From the Jewish cartoon experience. Humanization, Dehumanization and Context and Specificity of Cartoons

Revised twice for improved clarity 10/1/15 15:40, 20:10

Much has already been said and written about taking offence to satire and cartoons.

Dehumanization

Jewish people have been persistently dehumanized in cartoons. Depicted as the suckers of the blood of all that is living and greedy money minded bastards.

An example in case was a cartoon in the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung last year, which aimed to depict Facebook’s Zuckerman as an Octopus from the film Pirates of the Caribbean, but struck cords and similarity with German Nazi era.  The critical world was up in arms and the artist himself saw, he wasn’t at his best with this and apologised. Interestingly enough at the time the principle and first critique against this cartoon came from one of the writers of Germany’s main satirical magazine Titanic.

The West understands that as far as Jewish caricature is concerned, there are limits as to how far one should go in the realm of acceptability. That does not mean that Jewish people in the political spotlight can not be caricatured and laughed about from the cynical angle, it is just how it is done. This case was unusual, because it regarded the internet tycoon Zuckerman and his Jewishness, accidental or not.

More usually the line is overstepped in the many conflicts between Israel and its neighbours some cartoonists overstep the line.

Draw as you see them or legitimate critique?

This is particularly so, in large sections of the Arab press, and that of Muslim dominated countries, from North Africa to Malaysia.  In fact if you are looking for newspapers in which the Third Reich caricature of Jewish people has an active second life, all you need to do is search there and you will find soon all the stereotypes confirmed, “the Jew” as the above mentioned blood sucking and child killing beast out for profit, or “rapist of Arab lands and women”.  There are some Jewish and anti-racist organisations like CIF and ADL and others that spend all their time skimming the press for such content and they are not getting less busy because the Arab spring came along. And, I like to argue, in the absence, for most, of real and meaningful encounters with real Jewish people, the cartoons become a self fulfilling prophecy. They are then not just the critique of Jews but the depiction of Jews, as imagined by many. There is no mistake that yesterday a second set of radicals took action upon that misrepresentation of Jewish people, and selected of all targets ordinary Jewish people in a Jewish grocery store as adequate and appropriate hostages to attempt the safe passage of the two infamous brothers offended by the cartoons of a French satire magazine.  Turning the dice around Arabs and Muslims suffer similar faiths by cartoonists.

Being able to draw on divine themes in satire and cartoons is part of what let to the end of what is labelled the dark ages of Europe, where the church determined and censured all.

Looking back, one has to admit that the critique here was principally of certain people and institutions, bishops, the Vatican, and kings and queens, often representatives thereof . That said, and looking at contemporary critical approaches to religions, people who believe in God are a diverse lot, whilst some in the bible belt of the USA will fight abortion and insist on creationism, there are others who believe in evolution and God.  There are many good people amongst people of faith, deeply humble and dedicated to help others.  There are those whose faith is an internal struggle and one of relations to others, and others who proselytize or kill others for God.  And there are those sad cases of rape and abuse behind the clerical curtains, or the starving of children born out of wed lock recently in Ireland.  Cartoons and satire must be specific in that sense and in every case.

Militant Secularism

I dare to go further.  Some secular voices can be as inflexible and extreme as religious fundamentalism, accepting nothing less, as those religious ones attacked.  To condemn all religion as Salman Rushdie did this week, in the wake of the events in Paris, that they are all medieval and have no game in modern society, is denying humanity as it is, namely that the majority of people on earth believe in God/s.  For most of its existence humanity needed religion, its existence whether true by scripture or a human invention, depending where you stand on the divide, is essentially human.  Rushdie and others are dishonest about religion denying its potential as a constructive and positive force too.  I have have seen and encountered many religious people who are nothing but kind good people, and who judge people and like to be judged likewise not by their faith but by their deeds.  I feel Rushdie’s pain, his life was made hell by political religious fundamentalism, perhaps we can not expect more from his pen.

