Link to Archive of Weekly Issues Collaborative Writing Journal

Dear Habermas Logo and Link to Site Index A Justice Site

Collaborative Writing Journal

Mirror Sites:
CSUDH - Habermas - UWP

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: October 15, 2001
Latest Update: October 15, 2001

E-Mail Olivier Urbain, Soka University

Reactions to Muslim Victim/Terrorist Portrait

Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata Olivier Urbain and Individual Authors: October 2001.
"Fair use" encouraged.

The two portraits from the Current Issue of Week 8 prompted these reactions:

The Muslim Victim redrawn as the Middle Eastern Terrorist - same original. The Muslim victim during Serbian conflict?.
Middle Eastern Terrorist? or Muslim Prisoner in Serbia?
I painted the portrait on the right from a group photograph of Muslim prisoners in National Geographic. I had planned to do a series of portraits of political prisoners. Somehow, I never got around to it. But I was always touched by the poignancy on that young man's face, and wanted to reach out to him.

Then I caught that same look on one of the photos of Osama bin Laden. How hard it is to see the soul. Without the photo identification I would not have known how to categorize either of these men. Yet perhaps the poignance is real. Surely the two portraits are the same, with only minor alterations. How alike are the terrorist and the victim? How alike are we, to the Other?


On Monday, October 15, 2001, Vincent Lek Weisong, Soka University Japan, wrote:

The two pictures tell me about the serious problem of discrimination that has been with us for a long time. People are unfairly judged by their skin color or their race or any other things that are different. Usually, we stress too much the differences between people such as academic abilities, social background, sex without realising that all of us have many similarities as well. All of us are human beings and all of us have the capacity to love, to feel and to be happy. Stressing the differences between people tends to divide people rather than unite them and I think that before we see the differences between people, we should look at the similarities first. When we are able to see the similarities in us, we might be able to share more, to talk more , to love more and to work together for a peaceful world.

On Monday, October 15, 2001, jeanne responded:

Vincent, I agree with you. These two portraits are about stressing differences over similarities. And that is a part of what Gordon Fellman teaches in Rambo and the Dalai Lama. Working collaboratively, building on each other's strengths instead of each against the other for himself/herself. I like your phrase, " All of us are human beings and all of us have the capacity to love, to feel and to be happy." Perhaps that is what attracted me to the original photo in National Geographic. I sensed in this man I could not know, of a religion I understood only poorly, a "capacity to love, to feel and to be happy."

love and peace, jeanne

On Monday, October 15, 2001, Eiko Yamazaki, Soka University Japan, wrote:

The two drawings are very similar, but very different. Looking only at appearances, there are differences in the hair, the skin and the moustache. We CAN say that both men are the same. However, I think that these pictures are not that simple. What I thought and imagined was, that these two men are in a way, symbolizing the Whites and the Colored people. For the case of the present issue, I thought that the man with black hair, black or brown skin and a moustache was a colored person, the "Eastern", the terrorist, Osama bin Laden as a representative, and with white hair, white skin and no moustache was a white, the"Western", the American and the Europeans, with President Bush as a representative.

The reason why I thought in this way is, that firstly, the terrorists are of course criminals and inexcusable, but I think that there is some kind of reason behind their attacks. However, people think that what President Bush and the American government say or do is all correct, and this shows a prejudice about whites being always right. Secondly, after the terrorist attack, several other incidents happened around the world. Many treated the "Eastern" or Muslims as "terrorists" or regarded as "terrorists" only because they had different looks and skin color which were close to the terrorists. As the world is in turmoil at the moment, most of us are unable to see people as "human beings".

I want to ask, what if the whites commit terrorist attacks against Afghanistan and the blacks or the "Eastern" say they want to retaliate to show their righteousness? I guess that most people would say that there was a ligitimate reason for the whites' attacks and would try to justify them. The only differences are skin colour and probably religion. We, the people, still have biased views, biased eyes, which prevent us from looking at all other people as "human beings".

On Tuesday, October 16, 2001, jeanne responded:

Eiko, what a sensitive response. I agree with you that from the portraits themselves all we can say is that the hair and skin are different. But the beauty of visual imagery is that it stirs the imaginary and leads us to consider other possibilities. I'm not sure I was thinking of white privilege when I painted the original portrait, but I certainly was thinking of white privilege and postcolonialism when I altered that image to create the two portraits.

This is one meaning of "the death of the author": that a painting, once created, no longer belongs to the author, or painter. The painting and all that it signifies now belongs to the world. The painter no longer "owns" the work, in that part of the significance is brought to the painting by the viewer. That is the process in which you and I are engaging now. You respond with what the painting signifies to you, and that leads me to see even more, building on your vision. Now I respond to your imaginary, and you may see even more. We create together.

Nag me to tell you about Robert K. Merton's version of this process, which he calls On the Shoulders of Giants. Each creator builds on the creations of those who went before. Now isn't that rather like a peace process in which each citizen contributes a tiny bit of peace, on which all others can build?

love and peace, jeanne

On Monday, October 15, 2001, Mitsuyo Minakata, Soka University Japan, wrote:

I think we can see the same portrait twice, and it means that the same person is both a victim and a terrorist. Their violent actions (as terrorists) expresses their suffering (as victims) in a way. So we have to know this: they are also victims! Of course we must not accept violence, but every time violence happens, we should know the reason and background.

