The Nation on Anti-Muslim Cartoons

The Nation usually puts in a though-provoking peice, however this article misses that mark by a wide margin. This is an interview of Joe Sacco & Art Spiegelman, an Arab and a Jew respectively, asking questions about the recent Danish cartoons that have been causing so much violence. I can say for a start that perhaps picking out an Arab and an Jew to discuss this issue ~ when Jews were not even involved in this conflict at it’s start ~ seems a bit strange and more than a bit myopic, but then this is the frame within which all Arab issues seem to be understood in this country.

Despite The Nation’s narrow view of the situation, this quote is at least worth considering:

SACCO: All societies have their taboos. Are these editorial cartoonists going to rush to the defense of anti-Semitic cartoons? I doubt it, frankly. There are countries in the so-called West–Germany, Austria–where depiction of Nazi imagery is against the law, and even doing a Hitler salute–you could be imprisoned for something like that.

That ultimately is the point of the whole conflagration, in my view: what this is really all about is that standards for acceptable discourse look very different in different parts of the world. And as regrettable I may find intolerance in any form, the fact is that it is not incumbent upon someone else’s society to change thier ways before you change yours. In fact, society as a whole does not need to change for an individual to exercize a bit of self-control, which does not appear to have been in the Danish cartoonist’s mind when he published the cartoons. It is true that there is a fair amount of editorial cartooning in Arab news outlets like ArabNews.com or AlJazeera.com which could be taken as anti-Semetic, but that does not justify eye-for-an-eye retaliation.

Gary Trudeu of Doonesbury fame has an interesting Q&A about this whole thing in his little corner of Slate.com:

Why has the U.S. news media (broadcast and print), almost universally refused to publish the cartoons?

I assume because they believe, correctly, it is unnecessarily inflammatory. It’s legal to run them, but is it wise? The Danish editor who started all this actually recruited cartoonists to draw offensive cartoons (some of those he invited declined). And why did he do it? To demonstrate that in a Western liberal society he could. Well, we already knew that. Some victory for freedom of expression. An editor who deliberately sets out to provoke or hurt people because he’s worried about “self-censorship” is not an editor I’d care to work for.

He has lots more to say on the issue, all of which seems perfectly level-headed and correct. I am struck by the incongruency of a liberal cartoonist encouraging restraint while a conservative president uses this moment to advocate a free press. These are strange times. But not new, as GBT happily reminds us of Salmon Rushdie.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.