Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Offensive cartoons

Steve Bell is a cartoonist on the Guardian. But that doesn't do him justice: he is probably the best political cartoonist working in the UK. His draftsmanship is stunning, his characterisation acute and his cartoons are often hilarious. I've been following them for a quarter of a century now, and generally check on his recent images a couple of times a week. Arguably, it was Bell's depiction of former British Prime Minister John Major as a zombie with his underpants on over the top of his trousers that defined Major's premiership and made it impossible to take him seriously.

There's just one small problem. He is a political idiot, an extremist left-winger, and has absolutely no moral compass.

I'm planning a serious deconstruction of his cartoons, but for the moment, here is a good example, from today:

Bush is indeed a born again Christian and in that respect shares some aspects of religious enthusiasm with the Iranian President Ahmasmadasahatter. Like Ahmageddinoutahere and former US President Reagan, he might share the idea of the end of times, rapture, the return of the last immam, or whatever. That would be fair comment. But Bell's cartoon suggests a greater, indeed absolute, equivalence between Judaism, Christianity represented by Bush and Islam represented by Ahmhearingvoicesinmyhead.

When Israel and the US start hanging seventeen year old girls from cranes in public squares because they didn't have four male witnesses to hand when they were raped, when they start threatening to wipe entire nations off the map, when they start trying to drag the entire world into the nightmarish darkness of mediaeval theocracy, that's when comparison with the nutters in the Iranian elite will become justified.

Until then, it's a form of fatuous moral equivalence that serves to encourage the Abu Hamzas of the world, and further endangers us all. Why? Because by showing the Christian cross, the Star of David and the Islamic crescent together, with Ahmaswiveleyedlooney sitting on a cloud bottom right, Bell tells us that the Islam of the Iranian Mullahs IS the true Islam and that Ahcantbebotheredtomakeupanymoreahmasnames represents Islam in a clash of religions.

But it's also intellectually negligible, and maybe, for a man of Bell's enormous talent, that's the saddest aspect of it. We're not living through a clash of religions. A glance at letters pages shows Christians supporting Islamic attempts to censor free speech. Christians demonstrated outside the BBC when it was showing Jerry Springer The Opera, Christians successfully lobbied British TV to prevent the showing of Pope Town, Sikhs closed down a play in Birmingham.

This isn't Christianity vs Judaism vs Islam.

This is religious mania vs secular enlightened, rational society. It just so happens that the most energetic and numerous religious maniacs right now are Moslems. That wasn't the case in the past in Europe, when the Inquisition and witch-hunters stalked the lands. It might not be the case in the future. But it is the problem we face right now.

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