‘Emergent Structure’ in the Abu Ghraib Political Cartoons of Emad Hajjaj in a News Context, or, What do the Images of Abu Ghraib ‘Want from Us’?*

By Orayb A. Najjar.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

The Torture scandal of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was exposed in 2004 when 60 Minutes introduced the story by placing on its web site the photo of a hooded prisoner on a box. That particular image, chosen by many cartoonists and scholars as the iconic image to represent torture, is the subject of this study.
I apply the theories of “conceptual blending” (Fauconnier and Turner, 2002) to the Abu Ghraib cartoons of the hooded prisoner as well as to the cartoons that draw on that iconic image years later. By tracing the cognitive and visual strategies political cartoonist Emad Hajjaj used to transform that powerful icon into 24 cartoons between 2004-2010, I illustrate how the image continues to be blended into new “emergent structures” that are applied to other news events. I suggest that, over time, the Hajjaj cartoons changed from timely commentary on the mistreatment of prisoners, to icons that encourage “a devotional reading” (Mitchell, 2006) of related and unrelated news events. Those same images have also inspired political “culture jamming,” in which artists turned the iPod into iRaq, and posted mock iRaq posters, extending the life and reach of the image.

Keywords: Political Cartoons, Abu Ghraib, Iraq, Editorial Cartoons, Emad Hajjaj, Conceptual Integration, Blending, Emergent Structure, Visual Communication, Culture Jamming

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.1-18. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.097MB).

Dr. Orayb A. Najjar

Professor, Department of Communication, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, USA

Orayb Aref Najjar is professor in the Department of Communication at Northern Illinois University, USA, where she teaches courses in digital photography, computer graphics, and international communication. Her research interests include media law in the Middle East and new media and digital communication laws and regulations. Her visual media research concentrates on political cartoons. Her latest publications include, The Pathology of Media Intervention in Iraq 2003-2008: The US attempt to restructure Iraqi media law and content, in International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies, Volume 3, Issue 1, May 2009, pp. 27-52; Cartoons as a Site for the Construction of Palestinian Refugee Identity: An Exploratory Study of Cartoonist Naji al-Ali. Journal of Communication Inquiry Vol. 31, Issue 3 (June 2007):255-285. Media Policy and Law in Egypt and Jordan: Continuities and Changes. In Kai Hafez (Ed.). Arab Media: Power and Weakness. New York: Continuum, 2008. pp. 183-196.