happening here. Neither in Y nor Ex Machina do any Israelis kill any Palestinians — we don’t see or hear it (even when we first see Alter in Y #1, she’s shooting rubber bullets above the heads of the Palestinians) — but Palestinians do kill (or engage in violence) against Israelis. And then we’ve got this allegation left floating in the air, that this imam, who ostensibly represents all the Muslims in New York City and by extension all Muslims in America (and I’m assuming that’s a lot of Muslims), materially funds Hamas. (Who materially funds the IDF?)

Let’s move on, Hundred asks Levy for some kind of favour. Levy asks if he’ll boost security around synagogues the way it is around mosques, Hundred says that there are actual bomb threats to mosques, and besides, the Jewish community will do it because it’s the right thing to do. The negative here is what concerns me, Jews do things because it’s the right thing to do. Muslims … ? They materially fund Hamas. (Who materially funds the IDF?)

addendum: Moreover, Vaughan’s summary dismissal (via Rabbi Levy) of the imam’s statement that he will condemn terrorist Muslims, if so proven, reflects another widely distributed view, “Muslims talk a good game about how their religion means peace, but why can’t they control/act against all these terrorists?” This view, of course, is quite racist and ignores historical and social realities, as if a Muslim in North America is responsible for the actions or politics of Muslims in some other part of the world. But that’s precisely what Vaughan thinks — because apparently this imam’s organizaton materially funds Hamas. (Who materially funds the IDF?) /addendum

In Ex Machina #20, Hundred and the police commissioner find and arrest the culprit (of the recent terrorist attack at an anti-war rally). Yes, it is an Arab (his name is Samir Hallouda), complete with mole and unibrow. However, he’s an atheist. While he identifies himself as an “American citizen … like you”, he also points out that “Believing that this is about religion is why you people are going to lose your ‘War on Terror.’”

Vaughan is trying to have his cake and eat it, too. Not only is this man a rational, scientist, atheist Arab, he’s also an American citizen. Yet, he’s just as easily one of “them” (whoever “they” are), who define themselves in opposition to “you people” (whoever “you people” are – ostensibly Americans, with whom he identified earlier). Are you confused? Yeah, so am I.

We never do find out why the man did what he did. Here, at least, the man refuses to speak (as opposed to being spoken for). But he still doesn’t speak. He refuses to explain why he supports the attacks of 9/11 or why he attacked and killed several people at the anti-war rally. Something to do with the “War on Terror” – about which, we can tell, Vaughan feels very ambiguously.

Aside from these depictions, Vaughan’s works (in Y and Ex Machina) are virtually devoid of Muslims or Arabs. Certainly devoid of any positive representations of them (that is, when they’re not being feisty black men, or violent Arabs). I haven’t included his use of the burqa as a disguise both for Yorick and for assassins, nor his shallow recap of Saudi Arabian society in my analysis. Nor am I referring to his latest work, Pride of Baghdad, which is a whole other ballgame (the lions are Africans, and there’s a lot to read into that).

My point is not that Vaughan is blatantly anti-Arab or anti-Muslim, or that he deliberately engages in that kind of imagery. However, curious aspects, as noted above, abound in his work. this!

1 Response so far

  1. 1

    fathima said,

    January 17, 2007 @ 10:43 pm

    i know it’s trite to say but: don’t you ever get tired of thinking?
    i get tired of thinking. i’ve actually hit a very tired spot right now and i refuse to think at all lucidly about how very messed up the literary world is, and how people willingly indulge in cheap stereotypes because they’re too bloody lazy to make up their own new cliches.
    most times it seems like a joke, when writers/artists/vaguely intelligent people decide to accept mainstream idiocy. but what’s funny is that only the idiots are laughing. and wow, but there are a helluva lot of idiots.

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