#WithSyria and Banksy: Saving Syria through Orientalism

Source: on/off ... but mostly off

March 7, 2014

Ahead of the third anniversary of the Syrian uprising, a coalition of international organizations was formed, #WithSyria, urging people around the world to hold vigils on 15 March, with the aim to “show our leaders that we will not give up on the people of Syria, that they must act to bring an end to the bloodshed and to get aid to all those who need it."

Among the organizations, we can find Amnesty International, Save the Children, Reporters Sans Frontières and the Church of England.

In their mobilization effort, they recruited Banksy, and indeed the famous anonymous British graffiti artist didn’t fail to impress us once again. He produced an original Banksy for the campaign, that Amnesty proudly twitted it.

This new Banksy reminds us of an old Banksy: A young girl losing a heart-shaped balloon to the wind. Behind her on the staircase is written "There is always hope." The graffiti was made in 2007.


Banksy's two girls: #WithSyria campaign (L) and "There is always hope" (R)

For #WithSyria campaign, the little girl was given a veil. Well yes, it's very logical! Syria is a Muslim country. Muslim women are dotted with veils. So to be politically correct , and to take in consideration and not to offend the feeling of Muslims, the little girl wears a veil.

Maybe Banksy didn't thought much of that while drawing his work. But this reveals an unbearable amount of ignorance, stereotyping and orientalism, not only from Banksy, but also from the organizations in #WithSyria camapign.

Also, the production and adoption of this graffiti, reveals the extent of (conscious or subconscious) arrogance, either from the internationally famed graffitistar who tours the world to spread his work and bring awareness to millions of people on issues of sufferance and inequalities, from the wall in Palestine, to Guatanamo, to vices of capitalism. Or from these humanitarian organizations that defend various kind of human rights. Both, Banksy and these organizations, have this thing in common: saving the world through awareness and (limited or soft) action. And in their quest, they both fell in the trap of elitism and first world egocentric perspective towards the world.

Before they assume the task of saving Syria, and promoting a veiled little girl as an icon for the campaign, at least they should know, that even in conservative Muslim families, girls at the age of Banksy's painting (4 or 5 years old) are not veiled. Add to it that not all Muslims in Syria are conservative, nor all Syrian are Muslims.

I don't know how much #WithSyria knows Syria.

It seems that saving the world is too important task to check details. It seems that saving the world condones stereotyping and orientalism (which by the way are another type of discrimination.)

Moreover, a quick comparison between the two girls reveal more aspects to this stereotyping and orientalism. While in "There is always hope," the wind blows in the girl's hair and skirt, in #WithSyria there's nearly no wind, just a shy breath ... even the wind became more conservative.

Muslim girls should not play with the wind.

However, this Banksy's approach is neither surprising nor new. Already couple of months ago he posted a video on Syria (which was his first work on Syria, his second work on Syria is this girl.) The video entitled "Rebel Rocket Attack," which is a spoof of videos uploaded by Syrians on YouTube (he also used the audio of this video.), shows rebels shooting down Dumbo the Elephant, and then celebrate around it. At the end, a child kicked a fighter. This video attracted wide criticism for its naivety, simplification and short sightedness. (you can read this article:"The awkward politics of Banksy’s satirical Syria video")

Finally, as Banksy’s fame grew, we can notice that his work - both the content and how he displayed and used it - tends to be more mainstream, more reconciled with the System, and devoid of depth, trying to capitalize and benefit from his reputation.