Who speaks and where?

And then there is the context of where satire is applied.  A Jewish person criticising certain sections of Jewish Orthodox men in front of a paying Jewish audience shines in a different light, than somebody standing in front of a general audience and stating, “last week I went to a Jewish area, or last week I met a Muslim and starting a story from there.” Perhaps the most precise and accurate critique comes always from within. In the case of IS, the Egypt correspondent of the German newspaper taz quoted such a case in a Lebanese satirical show he saw recently: A Christian couple approaches a sudden make up IS check-point. The IS guards ask for a quote from the noble Quran to pass. Failing to do so would lead to instant execution. The husband quotes something in Arabic and the guards smile and lets the couple through. The wife asks the husband later, what it was, surely it wasn’t the Quran. No, answers the husband, it was from the bible, “who says those IS people know the Quran?” In the background one sees the IS guards waving save passage. Point made, specific and local context and not collectively against all Muslims or God.

Between Anti-Semitic cartoons that were used to oil the Nazi propaganda – still being used today in some Arab newspapers – down to legitimate critique, satire has to be therefore appropriate, precise in its target rather than general and daring. There is a fine thin line between critique and propaganda.

Monotone Critique equals Propaganda

The rules of the free society however, the one that people went on the streets for after Wednesdays massacre, states that in such a free democratic society there is also a right of reply and the general public consistently answers a daring sketch, it is a form of debate.  As said there is a balance to be struck. Consistent monotone critique of one side of an argument equals propaganda. A political satirical magazine, unlike some papers with a clear agenda (e.g. to blame all usually on Muslims or Jews) usually attacks and takes account of at all sides. From foreign policy of the West and NATO and the pope, to Islamists and Le Pen Fascists, simply all players in political society are subject to its daring focus. It is a platform of argument.

By all means cartoonists can and should be criticized, along with my profession of journalism, that class of knowers, writers and talkers, who pass quick judgement upon others and distribute it manifold to sell our papers. I am myself a member of it and as with the case of the Sueddeuscthe I have made my point about the cartoon there almost a year ago.  Personally I am always very careful to stay away from misrepresentations, but I can make mistakes.   Here in the UK, at least since News of the World, some of us have been receiving the cartoons they deserve, in fact some even sit in prison now. Democratic societies hence usually do work themselves out somehow. Not to say there are those who tend not to have a voice, and good newspapers and satire magazines alike have an obligation to address this. In Britain the victims of journalism were in part big wigs, hence the prosecutions.

No need to dishonour Mohamed

Creativity can avoid offending the majority whilst being specific to its intended target.  In this way, unless points on the debate between secularism and religion are made, one can probably do without depicting or offending other people’s holy figures, and if in deed one wishes to make points against religion, than one can address all religions in one stroke, rather than being selective.

Victims

In a time when Front National is one of the strongest French parties, and in large parts of the Muslim world fundamentalist religious parties have the upper hand we need to deal with both phenomena. And yet the economic interests of the world still divide nations and continents unequally, as was imagined at the height of colonialism almost 100 years ago in the age of Sykes and Picot who drew most of the borders of that contemporary unequal world to suite their interests.   This means that within all of that there are questions of control of access to power and justice.  The fact that fanatics did very wrong deeds last week should not obstrue the background of what upsets young people of migrant background in the West.  Algeria, the place of family background of the those terrorist brothers, well there is a country with a blood drained history with France and there are others. And with Mali, the country of background of the other assailant the French engagement is even more recent. The West likes to believe that somehow wars fought afar are inconsequential. In a globalised world with airplane passage how can it be.

But Islamic fundamentalism is a divisive force too that causes much pain, most of all to other Muslims.  It deserves to be subject to critical observations and yes cartoons.  How we apply critique and satire however must also be guided by the warning how some Arab media consistently depict Jews, and that it would never pass judgement and sensitivities in the West, because we know it came from the ultimate evil, the Nazi era, years ago.

