Re-drawing The Battle Lines

One of the most gifted political cartoonists I’ve ever met reminded me about the power of a drawing saying it could be used as a force for good as well as evil.

 After seeing the repulsive front cover of the latest edition of The Spectator (you can see the cover here ), I was reminded of my meeting with Leon Kuhn at a rally in London’s Trafalgar Square to protest the vile cartoons designed to ridicule The Prophet Muhammad and insult millions of Muslims around the world.

 He dismissed the Danish newspaper cartoons on several levels from the point of quality and content remarking that they were poorly drawn, of low quality and not at all satirical or even funny.

Then he began telling me about how is grandparents had perished in the Holocaust but before that happened the persecution of Jewish people across Europe had started much, much earlier long before Hitler came to power.

 And then he warned that unless the Muslim community and its friends began to stand up and resist it might well find enemies of Islam dragging Muslims down the same street his grandparents and millions of other Jews were taken.

 “You’re no where near there yet but the demonisation of European Jews began in the newspapers through the use of cartoons depicting Jewish people as subversives. I remember being shown a cartoon of a rabbi with grenades hidden within his ringlets which had been published in a European newspaper.

“If you notice one of these Danish cartoons shows Muhammad with a bomb secreted in his turban. It’s the same style, the same message and the targeting of people for their Faith,” he said.

Sadly Leon died towards the end of last year and as the tributes poured in I learned he was born in London, the son of Martin, a property developer and Kindertransport refugee. There’s a huge statue at Liverpool Street Station depicting the Kindertransport children who were packed off to London by their Jewish parents in Germany who feared for their childrens’ safety. I was reminded of the journey I made there with 90-year-old Hedy Epstein, one of the children who made that journey more than 70 years ago.

Hedy also commented on the plight of Muslims living in Britain today and feared they were being targeted much in the same way as Jewish people were in Europe in the 30s.

This sad journey down Memory Lane was triggered by the grotesque front cover on the latest edition of The Spectator which bears the headline: “Taught To Hate” showing a flustered schoolboy carrying a giant copy of The Qur’an in one hand and a massive sword in his right.

 It is divisive and inflammatory and I can almost hear the late, great Leon Kuhn sigh in dismay. I’d be interested to hear Fraser Nelson the editor try and come up with a defence of this stigmatising cover.

 Just a few days earlier a German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung had produced something equally vile by depicting a caricature of Mark Zuckerberg as an octopus controlling the world. The cartoon published in response to the announcement that Facebook had purchased Whatsapp, depicts the 29-year-old Facebook founder as a hooked nose, fleshy lipped and curly haired individual imitating the very features ascribed to Jewish people in Nazi cartoons.

The cartoon was “starkly reminiscent” of the anti-Semitic Nazi era cartoons, commented Efraim Zuroff from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. He said the cartoon was “absolutely disgusting” saying Zuckerberg did not have a prominent nose in real life.

“The nefarious Jew/octopus was a caricature deployed by Nazis. That was used pretty much as a staple by the Nazis in terms of their hateful campaign against the Jews in the 1930s. [An] exaggerated Jewish nose removes any question if this was unconscious anti-Semitism,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

The cartoonist in this case, Burkhard Mohr, has now apologised for the offence his cartoon caused claiming: “Anti-Semitism and racism are ideologies which are totally foreign to me. It is the last thing I would do, to defame people because of their nationality, religious view or origin,” he said in an email to the Jerusalem Post.

 By Monday the German newspaper took to the social networks to send out groveling apologies. The cartoon has now been redrawn and shows a blank rectangular hole instead of Zuckerberg’s face.

Let’s see if there’s a similar about turn from The Spectator which in January raised eyebrows with a cover depicting caricatures of warring Sunni and Shia Arabs with enlarged, exaggerated noses and beards and weapons. Many felt it was both anti-semitic, Islamaphobic and racist.

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