Monday, August 14, 2006

Embassies burned, dozens killed
as Jews around the world
riot over Holocaust cartoons

Well, not yet. But just wait and see.

With efficiency typical of the Muslim world, a gallery in Tehran has finally gotten around to hanging those Holocaust cartoons we heard so much about last winter. Persian Islamists are a little quicker on the ball when it comes to hanging young women for the sharia crime of "having been sexually abused" or what the mullahs called "crimes against chastity." Here's an image of one of the cartoons, partially obscured by a headscarfed woman who walked through the shot. They'll hang her for her insolence tomorrow.

This cartoon apparently depicts a man lying beside a wall, struck down by that evil symbol of Hindus, or maybe Buddhists ... or Navahos. The arms of the Nazi swastika pointed to the right. And what's the cartoonist trying to say, anyway? That people today are still perishing from Naziism? Has the bizarre Israel=Nazis trope become so widespread that the swastika now symbolizes Jews?!

In the interests of total disclosure, one of my greatest journalistic faux pas was my first and last attempt at political cartoonery. (Well, maybe not last. I did do a Muhammed cartoon just for the heck of it, though I gave it the title "Solidarity" so I could claim some moral right for my free expression, just in case.) In 1986, after the Berlin disco bombing by Libyan agents affiliated with Abu "Chillin'-in-Baghdad" Nidal's terrorist clique, Ronald Reagan told the French to take their sanctified airspace and shove it, and sent bombers from England to Tripoli via the Straits of Gibraltar to level Qaddafi's tent. (Our airmen also inadvertently bombed the French embassy there. "Oops. My bad.") Incensed that our government should do anything to punish a tyrant for paying terrorists to blow up dancing Turkish women in Germany, I decided to put pen to paper. In my college newspaper, I depicted the victims of our attack on Libya as resting in coffins adorned with crosses. I put the crosses there to try to get across the idea that they were coffins, since my draftsmanship wasn't really up to the task of depicting even that. Nevermind that most Arab Muslims don't use coffins. And nevermind that when they do, they're highly unlikely to put crosses on them. It was 1986, and my sleep-deprived psyche was fully in the grip of the tentacles of Marxism, anti-Americanism, and the self-satisfied moral universe of hippie chicks in tight Che t-shirts. I've never taken political cartoons very seriously since then. The act of writing what's on your mind offers boundless opportunity for regret--thinking you can draw what's on your mind is idiotic. Especially when you can't draw.

So I'm loth to pick on cartoonists. Let's pick on curators, who are often both easy and deserving targets. The show in Tehran was arranged by Masoud Shojai, director of Caricature House (I hope that works better as a gallery name in Farsi), and by Hamshahri, the Iranian newspaper that thought up the Holocaust cartoon contest back in February. Hamshahri proposed this as a response to the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten's provocative and enlightening call for cartoonists to defy the PC censors and the jihadis and just do it--draw Muhammed with a bomb in his turban. The editors of Hamshahri say that their motives are similar, that "[i]n the wake of the publication of the profane cartoons [of Muhammed] in several European newspapers, Hamshahri is going to measure the sanctity of freedom of expression among the westerners." Well, good luck with that. How long is your yardstick?

Immediately after Hamshahri's announcement of its contest, a group of Israeli artists beat them to the punch by soliciting and publishing a series of rabidly anti-Semitic cartoons, including a number openly questioning the reality of the Holocaust.

These cartoons were published on the internet in April. No one's died yet over them. As far as I know, no one has burned anything or even bothered marching or chanting about it. (By one fairly scrupulous count, 139 persons have perished in riots over the Muhammed cartoons.) The results of the Israeli contest will be on display at the Tel-Aviv Cinemateque Festival next week. Bring your rocks.

In any event, if Jews around the world do begin rioting over Caricature House's current exhibition, killing one another and burning the embassies of Muslim nations, Iranians won't be watching the coverage on CNN. The mullahs' sense of the sanctity of freedom of expression doesn't extend to satellite channels, as the residents of Tehran found out yesterday when police confiscated their satellite dishes. But hey, it's just another day in the axis of evil, do who gives a damn, right?


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