Israeli ‘South-Park’ style cartoon mocks Arabs

The new Israeli cartoon on YouTube “Ahmed and Salim” - a South Park-style series that launched on the web a few weeks ago - is causing quite a stir on the Internet. Animators Tom Trager and Or Paz claim the cartoon is intended to mock terrorists, but is that all it does?
Ahmed and Salim screenshot. © Or Paz & Tom Trager

BEIRUT, March 10, 2009 (MENASSAT) - The new Israeli cartoon on YouTube, “Ahmed and Salim” launched in late February is intended to mock terrorists. That’s what animators Tom Trager and Or Paz claim.

But throughout the four-part series during each 3-4 minute episode (the first one viewed 400,000 times in one week), Ahmed and Salim's father tries to coerce them to kill Jews.

Although the Israel-based animators Trager and Paz state that they “do not think bad of Arabs,” and “simply dislike people in general,” it would be hard not to call the cartoon racist.

World-wide appeal

In an interview with MENASSAT, the creators said the show is not an attack on Arabs.  “Ahmed and Salim are not about Arabs at all. It's mostly a metaphor for how idiotic religion is."

"Muslims are known to be extremists so we poke fun at them. We just like pissing off groups who take themselves too seriously - with Arabs though we have no problems at all.”

23-year-old Palestinian journalist and blogger Sameh Akram Habeeb told France 24's The Observers that the image Ahmed and Salim portray of Arabs is completely skewed.

“What message does it send to those who watch it? That Arabs are terrorists who think only of killing Jews. Our religion has its fundamentalists, like any religion, but we don’t send our children to death like the cartoon father does.”

Depicted much worse than the prototypical “bad Arab," Ahmed and Salim's father, Yasser, is an anti-Semitic misogynist who rapes ten year olds, while trying to convince his kids to become “terrorists.”

Take one scene in an episode that shows the father reading to his kids a bedtime story – an anti-Semitic version of Little Red Riding Hood. “And what will you do Ahmed and Salim if you see a soulless Jew at your home?” the father asks.

“We’ll shoot him in the genitals and laugh!” they answer back.

When asked if Yasser the father reflected the way they viewed Arabs in Israel, Trager and Paz [pictured at right] said, “Not at all, we have nothing against Arabs or Muslims and we certainly did not grow up being taught they were some kind of evil or anything like that.”

But, Habeeb told French TV, with Ahmed and Salim the historical context is lost. “I know enough about real life in Palestine to understand what is true and what isn’t, but most viewers won’t have that kind of background. And because the cartoons are subtitled (in English and Hebrew) they can be viewed by audiences worldwide."

Indeed, the characters speak gibberish, not Arabic, and the only discernible words actually spoken are English curses.

Meanwhile, the teens Ahmed and Salim are made more benign because they entertain the trappings of the West - watching Western TV, playing video games, and spending huge chunks of their time on Facebook.

Normalizing stereotypes

Whether or not Trager and Paz are aware that they are contributing to hateful stereotypes misses the point.

By all indications they don't think they are, but it would be hard to imagine that the two Israelis are unaware that Ahmed and Salim builds on a rich history of "Arab" vilification in the media.

In Hollywood and in most western media “the Arab” has for the better part of a century been portrayed both as a villain and as one-dimensional – part of some pan-Arab homogenous mass.

In his book, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, media critic Jack Shaheen looked at more than 1,000 Hollywood films from 1896 to the present in an effort to analyze Arab stereotyping.

“Once upon a time I thought the stereotyping of Arabs was because of ignorance,” he said in an interview with Democracy Now. “No more. I know it is more straight-out purposeful now. Films, for example, vilify Arabs for different reasons, not all political."

Perhaps Israeli creators, Trager and Paz, did not intend to perpetuate myths of Arabs and Muslims in Israeli society and in the West, but Ahmed and Salim does just that.

Still, the cartoon's creators told MENASSAT, “Through Ahmed & Salim we learned to tolerate groups even more, and so do many other people who send us fan mail about being more open-minded since this show! What do you know? These two nerds may even bring peace to this world.”

What if another group of people were portrayed in this manner? Would it be accepted?

Slick South Park-style graphics draws on a pop-culture reference and helps make the behavior of Ahmed and Salim more believable - cementing the perverse media view of Arabs (the show uses references to a number of Arab countries, not just Palestinians) as the people who blow up Americans and Jews, rape children, abuse women, and worship Osama bin laden.

And what are the longterm consequences of this misrepresentation?

As Shaheen states, “If we feel nothing, if we feel that Arabs are not like us or not like anyone else, then let’s kill them all. Then they deserve to die, right?”

“What I've tried to do is to make visible what too many of us seem not to see: a dangerously consistent pattern of hateful Arab stereotypes, stereotypes that rob an entire people of their humanity,” he said.