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Viciously racist cartoon in Qatari daily paper 7, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, The Gulf.
Tags: , , , , ,

Some weeks ago Qatari  Gulf Times published a vicious, stereotyped cartoon referring to maids killing babies.

Domestic worker issues are prevalent in many of the Gulf States. When I refer to ‘issues’ I am referring to widespread violence, mistreatment, contract infringements and more frequent than you may expect examples of rape perpetrated on workers brought over often from South East Asia. Indeed, so arduous and essentially awful is their treatment at the hands of their Gulfy employers (i.e. a minority of ordinary Gulf families) that there are daily reports of worker suicides by, for example, drinking bleach, to be found across Gulf daily newspapers. The key here is to think of just how awful their life must be for them to find the option of drinking bleach as preferable.

The US State Department maintains an annual people trafficking tier system ranking countries across the world. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran are in the US’ third and worst tier of offenders. Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are one tier up on the Tier 2 watch list. There is, therefore, unequivocally a sizable problem region-wide.

Many of the excuses that are trotted out in mock/quasi defense of the flagrant abuse of domestic workers stem from essentially apocryphal stories about maids and babysitters attacking or killing children in their care.

This cartoon, therefore, is viciously making fun of this situation. Satire is an useful tool to be aimed at the pompous and powerful. These people have neither of these things: they don’t even have their own passports. It is wrong and utterly risible and reprehensible of this cartoonist (mo7md@raya.com) to design and for the Gulf Times to print this cartoon. It is not even as if the cartoon is that smart or witty: read the caption.

“Your mum shouted at me today just becauseI [sic] broke a plate. An I am going to strike back. Count on me you brat, you won’t sleep at home tonight! You will stay at Al Sadd Children’s’ Emergency. Open your mouth now. This dish I havemade [sic] will make you dizzy for hours.”

This is clunky, poorly written, poorly punctuated and lifeless English, written by someone with a shaky grasp of the language, trying, I assume, to be cutting and mean to a wholly disenfranchised and downtrodden segment of society. What a guy.

Satire: biting, mean, vindictive and harsh satire, I have no problem with. Yet, – it bears mentioning once again – the key is who it is aimed at. For the Gulf Times to sanction this piece promoting however slightly the myth that persists and is to some degree responsible for violence faced by domestic workers problems in the region, vilifying the utterly defenceless workers that raise most nationals’ children in the Gulf is, essentially, a disgusting and bullying decision. Shame on them.


1. Elizabeth - 7, December 2009

Thank you for posting this important story. This is just disgusting.

2. Special K - 8, December 2009

An excellent post. Point well made.

3. Abstract JK - 8, December 2009

Seriously. Satire is best left to native speakers. Case in point.

4. david lepeska - 10, December 2009

Sorry Dave, I think you missed the subtleties and thus the whole point of the cartoon. It’s poorly executed, I’ll agree with that, but look at the title for the key. It’s called housemaid’s “revenge” for a reason — she’s taking vengeance for all the crap she takes from her employers (and perhaps from this “brat” kid). Look at the first sentence of the caption — “your mum shouted at me just because I broke a plate” — the cartoonist is placing blame.

I lived in India for years (this servant is clearly meant to be South Asian), and I never knew any stereotype of the sociopathic servant. So I’m not sure how this could be a “racist” stereotype. Are Indian women particularly angry, or violent towards children? Not in my book.

Think about it, which is more common: Gulf nationals and ex-pats mistreating their help, or the help going “postal” and attacking their charges? The latter is ludicrous, while the former is commonplace. Ergo, to me the cartoonist is saying, “Hey Qataris and others who mistreat their domestic help, be careful, you might be in for some just desserts.” To the cartoonist I say bravo — bout time somebody said it.

Lastly, the cartoon is not about “maids killing babies,” as you put it. She threatens to make the baby sick and dizzy — criminal, no doubt, but a much lesser crime than murder.

davidbroberts - 10, December 2009

Hi there and thanks for commenting.

I see what you’re getting at but you’re not correct.

This cartoon is based on a relatively well known urban myth that you’ll no doubt come across as you spend more time in the Gulf. It is ‘used’ by Gulfies as a way of displacing blame of the poor treatment of such servants – ‘yes they are treated poorly but my friend’s uncle’s best friend’s dog walker’s neighbour’s kid was harmed/abused/whatever by their nanny x years ago.’

I didn’t just make the myth up. After speaking to Kuwaitis about it a lot in July it came up frequently as, as I said, some kind of quasi-justification. I couldn’t agree more that this rumor/myth is essentially ‘ludicrous’ but c’est la vie.

Again, I see your point about what the cartoonist was aiming at, but don’t agree. I’d like to hope that that was his goal, though. Indeed, if it was his aim, it was an utterly useless and counterproductive cartoon as for the vast, vast majority of people reading that, I’d bet that they’d have my reaction, that he’s making a vicious attack on a totally disenfranchised group of society.

5. Eyoki - 12, December 2009

Thanks for this post. The cartoon is shocking. Just recently I’ve encountered people suggesting that the idea that Asian servants are mistreated is a racist Western myth, so this post was especially interesting.

6. seedat - 27, June 2010

true, the cartoon has been misinterpreted, surprising how westerners can also misinterpret cartoons. they are supposed to be from the so called civilized world. well done mr cartoonist.keep up the excellent work.

davidbroberts - 28, June 2010

And your interpretation is…

7. Anonymous - 18, November 2013

shockingly racist

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