Holocaust cartoons: A weapon of retaliation?

, by David Neuwirth , Irena Kalhousova

Holocaust cartoons: A weapon of retaliation?

The Statue of Liberty is holding a book on the Holocaust in one hand and gives a Nazi salute with the other. A man with Jewish side locks is depicted as a vampire drinking from a container marked “Palestinian blood.” An Arab figure is impaled to the ground by the absurdly long nose of a man in a black hat, the characteristic attire of orthodox Jews, and marked ’Holocaust’. These are just a few examples from a recent exhibition of “Holocaust Cartoons” at a museum in the Iranian capital, Teheran.

The inspiration behind the competition was drawn from Muslim anger after the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper, which Muslims took as an insult to Mohammed. Four months later, there were riots in several parts of the world. Yet, one might well ask: What has the Holocaust to do with this controversy? Had six-million murdered Jews anything to do with Danish cartoonists depicting a religious figure that lived 1,400 years ago? And above all, what have Jews or the State of Israel in common with the Danish cartoons? It is hard to find sufficient answers to these questions.

Whose freedom of speech?

But, we can have a better understanding of the purpose of the cartoon exhibit if we connect the facts. The Teheran exhibition is being organized by one of Iran’s main newspapers, Hamshari. Iran has an authoritarian regime where opposition is illegal, dissidents and all human rights defenders are harshly treated and imprisoned for their disapproving attitude towards the government. And the Iranian press? A few days ago, the ISNA student news agency reported the words of Rajab-Ali Mazroui (a leading figure in the union of Iranian journalists, whose leadership is being rejected by the government and who lives under the threat of arrest), “that the number of reformist media has reached a minimum and the main media possibilities are in hands of the government.” Nevertheless, Hamshari, while obviously controlled by the government, claims to “test how Europeans are to adhere to the concept of freedom of expression.” What is meant is obviously the same freedom that is being brutally oppressed in Hamshari’s domicile of origin.

Disgracing the victims

And what about the main theme, that is the ridicule of the Holocaust? The response from the Western world and Europe in particular is self-conscious. As the twig is bent, so the tree grows; this seems to be our attitude. But if someone really believes that, he or she is in a great error. A religious symbol is not equal to the physical liquidation of six millions European Jews, one of the most heinous crimes in mankind’s history that has become a symbol for cynical murdering of any group of people anywhere in the world. The fact that such an exhibition takes place has little to say about Jews but a lot about Iran and the essence of radical Islam.

Holocaust represents Europe’s highly significant historical turning point, and modern Europe is built, whether we like it or not, also on this painful heritage.

The Iranian president has repeatedly called Holocaust a “myth,” and demands an investigation into the matter. It is testified that the Holocaust cartoons contest has been inspired, if not organized, by the government. In this case, more then in any other, Europe should denounce this endeavor unanimously. Holocaust represents Europe’s highly significant historical turning point, and modern Europe is built, whether we like it or not, also on this painful heritage. Yet, this seems to be missing at the present time, and even the newspaper does not dare to make the connection. Silence in Europe toward the cartoons can be explained in many ways. Liberal tradition and tradition of the freedom of press only hardly account for ignoring the cartoon contest. In the past, European politicians, intellectuals, and press were ready to condemn those, who denied Holocaust or had a tendency to disgrace its victims. It would be probably also wrong to suspect European politicians and press that they consider the Holocaust cartoons to be a natural reaction of the Muslims to the Danish cartoons. In order to understand why Europe is silent, one has to take into account the traditionally inconsistent and perplexed stance of European countries toward the Muslim world in general, and the Islamic extremism in particular.

Indistinct face of Europe

In its very modern history Europe, mainly under the French leadership, is trying to present itself as a soft power, using diplomacy, economic incentives, and huge investments into development projects in order to strengthen its position in the Muslim world. Europe sees this stance as an effective alternative to the US style of dealing with the world affairs.

What is behind this rationale? Ambitions to present Europe as a new superpower, which can be more successful than the United States as the mediator in many crisis which are now taking place in the Middle East? A sincere belief that Europeans have found a more effective way how to deal with the Muslim world? Or is the main motivation fear? Fear of the Islamic extremism that is largely imported to Europe from the Middle East but that has in many European countries already its solid base, its recruitment centers, and its fundraising centers? Fear of the proximity of the turbulent Middle East, as the European continent may by within the range of long-term missiles that some Islamic authoritarian regimes posses? Fear experienced by some European politicians of the unpredictable reactions of the populous local Muslim communities if they dare to criticize Islamic regimes that openly support verbal and physical attacks of the Western targets? Fear of the almost total dependency of Europe on the oil from the Middle East, the dependency which is more poignant in Europe than in the USA as a result of lack of European military power that would be able, if necessary, to ensure the supply of this crucial raw material?

The answer explaining the indistinct face of Europe over the Holocaust cartoons may probably be found in some of the questions mentioned above. However, the continuing silence, while the victims of the most awful crime of the European history are disgraced, represents the defeat of European ideals and principles.

Ensuring quiet for itself?

Better than to adapt the position of the French Foreign Affairs Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, who did not hesitate during the latest Israeli-Hezbollah conflict to visit the Iranian Embassy in Beirut and to appraise Iran as a “great country that plays a stabilizing role in the Middle East”, Europeans should show that they are not ready to sacrifice their basic values on which our continent stands. One can just wonder how the foreign minister of a country that prides itself as being the cradle of European liberalism could have used those words. After all, he was describing a country whose regime blatantly violates human rights and freedom of press, supports terrorism by openly encouraging the suicide bombers, and provides finances and military equipment to many terrorist groups whose activities more than anything else destabilize the Middle East.

Europe, as a continent where Holocaust took place just a few decades ago, should not abandon the victims and their descendant, in order to ensure peace and quiet for itself. To do so will not make Europe safer. We would just give up the responsibility for our own deeds and in fact provide ammunition to those who deplore our social and ethical values.

Links of interest

* Independent and reformist Iranian journalists and advocates of human rights and freedom: http://roozonline.com/eng/

* A breefing on the situation in Iran, collection of diverse analysis on the issue; published by an American Iranian: http://www.regimechangeiran.com/

* Articles testifying the suppresion of human rights in Iran: http://www.iranpressnews.com/english/

* Editorial of the famous Iranian journalist Amir Taheri: http://www.benadorassociates.com/ta...

* The collection of some of the cartoons: http://www.irancartoon.com/indexday...


 Image 1 by Raul Erkimbaev, Russia http://www.irancartoon.com/120/occu...

 Image 2 by Morhaf Youssef, Syria http://www.irancartoon.com/120/occu...

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