16 February 2006

A curly one

by Matt Rubinstein at 9:06 am

Leunig.jpgThis is the cartoon that Michael Leunig didn’t submit to the Hamshahri competition we spoke of earlier. Someone else submitted it for him, and the cartoonist is ropeable:

“I have gotten used to dirty tricks, dirty tactics, from the pro-war lobbyists” Leunig said. “It’s a very personal attack against me. They want it proclaimed for all to see that Leunig is a friend of Muslim terrorists. They want to further caricature my position, to distort my position.”

The prankster—today revealed to be Richard Cooke, who writes for The Chaser and is not famous as a pro-war lobbyist—forged the following note, purportedly from Leunig:

As a show of solidarity with the Muslim world, and an exercise in free speech, I would like to submit a cartoon to you… I have had some difficulty getting this work published in my own country, and I believe it would help highlight the hypocrisy of the West’s attitude to free speech if you were to publish it.

Again, we should emphasise that Leunig didn’t submit the cartoon to the competition or write this explanation. However, he did submit the cartoon to The Age in 2002, and it was rejected by editor Michael Gawenda. Media Watch ran the story in May of that year, including Leunig’s response:

I think Michael Gawenda just didn’t get it. I think the drawing is sympathetic to all Jews who ever suffered but sympathy is not always expressed with sugar.

Gawenda maintained that the cartoon was inappropriate, and challenged Media Watch to test his position with its audience. Perhaps predictably, 85% of respondents thought The Age should have published the cartoon.

There are at least two ways to interpret Leunig’s cartoon. One is that the Jews, who were confronted with the blatant deception “Arbeit macht frei”—work brings freedom—as they passed through the one-way gates of various concentration camps, are now perpetrating similar violence under comparable falsehoods in Israel. Parallels of that nature are frequently drawn in anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli literature—including in cartoons, which often equate Jews or Israelis with Nazis, plastering them with swastikas. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that Michael Gawenda thought that the cartoon was inappropriate for The Age, or that some clown thought it was entirely appropriate for Hamshahri‘s cartoon competition.

That interpretation doesn’t really make sense, though. If you look closely, it’s a Jewish bloke fronting up to both gates; he is the focus of both panels. The suggestion isn’t that Jews are guilty of the same atrocities they suffered in 1942; it’s that they are being sold another lie—perhaps as brazen and certainly as deadly as the first one. They are still victims, this time not of the Nazis but of the intransigent Israeli government. The cartoon certainly takes sides in the conflict, and it uses provocative imagery, but it’s not anti-Semitic and doesn’t abuse the Holocaust. It’s about the misuse of language and rhetoric, perhaps the commonest of all governments’ crimes against their citizens.

In a way, it’s a shame Leunig didn’t submit this cartoon to the current competition. It seems to comply with the terms of entry, vague though they are; it has already run up against issues of freedom of speech and cultural sensitivity. It’s a lot more thought-provoking than the Jyllands-Posten cartoons of Muhammad were or the other Holocaust entries are likely to be. It doesn’t share the competition’s violent overtones, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t hijack the competition to demonstrate what freedom of expression is actually about.

5 Responses to “A curly one”

  1. Alastair Says:

    Did Leunig apologise to the pro-war lobbyists? I hate to say it, but he probably should.

  2. Fabian Says:

    Mais bien sfbfbfbr, c est Israel qui s est de9fendu lorsque qu elle l a atatque9, en 1964.Arreatez de nous prendre pour des pigeons.

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