Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Big "So What"

I really am not up to writing too much today but I would like to make a statement about my participation in the controversial Iran “Holocaust” cartoon exhibition. There is some concern being expressed about damage to reputations by several cartoonists who submitted work. Below is a letter being circulated throughout cartooning circles making it clear what the motivations were:

To whom it may concern:

Having participated in the Irancartoon-Hamshari contest, we would like to affirm that we are not anti-semitic and do not agree with the way this contest is being used and manipulated by the Iranian government as a revisionist action, which purpose is to incite Israel and the US.

We are professional cartoonists and have participated in many other international cartoon contests. As artists, we are deeply concerned about various issues. The recent war in theMiddle East is one of them. (the heavy attacks by Tsahal (Israel Defense Forces) in Palestine and Lebanon, and the response of the Hezbollah...)

When we participate in a cartoon contest we usually accept its rules. The organizers usually have a professional ethic (they do not change the rules), independence and they respect the ideas of the cartoonists. But unfortunately, we noticed that the Iranian Cartoon House used our trust for the Iranian government's benefit. The Iranian government states:"the Holocaust on Jews never existed". For us this is a historical fact and we want to make clear that we are against all kind of revisionism, antisemitism, racism or xenophobia. We do not at all deny that millions of Jews were horribly murdered by the Nazis.

As cartoonists, our aim is not to revise the historical record. That is the realm of historians. On the other hand we certainly do not deny our responsibility concerning the personal work we created relating to the contest initially titled "What is the Limit of Western Freedom of Expression?". We would like to insist on the fact that our intention was not to mock in a funny way the Holocaust. Our drawings are political and aim to arouse reflection in the people’s mind.

All of us are anti-war proponents, and most of us democratically support the "weakest and oppressed ones" and thus draw in their favor. That's why we supported the Palestinians and Lebanese in the war that Tsahal wages on them. This doesn't mean at all we are "revisionists".

We have not received any information from the Iranian Cartoon House telling us that the intention of this contest was to link the exhibition to a specific governmental action. We strongly protest against such decision without our knowledge.

The participating cartoonists:

Firuz Kutal
Ben Heine
Marcin Bondarowicz
David Baldinger
(more signatures to be applied)

I didn't draft this letter but did help clean up the English version. I agree with the sentiment of the letter but I don't really feel the need to justify to anyone my participation in the exhibition. My conscience is clear knowing that my drawing in no way ridiculed the Holocaust. I was also well aware that my participation would likely be used for Iranian government purposes. I am sure my being a citizen of the USA made for particular interest. I was not the only yankee entrant but it seems I have been the only one responding to media questions. I am no one's spokesman however.

Was I stupid for allowing myself to be placed in this position? I don't think so. It the duty of political artists to expose injustice and oppression everywhere no matter if it is Iran, Israel or the United States. Apparently, according to some blog called “Joshuapundit”, the cartoonists who entered this exhibition are no more than modern day Leni Riefenstahls collaborating with the new “NAZIS.” The writer also states:

“And guess what? You claim not to be `anti-semitic' but almost every sentence you've written here reeks of racism and Jew hatred..just like your cartoons. `The heavy war waged by Israel and the Hezbollah response'? Like Hezbollah didn't start the war by attacking Israel and launch missiles at Israel's civilians? And Hezbollah and the Palestinians don't deliberately use civilians as human shields?

Hezbollah and Iran have an agenda of creating a second Holocaust. They make no secret about it.”

There are so many stupid right-wing simplicities in that I think it is beneath any clear thinking individual to respond. Once again criticism of Israel and Zionist policies are linked with anti-Semitism and “Jew hatred.” Bull shit, plain and simple. Israel is not untouchable and this was Irancartoon's intent for such a competition. Mouth breathers like “Joshuapundit” have made the contest's point very well.

