Tintin and The Islamic State

The Adventures of Tintin have always been my favorite cartoon. My siblings and I would spend Friday evenings sprawled out on the couches, copies of his numerous escapades strewn across the floor. We gobbled up each and every one of Hergé’s colorful pages, reading aloud Captain Haddock’s inventive expletives with youthful joy. Tintin’s feats around the world unquestionably served as an inspiration for my passion for travel – who doesn’t want to be a famous reporter who sees the world and solves its mysteries in the same breath?

Tintin also made a brief appearance during my college years. As an undergraduate, I took a senior seminar (History 598) with Professor Alice Conklin on European Colonialism. How surprised – and excited – I was to see that one of the lesser known Tintin tales: Tintin in the Congo (1930-31) was on the course syllabus. Along with Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, Hergé’s first Tintin story, the intrepid reporter’s African exploits are not widely

A scene from Tintin in the Congo

A scene from Tintin in the Congo

distributed. You won’t find them in your local library or Barnes and Noble. This is because Tintin in the Congo is a chilling representation of European chauvinism and racism at a time when the Nazi party was just beginning to take form. Reading Hergé’s work today, it is no surprise that Hitler came to power.

Of course, the (blatant, but mostly benign) cultural biases found in the Tintin comics have done little to slow their popularity, or other artists from creating witty parodies.

The image above, recently found floating around the Twittersphere, is a perfect example. It depicts a scene in which Tintin, deep within the desert, faces certain death as he kneels alongside the familiar-but-still-sinister, British-accented Islamic State (ISIS) member, aptly named “Jihadi John”, who appeared in almost every video in which a Western journalist was executed since September 2014.

At first glance this seems to be a less-than-subtle reference to the Islamic State’s barbarism. However, given my fascination with all things Tintin, I couldn’t help but think that the jpg deserved unpacking.

One of the first questions I asked myself was, “Who made this jpg?”

On the one hand, it could have been someone inspired by the tragic deaths of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in January, fed up with the brutality of ISIS and determined to take a stand in the name of journalism and freedom of speech. Or perhaps it was a response to this week’s attempted assassination of controversial Danish cartoonist Lars Vilks.

Still, a part of me believes that this cartoon could have just as easily been the creation of someone sympathetic to the ISIS cause. The Belgian reporter may be adored by millions across the world, yet for some he is a symbol of bigotry and imperialism. Could this Tintin parody be a threat, some way of asserting that not even Western civilization’s heroes are safe from the Islamic State? Is it challenging the underlying narrative of European superiority found in most of the Tintin comics and stating that the problems in Iraq and Syria cannot be solved by the West?

Perhaps I am being overly analytical. The individual who designed this logo may have had any deeper motivation than getting his image to go viral. Still, I continue to be impressed by the enduring qualities found in Hergé’s little globetrotter, forty years after the publication of his last book. As incalculable the dangers to Tintin were during his 20th century exploits, journalism in the 21st century is increasingly under threat. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 221 reporters are in jail worldwide, the majority in China, Iran, and Egypt. In Turkey and Russia, dissenting voices are being suppressed by growing state media enterprises. Terrorists are targeting journalists in Europe. And, in the brilliant words of Jeffrey Goldberg, those “Western journalists who seek out jihadists are courting death.”

Maybe 21st century Tintin is better off tweeting about the carnage from his living room.

 

 

Here are a few Tintin parodies I found online:

Posted on by Gabriel in Uncategorized