Cartoonists have thus a difficult job. It really is in the balance and in careful assessments.  Interestingly in the responses to Wednesday  I have seen some quite welcoming examples, that were specific about religious militants and left aside Muslims, like Dave Brown’s depiction of the Eiffel Tower as a fountain pen on top of which is a militant.    This is how it should be.  Specific, local context, as specific as possible,  and not offending all Muslims to make a point on these extremists. But the homework is not just to be done in one place.  Perhaps we will see the dawn of an era of better satire and caricature and cartoons, less polemic and more to the point, not just in Europe from now on.

We must remember reactionary forces that adhere to Islamic fundamentalism have slaughtered more Muslim civilians than Europeans.  Their other victims are non Muslims in the Middle East and in Arab lands the West likes to confuse as Muslim Arabs, Christian minorities, Jews of North Africa and the Middle East, Zoroastrians and other smaller reigious and ethnic groups. The terror to our secure existences in the West may freak us out, but in the Middle East the price paid is much more heavy. The crisis has begun there long before shots were fired in Paris and the victims are ordinary Muslim men and women.  That  is why specificity is so important and making any group not per se subject to despotism but apply the pen carefully where it is most appropriate.

(c) Daniel Zylbersztajn (All Rights Reserved)

Islam is also European!

(c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
(c) Daniel Zylbersztajn

Now the hard work and soul searching must begin.  In my opinion there is a big job for all of us ahead.  I mentioned it earlier today in a facebook post where I argued that pupils in Europe ought to all visit Andalusia, Albania and Istanbul.  Europeans must stop excluding Islam and Arab empires in the explanations on the history of its development.  The tale of the development of its democracies and enlightenment itself are not without relation to knowledge come through from Arab sources.  But there is little knowledge thereof likewise in some European Muslim communities, many of whom with little knowledge of Europe, whose families have migrated from Asia or the Indian Sub-continent.  In my conversations with people, I learned that some were not even aware that Spain was once Arab and of the great buildings and legacies left behind.  There were tolerant legacies in Baghdad in the Middle East as well as in Cordoba in Spain in which people of all faiths partook whilst Muslims had the upper hand.  And yes the Arab and Turkish conquests were not peaceful affairs, they were conquests with the sword rather than just by the book.  Neither were the crusades holy affairs of kindness to other human beings or further East activities by the Russian Byzantines.  But if faith and religion are to have any meaning to anyone in the world at all, it can not be achieved through the gun or sword or terrorising people, can it?  Islam and other faiths, including the Jewish tradition I uphold, have more to offer than the verses and paragraphs on the destruction of others (as we read over and over again most scriptures have these – should we all be at each others throats therefore?) .  The fearfulness of a higher presence and meaning, for those who believe in it, the personal humbleness, and self-control, the reaching out of the hand to others even if they are not friends and the care for those in need, are these not the values that count, that we shall not murder, steal, take another’s partner, that we shall honour parents, and is not the promise that there is a God or for others Gods, and even for full hearted secular evolutionists that somehow we are all connected by shared origin and destiny, even if we may argue about the specifics?  Islam, just as Catholicism and Judaism and all other world faiths, can actually be proud of its contributions to science and human advance. No followers of faith are free of wrong doing either.  Arab conquests and Islamic fundamentalism, Christian crusades, justified slavery, genocide and colonialism and the Hindu curse of casts, along with Jewish biblical battles and some of Israel’s politics.  If each stands in front of their God’s or morals jury, will they all be clean? Surely not!  But I like to repeat, Islam contributed to European civilisation, and that is what we need to say loud most of all in all directions, because there are many who don’t know this and others who don’t want to know this.   This is the message that needs to be spread on the internet and into the heads of insecure youngsters.  These should be the responses, when they find themselves marginalised by small minded people.  Then there cannot be an offence to vile cartoons, because well educated people will know that there is a different narrative to Islam which is quite connected and central to all that Europe is.  You can bet a  Croissant and Turkish Coffee on it!

