October 17, 2006

Draw Me


From AP: Political cartoonists talk shop at U.N..

Political cartoonists discussed the power of their pens and brushes at the United Nations on Monday and the pressures they face — highlighted by the Muslim outrage over a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. ...

Many of the cartoonists said their work must not be created primarily to incite tensions that could result in violence, while others acknowledged they cannot always determine when they will cross the line.

But they all agreed they must pay attention to the current political climate.

"We have a job to be more sensitive," said Jean Plantu, a leading political cartoonist for the French newspaper Le Monde and the main organizer of the event.

Annan provided the morally bankrupt reasoning for the conference: Secretary-General's remarks at "Unlearning Intolerance" seminar on the theme "Cartooning for Peace". Here's a partial fisking, starting with his speech:

Cartoons make us laugh. Without them, our lives would be much sadder.

And isn't that the only true purpose of an editorial cartoon? To make us happy? Who cares if it makes a point?

But they are no laughing matter: they have the power to inform, and also to offend. Short of physical pain, few things can hurt you more directly than a caricature of yourself, of a group you belong to, or – perhaps worst – of a person you deeply respect.

"Look out, look out! He has a cartoon!"

Yes, cartoons can offend, and that is part of their point.

It just depends on whom you're offending, right, Mr. Annan?

If we banned all offensive cartoons, we should make our newspapers and websites very dull, and deprive ourselves of an important form of social and political comment.

Boy, that's comforting. When it comes to whether or not to institute state censorship, the recognition of a basic right is second only to keeping our news from being boring.

In fact, I am not convinced that the solution to this problem lies in invoking the authority of the State at all.

Really? You've actually considered banning cartoons?

Even if we decided to ban only cartoons that are deeply offensive to large numbers of people, we would still be asking the State to make some very subjective judgements, and embarking on a slippery slope of censorship.

Sure, there might be some practical problems with banning deeply offensive cartoons, but, hey, morally it's a great idea!

You can just hear him battling his inner fascist.

I would much prefer to leave decisions about what to publish in the hands of editors, and of the cartoonists themselves. ...

Yes, why hassle with passing onerous laws and planning midnight raids when you can get the cartoonists to censor themselves?

Does that involve “self-censorship”? In a sense, yes – but exercised, I would hope, in a spirit of genuine respect for other people's feelings, not out of fear.

Let's all get into the spirit of self-censorship. It will be so much more fun that way.

Does it involve “political correctness”? Not, I hope, if that means being dull and pretentious.

Above all, let's not be dull!

But again, yes, if it means remembering that other people have feelings.

Feelings. Nothing more than feelings.

There is nothing admirable, or indeed funny, about heaping further humiliation and contempt on any group in society whose members are already feeling vulnerable and frightened.

Actually, it can be admirable, and indeed funny, if said people deserve it. I'm sure the Nazis felt "vulnerable and frightened" at some point.

I hope also that we can avoid getting into a kind of “cartoon war” ...

Too late for that.

It is certainly not the way to promote better understanding and mutual respect between people of different faith or culture.

Remember, kids: Just because someone wants to kill you for expressing your opinion doesn't mean you can't respect them.

I am not suggesting that there are easy and clear answers to all these problems.

No doubt a guilt trip of this magnitude takes time. Not every cartoonist is eager to spend lots of time guessing how not to offend anyone with his cartoon.

All snarkiness aside, let's look at the truly disgusting finale of Annan's speech.

We have to face the fact that sometimes there is tension, if not contradiction, between different values which in themselves are equally precious.

In peacemaking and peacebuilding, we often find that tension between peace and justice. In the present case, we may find it between freedom of expression and respect for the beliefs and feelings of others.

When that happens, the answer is not simply to assert the primacy of one value over the other. We have to work to find ways of preserving and reconciling both.

So there you have it. The moral to his story is: the Western political achievement of free speech is "equally precious" to the whims of Islamic religious fanatics.

Many in the West have strong "beliefs and feelings" about freedom of expression. But somehow I don't think Mr. Annan is concerned about those "beliefs and feelings." When these contradicting values clash and tensions rise, the solution is, apparently, to somehow find ways to reconcile the contradictions. Perhaps they'll hold more panel discussions.

In the meantime ... To not "assert the primacy" of free speech is to cut our own throats.

There's no point in talking if we can't say what we want.

(Hat tip Little Green Footballs and Tim Sumner)

UPDATE -- Oct. 18: Some readers may not get the reference in this cartoon to the classic ads for Famous Artists School, which used to appear in comics, magazines and on matchbooks. See this Wikipedia entry for more information.

Also, reader Eric Flisser suggested that we caricature Kofi Annan since he is crying about caricatures. We've done that before, so here are a few examples:

Kofi Annan caricature
"Kofi's Last Stand"
"Annus Horribilis"
"Annan Threat"

Posted by Forkum at October 17, 2006 05:26 PM