Hello, and welcome to the April edition of Politically Cartoonish. As with the rest of WWAC, the Politically Cartoonish column is working to include analyses of non-U.S. and non-Western issues. Readers are encouraged to send political cartoon suggestions to the author via her Twitter handle @youandyourego.
Osama Hajjaj‘s cartoon titled “Hate Speech” is deceivingly plain, almost minimalist, in its simple shading and figures. Blue can be a calming color, but the shade that Hajjaj has used, along with the inky blackness of the simplified, armed figures and the anger from the speaker, gives the cartoon an oppressive feel. It’s not Hajjaj’s usual style, which normally includes bright colors and open space, but was clearly done on purpose to better emphasize the cartoon’s strong message — that hate speech does indeed have its victims. Though the concept of “free speech” is integral to democratic countries and ideals, the rise of nationalism and xenophobia in the west has turned free speech into a contentious issue. Denmark and France, for instance, have endured attacks and protests after newspaper cartoonists depicted the Prophet Muhammed…this despite the fact that pictorial depictions of the Prophet is forbidden in Islam and is seen as seriously offensive and disrespectful when done by non-practitioners. More recently conservative political commentator and xenophobe Ann Coulter was forced to cancel a planned talk at University of California Berkely amid fears of violent protests.
In those cases hate and violence was directed towards cartoonist and commentator, the originators of the rhetoric, but hate can also be directed by creators and speech-makers towards minority groups as well. This is perfectly illustrated in Hajjaj’s cartoon. The speaker is a large figure, his size and the lighting’s focus on him perhaps a reflection of his power and influence. He is clearly speaking in a harsh and loud manner; his eyes are narrowed, spittle flies from his mouth. The armed figures that originated from the speaker’s spittle are armed, enthusiastic; they raise their fists and weapons and run off-panel. The shadows surrounding them as well as their masks also render them anonymous and even more frightening — they could be anyone. While the speaker isn’t identifiable as any particular person, he is still seen clearly — the lighting of the cartoon falls predominately on him.
Hajjaj’s cartoon underscores the influence that hateful rhetoric can have on a country: the power to turn a controversy into conflict. Countries such as Germany and Rwanda that have been the settings for rhetoric-fueled bloodshed recognize this relationship and enacted laws to eliminate hate speech and prevent further violence in future. So why doesn’t France, Denmark, or the United States? Certainly their governments are able to; along with the United States and France, both Germany and Rwanda are democratic republics (Denmark is a constitutional monarchy). With Germany and Rwanda serving as precedents, it’s clearly not impossible for democratic governments to put such laws into place. It’s all a question of whether they, and their citizens, want to.
Speaking of hate and violence, many among the WWAC staff were relieved when French National Front leader Marine le Pen recently lost the French presidential election. le Pen, who has already been featured in a cartoon I analyzed in February, is an anti-Semitic xenophobe, nationalist, and fascist…and ironic ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Both are depicted by Martin Sutovec in his cartoon “EU Putin Macron and le Pen Cock Fighting,” opposite le Pen’s opponent Macron who is backed by the personification of the EU. It may seem strange that a fascist and a former communist could be so chummy, but le Pen’s anti-EU and anti-U.S. nationalism is exactly what Putin wants in order to maintain his Russian power. Between Putin and le Pen, Putin’s clearly more powerful: Sutovec draws the shirtless Russian leader as physically larger than le Pen and clearly backing her (though he seems to be clutching green American currency instead of multi-colored Russian rubles). Le Pen is recognizable mainly by her hair, but both she and Macron, the “cocks” in the illustrated fight, are in French red, blue, and white. If the narrow-eyed Putin is le Pen’s backer, than a wide-eyed and wary EU, identifiable by her ancient Grecian hairstyle and EU flag worn as a toga, is Macron’s. The same sense of ownership between Putin and le Pen, however, doesn’t translate well to the EU and Macron. As a multi-person institution, the EU may benefit from Macron’s win, but it is hardly a united organization never mind a single person. Still, Sutovec’s cartoon is a quick and easy way to understand France’s recent election — while it might not be a fight to the death for cocks Macron and le Pen, it may as well have been for the EU and Putin. Time will tell.