On Tuesday, October 16, 2001, jeanne responded:

Mitsuyo, what an inspiring interpretation! Yes, we are many people in different situations, with different agendas, with different feelings. That is a difficult concept to grasp, but ever so important.

You remind me of a story. My husband and daughter and I were in Rome many years ago with my husband's mother. We were crossing Via Veneto; and I was trying to watch out for both my daughter and my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law was fussing at me. I knew she was angry with me because I had given one of my sweaters to my daughter. I didn't know that my mother-in-law liked the sweater as much as my daughter did, and she had wanted me to give it to her. There, right in the middle of Via Veneto, I looked up and saw my mother-in-law as a crocodile!

I grabbed my husband's arm and whispered to him to look. I don't think he saw the crocodile; but he understood. We had been in Europe for a month, and all our nerves were on edge. From that day on, my husband and I have collected crocodiles. With love. The crocodile was one of the many faces of my mother-in-law. I once carried home a huge woven crocodile in a woven basket we had just bought. A strange man stopped me in the mall to say "You look so happy. What are you carrying there?" to which I unthinkingly responded with a cheerful "My mother-in-law, the crocodile!" She found an honored place in our dining room!

I never thought to wonder before how a crocodile came to signify one facet of my mother-in-law. But just a month or so ago my husband brought home a white plastic crocodile and accorded it a place of honor on the hutch in our kitchen. When we say that one is Janus-faced, I always think of one of the faces as being not trustworthy. And perhaps that would be accurate with the victim and the terrorist faces. But the crocodile was simply a different face, one that we could learn to understand and welcome into our family. We were disturbed by what we considered inappropriate anger, but we understood that anger and were thus able to defuse it and maintain peace in the family.

I wonder if some of the terrorists are merely presenting one face that might have the potential for becoming another, if we just could find the right key to transforming it? That's risky, I know. We'd have to think carefully on that, as should the farmer before taking the snake to his bosom.

love and peace, jeanne

On Monday, October 15, 2001, Shinsaku Fujikawa, Soka University Japan, wrote:

I think the set of two pictures represents 'prejudice'! If the first picture represents a Middle Eastern Terrorist, most people will think that the second portrait also represents a criminal like the first one because they are very similar to each other. I remember vividly that when the tragedy happened on September 11, the U.S government told us that Islamic fundamentalists did it. So, many Afghan and Arab people were attacked and one person died because of a ressemblance with the terrorists. I think 'prejudice' makes people crazy. I want to show another example. Many Japanese think Americans and Europeans are Christian. This is a very silly idea, I think. We must respect other religions, but this 'prejudice' violates respect for other religions. I believe every person has some kind of 'prejudice', so I think we should be concerned and pay attention to this. This is my opinion about the two portraits.

On Tuesday, October 16, 2001, jeanne responded:

Shinsaku, I agree that the portraits together represent prejudice. They remind us, as you say, of the ease with which we ascribe status characteristics to entire social groups as though they were homogeneous. Your example of identifying all American and Europeans with Christianity is a good one.

I would like to also point out that not all Christians have the same perspective of Christianity, just as not all Muslims share Osama bin Laden's perspective of Islam. The ease with which we accept such prejudicial thinking is alarming. This kind of categorical thinking carries with it many unstated assumptions that are never brought to conscious awareness, let alone examined in good faith. You have made a good point.

love and peace, jeanne

I'll try to get back to this file tomorrow. Meanwhile, I thought others might like to join in this discussion. jeanne

On Monday, October 15, 2001, Natsuko Kadoya, Soka University Japan, wrote:

Two things about these portraits. One is that nobody is born to be a villain, in this case, a terrorist. It all depends on the environment. Anybody can become a terrorist and can be a victim. The other is that nobody can tell he is a terrorist just because he looks like a Middle Eastern terrorist, which is supported by the fact that there are a lot of Muslim prisoners in Serbia.

On Monday, October 15, 2001, Emiko Ambo, Soka University Japan, wrote:

I totally don't understand what Janne wants to say through this painting. Why does this person have to be Muslim? And why is he in Serbia? I really want to know what she tries to tell us.

On Monday, October 15, 2001, Emi Uehara, Soka University Japan, wrote:

Both people on these two paintings are one and the same person. I think that judging people by their looks is a very unwise thing to do. Even my hair and skin color change during my life. If we think about it, we sense that discriminating against other people because of their hair and skin color is wrong.

On Monday, October 15, 2001, Sayaka Sugahara, Soka University Japan, wrote:

I thought the assailant and the victim are difficult to define. After all, the assailant is often a victim before he or she becomes an assailant.

On Monday, October 15, 2001, Yoriko Sumitomo, Soka University Japan, wrote:

When I first saw the two portraits , I could not understand what this meant. But I stared at them for a long time. Same faces, different skin and hair ... Then I noticed that one of them could be Osama Bin Laden. Why do I think this way at this time? Because I have been told again and again by the media that his thoughts, words and actions are based on his identity as a Muslim. However I want to resist this kind of easy generalization and study the reasons behind such a horrible crime.

On Monday, October 15, 2001, Olivier wrote:

Several students were puzzled by the two portraits and the comments. They want to study about the Middle East (South West Asia) and the former Yugoslavia, because they suspect there is a lot to learn about these places...