The Evasive Power of Facebook

When we were analyzing Ali Farzat’s cartoons in class, I found the two featuring Bashar Al-Assad himself particularly interesting.  These cartoons evoke themes similar to that of his other work, such as the government’s empty promises of reform and the coercive nature of the Al-Assad regime.

We can see in this first cartoon that Al-Assad stands before a podium holding a speech entitled “al-iSlaah” or “reforms”, yet instead of actually articulating anything he is blowing bubbles.  Farzat comments further on this in the comments box where he has written “To the people:” and then gibberish.  This is Farzat’s way of saying that the reforms that Al-Assad has discussed in his speeches are nothing but hot air.

The second cartoon shows the Syrian president again making a speech, but this time there is a man peering out from an opening under the podium.  The man is wearing sunglasses and a toothy, over-eager grin, and he is presumably leading the crowd in applause.  This aspect reflects the coercive nature of the Al-Assad regime in that this man who is a government employee has to force the audience to applaud their leader.  The man also seems quite sleazy, which perhaps is saying something about the regime.  Furthermore, this cartoon is reminiscent of a live sitcom where there is often an “applause” sign that flashes to signal a reaction from the audience.  Therefore, the cartoon may also be likening a speech that Al-Assad is giving to a piece of comedy.

Beyond the content of the cartoons, however, I find it interesting that these two cartoons features an actual caricature Syrian president rather than that overweight bureaucrat that Farzat usually uses.  He highlights Assad’s receding hairline, big nose, small chin, and skinny frame.  In other words, he is depicted as weak and fairly unattractive.  Knowing what we know about Syrian censorship, I found it quite surprising that Farzat was able to escape punishment while producing something so anti-government such as these cartoons.  However, this brings up the subject of Facebook and its role in the dissemination of political cartoons such as these ones.  Although the government certainly has some control over the content of Facebook, it seems to be a good way to evade government censors due to the sheer volume of use.  It would be nearly impossible to monitor the daily usage of the website even if one focused just on Syria.  I wonder if Farzat would have been permitted to publish these cartoons in a newspaper?

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1 Response to The Evasive Power of Facebook

  1. I think what you mention in the final paragraph is definitely noteworthy. It is amazing to see Ali Farzat clearly depict al-Assad, instead of a generic figure that represents the government. Farzat has touched on the weakness of the leadership in the past, but depicting al-Assad as this frail figure is a direct shot at the Syrian leader.

    Also, you discuss that you are amazed that Farzat was not punished for these very direct and strong cartoons. I actually blogged about a story where Farzat was jumped and beaten (with strong focus on his hands) by members of al-Assad’s security force. The message was clear on how the government felt about the cartoons. Hoever, I wonder if it was the very obvious depiction of al-Assad that was the breaking point that forced the leader to send these goons on Farzat, or if Farzat was so angered by the attack, that he responded by taking more direct and offensive shots at al-Assad. It would be interesting to find out what order these events happened in.

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