Afraid of the women behind the black veil? A comment on the ECHR judgement regarding the Niqab

When the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgement on the claim of breach of human rights against a Muslim woman in France, affected by the government ban on the wearing of the Niqab, was released, I felt bewildered.  Somehow the court managed to abrogate her claims of human rights violations and argued instead, that the rights of all others were infringed.  Its reasons are even more strange. Read my comment in  Open Democracy

Anti-social subjectivity infringing the principle of ‘Living Together’

http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/daniel-zylbersztajn/antisocial-subjectivity-infringing-principle-of-%E2%80%98living-toget   DEUTSCH Als der Europäische Gerichtshof die Klage einer muslimischen Frau auf Menschenrechtsverletzungen in Lichte des Bannes der Niqab zurückwies und stattdessen entschloss, dass eine Frau die dieses Gewand trägt, die Rechte aller anderen beschränke, musste ich erst mal genauer hinsehen was sie damit meinten. Hier ist meine Antwort in einem Kommentar auf dem politischen E-Zine Open Democracy (Englisch). WER HAT ANGST VOR DER FRAU HINTER DEM SCHWARZEN SCHLEIER Die antisoziale Subjektivität und das Zusammenleben http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/daniel-zylbersztajn/antisocial-subjectivity-infringing-principle-of-%E2%80%98living-toget

Report zum Urteil bzgl Lee Rigby (Taz).

ENGLISH

A report about the trial verdict appeared in Friday’s Taz, Die Tageszeitung  (Germany, print only).

Having observed some of the trial, it is noteworthy to say that I felt these two young men were strongly misguided, and some of the commentary on them rightly asks, how is it possible that two British men of Christian Nigerian background got so entangled in extreme ideology that it drove them to kill a man on the open street of whom they did not know if he was connected to anything they decried.  One clue was given to me already in June 2013 by forensic experts:  Untreated trauma (see here)

The just as blind hatred of Muslims by far right groups following the murder showed that there is still much work and education to be done in terms of community relations also here.

GERMAN

Ein Report zum Urteil bezüglich des Mordes an Lee Rigby erschien in der Taz vom Freitag (nur Druck).  Nachdem ich selber den Prozess verfolge, bleibt die richtige Frage, wie es möglich wurde, dass zwei Briten die aus christlichen nigerianischen Familien stammten, sich so in radikaler Ideologie verhakten, dass sie einen unbekannten Mann auf offener Straße ermordeten, von dem sie nicht wissen konnten, ob er auch nur das geringste mit ihren Hassmotiv zu tun hat. Ein Leidfaden wurde mir bereits im Juni von foresischen Experten gegeben. Unbehandeltes Trauma (siehe hier)

Der genauso blinde Hass auf britische Muslime durch rechte Gruppen in Großbritannien zeigte, dass auch hier noch viel Arbeit aussteht.

England, England, EDL, EDL

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Deutscher Bericht:

www.taz.de/Nach-dem-Mord-in-London/!116732/

English:

When I went to Woolwich yesterday to examine the scene after the murder, it wasn’t long until I witnessed a backlash action by the far right organisation EDL.  Local young people of minority backgriund suspected it and spoke of fear of being penalized for the actions of some crazed loonies.  There were some exchanges between the police and the EDL supporters, absurdly some of the EDL people had full pints of beer, a woman came with something that looked like a Martini, as if they had emerged from a pub.

I managed to quietly speak with three EDL supportes who explained to me quietly that they had enough, and felt urge to protest.  Not all however were quiet there was quite some shouting and posturing as well in general.  Some of the fans were rather young (15-18, and they seemed to have come from across the entire area).

www.taz.de/Nach-dem-Mord-in-London/!116732/Select link above and use googletranslate to get an English tranlation of the German original on the Online version of the article in Taz.