While both Macron and le Pen stand opposite each other on globalism and nationalism, the subject of Adam Zyglis‘ “Migrant Crisis” has little problem playing traditionally opposing sides. The same can be said of his approach to populism and corporatism (though of course all politicians, regardless of nationality, would benefit from support from both groups). Most national leaders, however, do well to conceal their private, financial interests – the better to appear transparent and honest before the people — but not all. Although high popularity and support among constituents may bolster a politician, it can also be taken away; the public is fickle. This is particularly true of democratic republics such as France or the U.S. even if the electoral college system does ensure that the U.S. doesn’t have a direct democracy. In sum, I disagree with Zyglis’ decision to portray the politician as regularly walking over a porous border. While it is certainly true that the barriers between opposing groups seem to be growing thin, all politicians walk a tightrope between them. Some are just worse at it than others.
Speaking of barriers, Dan Granlund‘s cartoon references one of the most well-known ones: the Great Wall of China. Granlund made the smart decision not to get bogged down in the details of the wall, but instead focus on its massive size by including vast hills and a small, anonymous Chinese man standing on top of the wall to give the audience a frame of reference. The audience already knows that the Great Wall is gigantic, but by framing the image so that the wall is cut off on both sides, Granlund emphasizes that we’re seeing only a tiny fraction of it. However, despite its great size the Great Wall didn’t succeed at its implied purpose of keeping people out — a fact that the Chinese man comments on. No matter how large a wall is, now matter how long you spend building it, it will never keep everybody out. Granlund was also clever to choose a barrier that emphasized enmity and “otherness.” Unlike the Berlin Wall, which divided fellow Germans, the Great Wall and the proposed Mexico-U.S. wall separate people from different national groups; the implication, of course, being that the people outside the wall are uncivilized invaders (also untrue). In choosing to include the Great Wall in his cartoon, Granlund is also making another comment: that if this famous, ancient wall did not succeed, it is beyond foolish to attempt to recreate it. Too bad the person Granlund is directing this message to isn’t listening.
On to more barriers: to the surprise of many, Saudi Arabia was elected to the United Nations Women’s Rights Commission in mid-April. Yes, the country that treats women as “permanent legal minors,” as one Middle East Human Rights Watch researcher put it, was elected to a commission dedicated to equal rights for women. To be fair, Saudi Arabia has been making some strides towards equal rights in the past five years. Any progress, however, is incremental and overshadowed by continuing issues such as photos of the country’s first “girls council”…sans women (the women on the council were in a different room separated from the men, as per law). Protesting a ridiculous move such as this one is well within WWAC’s wheelhouse and it’s tempting to have a negative, knee-jerk reaction to the news. Sean Delonas’ cartoon, however, isn’t the way to do it. WWAC is decidedly and proudly intersectional and Delonas’ depiction, with its racist undertones, is decidedly not that. Everything, from the dark, hulking members of the commission with their beady, narrowed eyes and aggressive expressions, to the shining Arabesque “Saudi Arabia” on the wall and creepily curling font of the commission leader’s words, speaks to negative racial stereotypes of all Arabs, men and women alike, not just those in the Saudi government. If there’s any part of Delonas’ cartoon that I agree with, it is the United Nations logo shown twice in the image to emphasize the UN implicitly condoning Saudi Arabian monarchy’s treatment of Saudi women. Those logos, however, are placed in the background and in one low, shadowy corner of the piece and feel like an afterthought. The focus of the cartoon and Delonas’ critique is decidedly on the Saudis, not on the UN and the member states that voted Saudi Arabia onto the commission. Those are the groups that should be, and are being, held accountable…but apparently racist imagery was too powerful to pass up.