Does anyone remember when cartoons were fun? Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, the Simpsons, Steve Bell, R. Crumb… Cartoons, from the single frame topical cartoon in a newspaper to the comic strip through to animated cartoons on TV, film or the web. They entertain us, they make us laugh, the give us another way of exploring life, emotions and problems. They also have a proud history of being in the vanguard of satire. I consider satire to be one of the essential components to a free society; the ability to lampoon individuals in power, governments, associations and institutions is vital. In the West the satirical cartoons predates the establishment of full democracy in most European nations – witness the cartoon in Punch. It is an important part of our free and democratic society and a vital part of our culture.
The thing about satirical cartoons is that they are guaranteed to offend someone, be they a blustering, self-important politician, a greedy corporation or a spluttering, bigoted bishop. Most of us will find them funny and admire how the artist can create a jibe at some sacred cow with a few deft strokes of ink. The offended party may not like it but rarely burns down the embassies of other nations, threaten to hold EU citizens at gunpoint or march through London with placards calling for the cartoonists to be beheaded and for free speech to go to hell. The irony that these shag wits could only hold an impromptu demonstration in a civilised country with freedom of speech is obviously lost on them, as is the fact that they are given a tolerance and freedom of worship which most Muslim nations do not grant to other faiths visiting their lands (and forget about freedom of expression there – hey they don’t even want you to have it in your country!).
The whole thing reminds me of the ridiculous posturing by certain Christian figures and their attacks on Monty Python’s Life of Brian when it first came out, decrying it as sick, offensive and blasphemous. Well, for a start, in a free society no institution should be above discussion or satire and that includes religion. If you feel your religion is threatened by a movie or a cartoon image then you obviously have a pretty weak faith; if you have true faith you’d shrug it off because you knew better than these capering clowns. If you are offended by cartoons, movies or books then don’t read or watch them! But do not tell the rest of us what we are allowed to say, draw or read. If you can’t live by those rules then you are in the wrong place and should perhaps consider living in a repressive nation governed by bigoted old men who like to pretend they are holy and govern by religious edicts and not law. See how far you get with a protest not sanctioned by the government then.
And if you are offended by these cartoons, well that’s a shame, but the rest of the world doesn’t feel constrained by the rules of your religion and you have to realise that. It has taken centuries for European nations to separate church from the law-making and governance of countries and we ain’t about to turn the clock back for anyone – we extend a welcome to all races and creeds but expect some respect for our ways in return. I am sick and tired of our politicians apologising to Muslim nations and mealy-mouthed platitudes about all cultures being equal etc. Not because I am racist – I can’t stand the BNP creeps and their friends who were in the news this week and who will make much hay from this nonsense, I’m afraid – but because it has for too long been a one-way street – the Muslim nations, most of which are repressive, non-democratic societies with appalling human rights records and their religious leaders do not grant us tolerance in return. Why not? This is our culture, being practised in our own continent. Don’t like it? Well, sorry, that’s a shame – grow a sense of humour why don’t you? The cartoons may not have been the most sensitive of things to publish but the reaction to them infuriates me – we’re insulting another culture. Well, what about our culture?
So if you are Muslim and upset, well sorry, but if you are going to get so upset over a bloody cartoon then presumably you will get upset over just about anything. Odd we don’t get buildings burned down when God or Buddha or various Hindu deities appear in the Simpsons. Portraying the Prophet may be offensive to Muslims, but to the rest of us it isn’t and we have no obligation to play by the rules of another person’s religion. And, as I say, if it offends you, then don’t look at it – no-one is made to read these things. Then again, I suspect most folk burning flags and embassies haven’t even seen the pictures, anymore than most of them read the Satanic Verses before burning it and issuing death threats on Salman Rushdie; Islam‘s response to criticism is less than mature. For a religion of peace it seems very easy to anger and very quick to move to violent means of censorship.
I have no respect for any religion but I do respect the rights of all citizens to practise their faith. However I expect rights to freedom of speech and expression to be respected in return and for them not to attempt to impose restrictions on me to comply with their faith. That also goes for Muslim governments who seem to think our governments in Europe should so something about this – news flash, guys, we are democracies. The governments, for once, are not responsible for this crisis and they have no right to censor the media. Unlike most Muslim nations of course, where editors can be imprisoned right away… Why Jack Straw thinks he has to apologise when the British media are largely uninvolved is beyond me – and anyway, surely he has more to apologise for to Muslims regarding backing an illegal war rather than a cartoon in Danish or French newspapers?
Learn democracy, learn to allow multi-faith, multi-race societies to flourish openly and freely in your nations, get real law based on proper legislation and not the world of some elderly cleric, get equal rights for women, freedom of speech and debate and a decent human rights record, then you can come back and talk to us about our ‘corrupt’ infidel culture. I see plenty of things in newspapers I not only dislike but actively loathe, but I don’t expect them to be censored and I certainly don’t want to see their offices burned down or confuse a newspaper article with governmental agencies (except in certain repressive regimes). It’s called freedom – learn to deal with it. Can’t accept ridicule or satire? Gee, you’re gonna have a tough time handling the slings and arrows of life. As I said before, if you are really devout then this will not bother you, you will know better than unbelievers and it will wash right over you – it’s not like you did anything blasphemous after all, so why the fuss? And for those whose faith is so weak this threatens them, well, that’s your problem and, anyway, what makes you think you have special exemption from jokes or satire? Other religious figures and institutes get it all the time without this happening.
I don’t know, all this fuss over a simple cartoon… And as Yvonne points out, a Muslim boycott on Danish exports may not amount to much since their principal exports are beer and Danish bacon, neither of which Muslims are allowed to consume. And while we are on the subject of one culture offending another, I am personally offended by the reaction to this situation. I am a very devout Seventh Day Cartoonist; I worship at the Cartoonist alter almost every day and believe in the Holy Trinity – Tom, Jerry and Bugs Bunny. I believe in the literal truth of the Complete Crumb Comics. I believe Matt Groening and Fred Quimby were sent down from Cartoon Heaven to be the Great Animator’s disciples on Earth and show us the way to a better, more tolerant and relaxed society by using satire, humour and cartoons. As such I resent the way some Muslims have attacked the Cartoonists. Where are my rights? These unbelievers deserve our wrath – fortunately we Cartoonists don’t believe in burning down buildings, books or threatening the safety of individuals, but we shall be writing to Steve Bell and Ralph Steadman about this. Eat our ink, unbelievers!
Oh and for those who have been following all of this but not been able to see the actual cartoons, you can find them on this site. I personally found only one or two that funny – the one with a line of deceased suicide bombers, still smoking, arriving at heaven to be told they had run out of virgins is a belter – but here they are and you can have a look and make up your own mind. And here’s a link to the excellent Steve Bell, who managed to put his take on the whole thing without drawing the Prophet.