Yesterday’s horrific events at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo threw the world’s cartooning community into simultaneous disbelief, mourning, and anger. As president of the National Cartoonists Society, I spent the day fielding phone calls, emails, posting responses and comments on behalf of the NCS, and doing radio interviews for ABC in Australia and a station in Seattle. For a while I was scheduled to do a live TV interview on “FOX and Friends” this morning but they ended up booking an editorial cartoonist instead (not sure who but I bet they had one of those overrated Pulitzer prizes). Too bad, I was going to try and get one of the FOX anchors to say it was Obama’s fault. My day was so derailed that I had to beg for an extension on my current MAD job, which was due tomorrow but is now getting turned in on Monday. So, I guess the terrorists won that one.
I was asked two questions over and over again amid all these interviews and calls for comment: Do I think this attack will cause cartoonists to think twice about doing cartoons criticizing Islam, and do I think the work Charlie Hebdo was doing was really free speech or just senseless provocation?
Taking the second question first: Was the work they did at Charlie Hebdo really worth the risks? I have had a chance to see some of the cartoons that are being singled out as ones that probably angered Muslims most, particularly several showing the Prophet in sexual positions. Frankly I don’t see any point or commentary in them other than “look, we can do this just to make you angry”, but I saw only a small sampling of probably the worst of the cartoons the magazine did. It had a reputation of ridiculing all religions, not just Islam, and I’d give them the benefit of the doubt that many of their cartoons and articles had more salient points to make. That said, it really does not matter. Free speech is free speech. If you believe in it, you have to allow people to say things you may not agree with… or even think are despicable. That’s the price of freedom. What these cartoons said does not matter, only the rights of the cartoonists to say them. Were some of these cartoons bordering on racism and hate speech? Maybe… that’s debatable depending on your point of view. Did the cartoonists who penned them deserve to be gunned down like animals in a cage by a bunch of cowards? Absolutely not, and that is not debatable.
Do I think this attack will cause cartoonists to think twice about doing cartoons criticizing Islam? Absolutely not. Cartoonists are a fearless lot. Most that I have talked with are incensed about this and determined NOT to let a bunch of terrorists silence their pens. If they find they have something to say about Islam, or any religion or topic for that matter, they are going to say it. They make take a few more precautions for their personal safety, but I don’t think anyone is going to stop doing what they do, or more accurately, let someone else stop them from doing what they do. Most of the cartoonists I know aren’t about senseless provocation… they have points to make and they will continue to make them, and no one is going to stop them from doing that.
The cartooning world is hurting today but far from cowed. If anything, they are more determined than ever not to let their voices be silenced by the acts of a few hate-filled zealots. The ink will flow and the pens will speak.
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