Art is a universal language, but it is spoken more often in some places than others. Khalid Albaih uses art as a means of exciting the masses to revolution. Even under an oppressive government, art can be spread through social media, graffiti, and other platforms to escape the grasp of the political sector. Despite the internet’s pervasiveness, despite the near certainty that information will reach the government, Albaih was able to successfully spread revolutionary information through his political cartoons. The necessity to evade government interference in his art is an indication of Albaih’s culture, and ultimately shows the glaring discrepancies between his situation and conditions in the United States.
Albaih acted as a participant in the Arab Spring, a movement protesting dictatorial governments in the Middle East. He had to find a way to publicize his art without being persecuted. For people who have lived in the United States their entire life, the possibility of government suppression of free expression is a foreign concept. Art is a universal language, but Albaih was forced to find a way to make it heard. This is a cultural difference because even the most radical news articles are not suppressed in the United States, so it is difficult to conceive of a culture in which they would be.
This explains why Albaih had to use art as a sort of code to avoid censorship. As Albaih mentioned, this is not necessary in the United States because information is not highly censored. Albaih had to develop his art so it was understandable to the public but also could avoid being viewed as a direct threat by the government. While this is an unfortunate situation, it is likely that it spurred his artistic creativity. The conditions he was in required novel thinking. The revolution in which he was participating allowed him to create revolutionary art. This is an example of strife and conflict actually facilitating progress in a certain field.
Like art, social media also transcends borders. Albaih mentioned that social media is not considered a threat by Arab governments and thus it is overlooked. It can therefore be used to spread important revolutionary concepts and incite the public to action. This is surprising, considering our cultural perception of social media in the United States. Here, it is usually a form of entertainment, filled with mindless images and humorous texts. Though it is common for politics to infiltrate social media in the United States, it is still rare for worthwhile messages to be spread on these platforms. In places where it is a necessity to spread information in the most inconspicuous way, however, the social internet is used to its full potential.
The origins of “Khartoon!” and the difficult conditions in which it exists indicate cultural differences between Arab nations and the United States. When viewed from the perspective of a resident of the United States, Albaih’s cartoons are clearly critiques of his political environment, but also seem relatively innocent. Political cartoons in the United States circulate without significant backlash. However, once one is educated about the suppressive conditions faced by Arab nations, it is understandable that Albaih’s undertaking is a dangerous one.