Who can resist the attraction of cartoons? It is a very enjoyable art and it saves us from having to read long analyses. It also opens our eyes to the contradictions in our reality.
Once the gunshots were heard in Paris on the morning of 7 January, the cartoonists were transformed into saints and gained more sympathy than this satirical art has ever gained throughout its history. Everyone will recall this day in history as a day full of bold and honourable positions against oppression and corruption, holding politicians accountable and mocking the paradoxes of reality.
However, the art of caricature has other dark faces that must not be ignored, even during this time when the art is being glorified. Since its inception, this art was a haven preferred by those who made hateful and racist expressions. Before there were cartoons in the modern sense of the word, there were drawings and models in Europe that conveyed defaming and abusive messages about the “others”. Muslims and Jews were often amongst the favourite targets of such hatred.
There are some very dark pages in the history of caricatures. During the first half of the 20th century, this art conveyed the most hateful and racist messages against the Jews based on the usual stereotypes. There were numerous cartoons in Nazi newspapers expressing detestable and harsh messages. If we were to go back to the racist journalism in the 1920s and 1930s, we would find that some of today’s cartoonists are reviving the styles of that period, except that Islam is replacing Judaism and Muslims are replacing Jews.
This matter is not restricted to cartoons, as some European magazine, book and newspaper covers all believe they will attract more attention by having hateful pictures of Muslims. Muslim women -and girls in particular – are usually depicted in undignified photos, some of which are truly concerning and appalling.
A tragedy occurred in Paris and cartoonists gained great sympathy. However, it would be a great mistake if the slogan “Je Suis Charlie” was understood as an endorsement of racist and hateful cartoons or as an open invitation to ignite cultural fires and take a step back a thousand years, as urged by some demonstrators in European squares nowadays, some of whom were protesting in Crusader costumes.
We must be careful not to give the green light to hatred in the name of freedom of expression. There is nothing worse than linking European values or modern principles to such defamation. This will only send the wrong message. We cannot overlook campaigns of hatred and incitement or turn the issue of free speech and “European values” into a moral cover for incitement and selective racism and discrimination.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.