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OP-ED: It’s a funny old world

  • Published at 11:15 pm December 4th, 2020
Biden Netanyahu

Some questions are never answered

The lighter spirit of cartoons exemplifies lampoons and satire that resonate with readers. When you visualize the depth of thought that goes into them, it becomes thought-provoking. The Nancy, Snoopy, Bugs Bunny, Tokai, Garfield, and even Dennis the Menace series all had messages to convey. 

Whether social stigma, political lampoonery, or the simple lessons of life, they were mostly short and sweet jolts to humdrum everyday life. And then came the age of harder, harsher, political cartoons, that while being an outpouring of expression, began to hit sentiments of religion, ethnicity, and race. 

The creators all had their own points of view. While most grit their teeth and braved their way through thick and thin, there were others like Rafiqunnabi who gave it up because he, too found the relevance of Tokai becoming stale. Shishir, partly due to ill health and more because of intolerance of expression, no longer portrays political satire.

The essence of cartoons is to invoke humour dry, wry, and simple. But three recent examples of such expressions have drawn censorship, violence, and now possibly a political row. The New York Times was forced to say “deeply sorry” for publishing a cartoon showing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a lead dog for President Trump shown wearing the Jewish kippah. 

The Times said it was “unacceptable” at a time when anti-Semitic sentiments were on the rise. The newspaper and all those who criticized or condemned didn’t, of course, touch on the reasons behind such anti-Semitic vibes. The cartoon was not reproduced again. The Times used pretty strong words in its apology. “Such imagery is always dangerous” it said. 

Compare that with the odious cartoons of an apparent likeness of Prophet Mohammad (SM) with a bomb in his turban and arms, originally published in Denmark and reproduced by Charlie Hebdo in France. That it was sacrilege for Muslims was never considered by the magazine editors. Nor did they realize that it was an affront to a religion sadly used as an excuse for terrorist attacks by some, including the condemnable killing spree in the Charlie Hebdo offices.

The abomination was condemned by all and sundry, including the Muslim community. Yet, the magazine showed no reproach, and the French president defended the “freedom of expression.” When the trials of the murders began, the magazine reproduced the cartoons to the extent that slide versions were projected in prominent public buildings. Unlike the Times, Charlie Hebdo did not review its editorial policy. 

Apparently, to the French, the imagery wasn’t dangerous in times when Islamophobia is on the rise. The difference between attitudes to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia is amply clear. It’s always “Islamic terrorism,” but never more than “misguided or mentally deranged terrorists,” when others take it upon themselves to shoot down Jews at a congregation in the United States or the gunman who was free to move from masjid to masjid in New Zealand to kill those attending Friday congregation. 

The reaction of Jacinda Arden’s government was a sterling example in capturing the gunman, as was the French government’s alacrity in apprehending and killing in shoot-outs the perpetrators. No killings are justified unless so decreed by courts of law. Unfortunately, no law has any remedy for state-sponsored murders or those in proxy-wars. Those that have survived such wars and murders may question why their kith and kin had to die without being part of any such wars. 

These are questions never answered, addressed, or compensated in any way. For those that ask, life must go on carrying such memories.

Photoshop editing is the cause of what might be a flare-up in diplomatic relations between China and Australia. Following the findings and admission that Australian troops were involved in killing innocent people, including children, the Chinese government media published a very uncomplimentary photoshopped photograph of a soldier holding a knife to a child. 

It has caused outrage in Australia. The affected Afghans aren’t in a position to retort with such media, just as were the Iraqis of the treatment of jailed soldiers by the Americans. The proudly taken photos by the American troops of this as well as urinating on dead Taliban fighters didn’t provoke the slightest of satire or condemnation by cartoonists. 

Yet, the barbaric beheading by the Islamic State mercenaries were highlighted throughout the world, even though the Muslim world as a whole condemned such sheer cold-blooded murders. So much for freedom of expression!

Australia is already beginning to feel the pinch of tariff wars and export bans to China, and a further conflagration will do it no good. It’s looking towards Western world support of its stand, most importantly, that of the United States. That’s why the Joe Biden administration’s foreign policy focus has suddenly become of great interest and scrutiny. There are more surprises in store, and they are not likely to be pleasant. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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