Friday, April 29, 2005

A Conversation with Arab-American Artist Khalil Bendib

Khalil Bendib's cartoons appear on this blog - see side bar for all the ones that have appeared so far... in this interview, Khalil talks about his being a Green Party member, and how this relates to Islam, and being a Muslim. Enjoy!

By Khurshid Khoja

Recently, the Algerian-American political cartoonist, fine artist, and co-host of “Voices of the Middle East and North Africa” on KPFA Radio 94.1 FM, Khalil Bendib sat down with the Green News to talk about his work, his activism, and why he decided to go Green. We started our conversation by asking “Why did you become a Green activist?”

KB: I’m a political artist more than I am an activist. I’m an activist in my own way, through my communication skills, whether it’s the cartoons, the public speeches or the radio program—I’m a commentator, I try to effect change and influence people that way. If you go to my website [www.bendib.com], you’ll see that my slogan is “The Pen is Funnier than the Sword”—which I really believe. I’m committed to non-violent change.

Why did I become a Green? I don’t think I ever became a Green, I think I was always a Green, and wasn’t aware of it. The reason I feel that I was always a Green is because I was always a Muslim. So I feel very comfortable being a Green—I agree with the core Green values without exception. For example, gender equality is a core principle of the Green Party, and I believe it’s also a core principle of Islam.

Khalil notes that, contrary to what the popular stereotypes of Islam might suggest, when Islam was introduced it was a liberating force, rectifying rampant injustices against Arab women—such as female infanticide and the denial of inheritance and property rights to widows.

KB: Most people don’t know that part of Islam’s history, and they feel that there must be some incompatibility between the progressive agenda of the Greens and Islam—which is perceived as very conservative. But Islam was never a conservative force.

The Islam I was raised with taught the avoidance of extremes. Islam taught tolerance of other religions. I was also taught that [in Islam] values are what matter more than blind ritual. Even an atheist, who treats fellow living beings with respect, is closer to God than some guy who . . . is obsessed with the mere rituals of Islam. Adhering to the principles of Islam and actually treating fellow beings in a dignified manner—that’s a lot harder [than praying five times a day].

Khalil also notes that the Green Party has done more than other parties to defend the rights of Arab- and Muslim-Americans, and bring attention to our country’s less than constructive role in Iraq and Palestine.

KB: In this country, it’s hard for any political party to be completely fair when it comes to the Middle East, but the Green Party has done more than any other party. For example, during the 2000 (and 2004) election, I was already completely committed to the Green agenda—I had no idea that [Green Party Presidential Candidate] Ralph Nader would come out so strongly on Palestine, on Iraq and on Arab- and Muslim-American civil rights. Because of my ethnic background, the Israeli occupation of Palestine is a huge issue for me—it hits me very hard on many different levels. Yet, even with the passion that I had for Palestinian rights, I was never a one issue guy, and I was committed to the entire Green Party platform.

Khalil admits “I voted for Democrats until I got tired.” He stopped voting for Democrats after the 1992 Presidential Elections brought the so-called “New” Democrats to power. Not without a hint of irony, he tells of how he lost hope when Jerry Brown, who was supposed to represent the progressive left Democrats, lost the Democratic Party nomination to Bill Clinton.

KB: Things just got more and more ridiculous within the Democratic Party after that. Since then, I’ve always voted for Greens [and Green Party candidates], period. Though I was so desperate to get a break from George Bush, I voted Nader/Camejo in the 2004 elections.

He smirks, “Of course, I had the luxury of being in California—I didn’t have to face any huge dilemmas.” Responding to the oft-leveled allegations that Greens were wasting their votes, Khalil says, “that’s a defeatist and undemocratic argument.”

KB: It’s the voice of fear. I understand it, because I’m fearful too. I’m full of fear right now. As a Muslim, Progressive, Arab-American, I have three strikes against me. So I understand that fear that says, “Let’s be pragmatic.” But, it’s very self-defeating, because after every election we’re in a worse predicament than we were in before. The choice is always between the lesser of two evils, each more and more intolerable, and it’s all because of this logic. We let the Democrats completely off the hook every time. The Democrats take [progressive voters] for granted, so for progressives to vote for Democrats right now is political suicide. It doesn’t make sense.

Khalil says that if you’re a progressive voter in our American two-party, winner-take-all-system, “It’s counter-intuitive to vote your own interest.”

KB: I’m just as scared [of the Bush Administration] as those who hold their noses and vote for Democrats, if not more. But I don’t let that fear completely overwhelm me.

Khalil’s cartoons can be found at www.bendib.com, while his fine art is on display at www.StudioBendib.com. Khalil co-hosts “Voices of the Middle East and North Africa” every other Wednesday at 7 PM on KPFA Free Speech Radio 94.1 FM.

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