Muhammad Cartoons Editor Among Speakers Discussing Muslim Images

By: Dave Astor

Any discussion about how Muslims are depicted in cartoons will inevitably include comments about the Danish drawings of Muhammad that sparked riots about 18 months ago.

At an Association of American Editorial Cartoonists conference session Thursday, some of those comments came from the Jyllands-Posten newspaper editor who published the Muhammad cartoons.

Flemming Rose said the decision to publish wasn’t made in a vacuum. The Danish editor noted that among the incidents inspiring what his newspaper did included several artists turning down the opportunity to illustrate a Danish children’s book about Muhammad because of fears for their personal safety. So the Jyllands-Posten page of Muhammad drawings was partly a commentary on self-censorship.

Rose said he asked artists to draw something about Muhammad, not necessarily something NEGATIVE about Muhammad. “It was very neutral,” he recalled.

“We could have done a feature story and gotten one or two letters,” added Rose. “Instead, we decided to show it rather than tell it. That demonstrates the power of cartoons.”

Rose criticized the decision of many American newspapers not to publish the Muhammad cartoons after the rioting started. He said describing the cartoons wasn’t enough, and that not showing them made people imagine that the cartoons were more controversial than they actually were.

Panelist Nik Kowsar, an Iranian artist who was jailed and received death threats for his cartoons before moving to Canada in 2003, said cartoonists have to be careful not to equate Islam with terrorism.

“I was targeted by Islamic extremists, but Islam itself isn’t the problem,” said Kowsar, who this week was reunited with his Iranian wife and child after four years. He noted that extremists account for a tiny percentage of Muslims.

The session — moderated by editorial cartoonist Mike Thompson of the Detroit Free Press and Copley News Service — also included discussion of how Muslim and Arab artists look at the United States.

Joe Szabo, the WittyWorld International Features founder, reported that he found a lot of anti-U.S. sentiment while traveling around the world doing research for a book called “The Image of America.”

People described the U.S. with words such as “expansionist,” “hypocritical,” “materialistic,” and “self-absorbed.” And Szabo said cartoonists from the Muslim and Arab world are doing cartoons showing images such as the Statue of Liberty stomping on a globe of the world and U.S. soldiers dragging one of their bloody victims on the ground to create the red stripes in the American flag.

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