Pandaemonium

CARTOONS TOO DANGEROUS

Kevin Siers

A version of this is published in the Observer, 16 June 2019.


What does a newspaper do if it publishes an anti-Semitic cartoon? Determine that it won’t do so again? Or stop publishing cartoons? The New York Times appears to have taken the second route.

In April, its international edition (which is distinct from its US edition) ran a syndicated cartoon by the Portuguese cartoonist António Moreira Antunes that depicted the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as a guide dog leading a blind Donald Trump wearing a yarmulke.

It was widely condemned as anti-Semitic. The NYT published a long apology and decided to end all syndicated cartoons. On Monday, it announced that it was dropping all cartoons, syndicated and in-house, from its international edition. The newspaper did not deny that the decision was linked to the furore over anti-Semitism, but insisted that it wanted to bring the international edition in line with the US edition, which abandoned political cartoons some time ago.

Cartoons are at the cutting edge of free expression because they are dangerous. By their nature, they can be shocking, offensive, disturbing. Often, they cross the line. But they can also expose power and pomposity with a clarity and sharpness and humour that many dread. That’s why the most repressive regimes in the world routinely jail cartoonists: Jiang Yefei in China, Atena Farghadani in Iran, Musa Kart in Turkey, Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé in Equatorial Guinea. And then, of course, there are the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, murdered for the offence they caused.

A commitment to freedom of expression requires us to accept that we will make mistakes. When that happens, and however strong the backlash, our response cannot be to hide away from the very possibility of making any more mistakes. That way leads to a world in which we refuse to say, write or publish anything dangerous at all.

I’ve collected here a few cartoons about the non-cartoons of the New York Times. The cartoonists are, from top down, Kevin Siers (The Charlotte Observer), Ed Hall, Falco and Joep Bertrams.

Ed Hall

Falco

Joep Bertrams

4 comments

  1. In an age of growing ecological insecurity, divisive political cartoons and jokes are simply a recipe for social disaster. Political cartoons and jokes do not incorporate the hidden nuances of any given debate and tend to be associated with propoganda (or unfree speech) as opposed to free speech.

    Unfree speech seeks to imprison and invalidate diverse perspectives leading to closed minds, whereas free speech seeks to enlighten and validate diverse perspectives leading to open minds. Political cartoons and jokes are generally of the former which in turn seek to legitimise and normalise bigotry within target sections of any given population.

  2. In an age of growing ecological insecurity and divisive politics, cartoons and jokes are a simple a recipe for social enlightenment. Political cartoons and jokes do incorporate the hidden nuances of any given debate, if the viewer has the nouse to keep up to date with events and has an egalitarian tolerance for free expression. Shutting down critical political cartoons tends to be associated with propoganda (or unfree speech) as opposed to free speech.

    Unfree speech seeks to imprison and invalidate diverse perspectives leading to closed minds, by making expression un-free, whereas free speech seeks to enlighten and validate diverse perspectives leading to open minds. Political cartoons and jokes are generally of the latter which in turn seeks to eliminate propaganda and the protected status of privileged oppressive communities within target sections of any given population.

    Fixed it for you, Steve.

    • Thanks for your alternative take on free and unfree speech.

      In my opinion, political cartoons seldomly seek to enlighten but seek to entrench divisive views with the aim of discrediting rather than engaging in rational debate.

      For example, the cartoon you posted below seeks to reaffirm a neoconservative point of view that Jewish security lies with an alignment with US values that seeks to protect global markets around oil with Israel being the MENA staging post for American interests. Iran is clearly protecting or at least seeking to protect Palestinian interests as a proxy to protect their own national security which is dependant on oil.

      Anti-semitism and Islamophobia, as well as being real expressions from radical political factions, are also deployed by elite groupings within minority communities as cultural propogandist tools to either keep the left or the right aligned with their interests.

      The elephant in the room is of course oil dependancy and national economic security that fundamentally relies on fossil fuels for growth and stability.

      The divisive nature of the cartoon specifically seeks to binarise and polarise debate towards the extremes rather than seek compromise and international cooperation. Consequently, I see the cartoon as an expression of unfree speech as opposed to free speech.

      I’m not suggesting unfree speech be outlawed, only that unfree speech is neither protected by law or banned by law so that it resides in its own grey area of obfuscation. In contrast free speech is protected by law whilst hate speech is banned by law.

      In this respect, protecting propogandist cartoons or cartoons that normalise conflict and polarisation are not protected under free speech laws and should be referred to as expressions of unfree speech.

  3. The cartoon contained symbols of the Israeli state Judaism, and was an explicit political message that wasn’t at all aimed at the Jewish people, as citizens of Israel or as an ethnicity – so not antisemitic.

    The cartoonist isn’t antisemitic or particularly partisan as far as I’m aware. Is this other cartoon antisemitic, Islamophobic, both or nether?

    A lot of opportunistic abuse of ‘antisemitism’ and ‘islamophobia’ going on.

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