I received the following email today from Massoud Shojai Tabatabai of Irancartoon:


Thanks a lot for your attention.
I will insert as soon the gallery of holocaust cartoons in our web and I will insert your opinion too but, I have something about your email:

  • We are also not anti-Semitic. In my country many of Jewish people live together with us. I have two Iranian Jewish friends,And The Iranian Jewish have the members in our parliament.
  • We are not supported by Iranian government, We are working for municipality of Tehran (as you know, the Hamshahri newspaper is working for Municipality too)
  • We never speak about "the Holocaust on Jews never existed", if you see something about this opinion, this is a lie! I spoke with many of mass media, but I spoke only about three questions-- the regulations of our contest:
  1. What is the Limit of Western Freedom of _Expression?"

  2. The holocaust had been finished and nothing can be done for it. But the bigger holocausts are happening in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan and we can protect their victims.

  3. Why suppressed and suffered people of Palestine living hundreds kilometer away from Poland and Germany should pay the price for holocaust? We are against all kind of anti-Semitism, racism ...

I believe you about “Our drawings are political and aim to arouse reflection in the people’s mind and also All of us are anti-war proponents, and most of us democratically support the "weakest and oppressed ones" and thus draw in their favor. That's why we supported the Palestinians and Lebanese in the war that Tsahal wages on them. This doesn't mean at all we are "revisionists".

My dear friends, You are sure, Iranian house of cartoon working about Peace, anti war( in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Palestine & ...), we are not supported by our government.
You are my best friends in the world, we try to stop the war in all over the world, we are not anti-Semitic, I am sorry if in your country some of persons like reporters or... try to asking we are anti-Semitic, and I know you are under stress. You are very brave men to drawing cartoons about Palestinian holocaust, American Holocaust, but not the history of holocaust.

Please accept my best wishes

Massoud Shojai Tabatabai

I think this will be all I write about this now idiotic subject. Once again, I need not justify my drawings to anyone. If you don't like them, that is your business. Joshuapundit and his “Joshua's Army might accomplish much more if they did more than criticize some cartoons and maybe take a good, hard look at the actions and motivations of their picture perfect Israel.


heinebenjamin said...

Dear David, great statement. You're right to summarize a bit the situation. Thanks again for cleaning our collective letter. I hope Massoud Shojai is going to publish his answer on his Website too.
Good day, take care.

servant said...

This letter makes more sense than anything I have ever read on [the subject(s) of] freedom of speech and the noble work of cartoonists.

I'd like to see a link to substantiate the claim that the Iranian government states the holocaust never happened. Even if a government did state that as their policy, it didn't stop the cartoonists from doing their duty to point out that the original holocaust cannot be used to justify similar ongoing behavior toward any people in the world.

For a long long time - actually since I lost many of my Marine Corps friends in Beirut in 1982 - I have thought that what Islam needs most is a voice - a medium as it were - any means of communication a little more effective than bombs and belligerence (which are means of communication whether we like the medium or not).

We are all like this. If no one listens to us, then we get more and more angry. I know I do anyway. Even if what we are saying seems childish and backward and inappropriate - we all need to communicate how the world is treating us.

This Iran cartoon contest is meaningful not because of the subject of the holocaust but because it is a frank dialogue about how real people perceive the world. Do they perceive the world the same way I do? I hope not. This would be one messed up world if everyone were to think and feel as I do. Should I go around making sure that everyone thinks like I do? Should I kill the ones who don't go along with me? Should I poison their dog because it wakes me up early every Sunday morning? Okay that's a little too much personal information, but ...

I've been looking at the cartoons at and I want to find out something about the human beings on who drew them. Are they any different from me? Do they have hopes and dreams? Do they care about justice? Do they have some problems with perceptions too? Do they look at things the wrong way just like I do? Well - it doesn't matter does it - because until the cartoon contest their newspapers weren't talking to my newspapers - and there weren't many opportunities to sit and chat one on one so we can understand each other.

Steven Covey makes a very good point that should be remembered here: Seek first to understand, and then to be understood. Listening is the most important thing, not talking.

I think I understand Iran's POV a little better. Does that change anything? Perhaps not. But then again too, maybe it changes everything. Maybe understanding is a start.

All the right-wingers who are trying to use this contest as an opportunity to nuke Iran are missing the point. By sponsoring this contest, Iran has admitted that the pen is the single most effective weapon ever invented. And what matters in the culture war is public opinion. World public opinion. Not just public opinion in the U.S. or Israel.