Monday, August 21, 2006

That Holocaust cartoon competition...

Some time ago, around the time of the Mohammed Cartoon Controversy, I noted in a post that the Iranian newspaper Hamshari had launched a competition for cartoons satirising the Holocaust, to illustrate the double standards of the West in allowing the images of Mohammed in the Danish newspaper to be published then republished all over the world. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any of these online; if I do, I'll provide a link. Cartoons involve, however, images of the Statue of Liberty reading a book on the Holocaust while giving a Nazi salute with the other hand, Ariel Sharon in an SS uniform, a Jewish figure drinking from a cup marked "Palestinian blood", and an Arab figure impaled on the ground by a Jewish man's nose, on which is marked "Holocaust".

Leaving aside the issue of whether the cartoons are any good until we have actually seen them - and, from the descriptions available online, it seems that they have a much more overtly political message than the Danish ones did - it seems worthwhile to ask whether the contest will have the desired effect of illustrating perceived Western "double standards" over the publication of religious satire. As one organiser of the contest has argued, "we staged this fair to expose the limits of the freedom Westerners believe in... They can write freely anything they like about our prophet, but if one raises doubts about the Holocaust he is either fined or sent to prison".

A worthy aim, no doubt, but one that has, as I thought it might, backfired. Leaving aside the differences in the subject matter - which are not insignificant - we are simply not seeing anything like the type of reaction from the West that we saw from the Arab world over the depictions of Mohammed. Certainly, there has been condemnation from many quarters - as there was also over the earlier cartoons, but there have been few if any calls for the criminalization of those who participated. And the story will very soon be out of the news altogether, perhaps to make a brief reappearance in early September when the winner is chosen.

My own reaction - and, I'm sure, that of many others like me - is a combination of interest and distaste; the latter at the crude and cheap racial stereotyping that appears to be present in some of the entries, the former at what seem to be some points that are genuinely worthy of discussion being raised. The Guardian piece notes that one split-image contribution portrays a stand-up comedian performing in the "West Club"; the first window shows him "telling jokes about Islam" to raucous laughter; the second, "telling jokes about the Holocaust", shows him being kicked out of the club.

As I noted before, there are significant and material differences between the two subject matters; however, this is not to say that there are not genuinely worthwhile arguments to be had over the role that the Holocaust plays in debate, particularly over the current actions of both Israel and the US, in terms of acting as both a conversation-stopper and critic-demoniser.

This being said, given the pretty low-key reaction, this exhibition has already, I think, proved that the West in general is much more open to satire about the Holocaust than the Islamic world showed itself to be over depictions of the Prophet; and it wil further illustrate, I think, that many if not most Westerners are prepared to judge satire for themselves, and not to have the State to do it for them. What the organisers of the competition seem to have missed is that the handing down of jail sentences for Holocaust denial remains an exception in the West - and one that many, if not most, are decidely uncomfortable about at that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You can find some of the cartoons in following site.