On August 16, 2016, Zarah Sultana tweeted an image of a tote bag she saw in the Berlin subway that went immediately viral. The bag had Arabic type on it which said, ‘This text has no other purpose than to terrify those who are afraid of the Arabic language”. The image was retweeted 78.000 times and the design was featured on news sites around the world. The tote bag is made by Rock Paper Scissors, a graphic design studio in Haifa run by Sana Jammalieh and Haytham Charles Haddad. When interviewed by the Australian news site SBS, the two designers said about their design, “While fuddling what to write we came to a conclusion that the existence of the font and language—and not necessarily the writing—is what’s important.” The designers live in the Israeli city of Haifa, where typography is easily connected to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The designers continued, “We notice here that the Arabic language is starting to disappear from signs and public places.” The bag’s popularity coincides with growing xenophobia in Europe and populist politicians who brand Middle East culture as religious or Islamic extremist. The bags are currently sold out but keep an eye on their webshop, if you one.
The award-winning show Homeland is a television series from the U.S. featuring Claire Danes as a C.I.A. counter-terrorism agent. The series has been criticised for Islamophobic stereotypes and errors in its depiction of the Middle East. When filming in Berlin in 2015, artists from the Middle East were hired to ‘decorate’ the set with Arabic graffiti. The artists quickly realised no one was interested in what the graffiti actually said. As artist Heba Amin noted, ‘Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East’. They decided to use this opportunity to criticise the television series by writing slogans like ‘Homeland is Racist’, and ‘#blacklivesmatter’. Only after the episode aired the artists released a statement about the meaning of the slogans that had appeared during the show. The artists said, ‘It’s very important for us to address the idea that this kind of stereotyping is very dangerous because it helps form people’s perceptions of an entire region, a huge region, which in turn affects foreign policy’.