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April 2013

The Art of Controversy

Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power



The Art of Controversy
Victor S. Navasky
256 pages, $ 27.95

Available: 9 April 2013

Victor S. Navasky is a former editor of The New York Times and The Nation, and in his long career he has dealt with many cartoonists. Better yet, he is a fan of cartoons and caricatures, and understands (and appreciates) their power. The Art of Controversy is, as the author calls it, an 'unguided tour' of a number of great cartoonists (starting in the 18th century) and the controversy surrounding their work.

Before taking us on his tour, Navasky uses four chapters to talk us through three theories about why cartoons, and caricatures in particular, are so powerful: the Content Theory, the Image Theory, and the Neuroscience Theory. The Content theory focuses on what the cartoon is about, and the Image Theory on how the subject is portrayed, but the most interesting one is perhaps the Neuroscience Theory. Neuroscience has revealed (through experiments with birds) that, because of their simplification, the area of the brain involved in facial recognition reacts more quickly to caricatures than to photos of real faces. Although the implications of this theory for understanding how cartoons work are contested, it could expain why carticatures can be so powerful and upsetting to the ones portrayed. Caricatures are registered more clearly by the mind's eye, and therefore remembered longer and more strongly than photographs.

The book is not an academic attempt to methodically catalogue cartoon controversy through the centuries. Rather, Navasky describes himself as an aficionado who has 'long believed in satire as a particularly effective instrument of social criticism.' He also describes himself as a free-speech absolutist. The public sphere is, or should be, governed by what German philosopher Jürgen Habermas calls the power of the better argument. Satire, and thus cartoons and caricatures, are in as sense good or bad arguments competing with other arguments within the public sphere.

It is here that I divert somewhat from the review, and might even stir up some controversy myself, to pose what I (a free-speech absolutist myself) found to be a conundrum. Navasky shows that powerful cartoons can work as 'totems' that, once unleashed, can have an uncontrollable power, independent of the creator of the image. The book shows these images, the good ones (e.g. cartoons condemning corruption and power abuse), but also the very, very despicable ones. In the latter category, we find no better example than the work of German cartoonist Philipp Rupprecht (pen name Fips), a weekly contributor the Nazi weekly newspaper Der Stürmer.

Der_StürmerDer Stürmer was an important propaganda tool for the Nazis, and the images by Fips are viciously anti-Semitic, employing every gruesome stereotype available. At the beginning of the chapter on the work of Fips, Navasky recounts that Julius Streicher, the editor of Der Stürmer, was hanged after the Nuremberg trials, but Fips only served six years for his contributions to the magazine. He goes on to suggest that justice might have been better served with a death sentence for the cartoonist as well.

Although, in light of Fips' work, I can certainly understand the sentiment, it struck me as an odd one in a book that in all the other chapters whole-heartedly defends the rights of cartoonists to draw as they please. There were, are, and probably always will be despicable opinions out there, spreading hate, discrimination, aggression and intolerance. But either we agree that opinions (whether they be written, spoken or drawn) are so powerful that we need to punish those we, as a society, consider sufficiently dangerous, or we cling on to our hope that in the end, the better argument will prevail.

Apart from this incongruity, the book is a pleasant read, with a tone reminiscent of an old man with a wealth of anecdotes to share. It is especially interesting to read about his own experiences (and opinions) as editor dealing with cartoons that gave rise to protest among the readers and staff of The Nation. The book is a testimony that shows the influence and impact of cartoons in world history in the last two-and-a-half centuries. The cartoonists featured, over 30 in total, are excellent. Some notable examples are British artist David Low (who landed himself on the Gestapo death list because he enraged Hitler with his cartoons), Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali (whose figure Handala lives on long after the artist was assasinated in London in 1987) and John Heartfield (probably the world's first Photohopper). If you are not familiar with one or more of these names, then this book is certainly recommended reading. Because the book is basically a collection of cartoons, the publisher would do well to make it available as an art edition, with all the cartoons printed large and (when applicable) in full color. The works published in The Art of Controversy certainly deserve it.

Tjeerd Royaards

State of the World 2013

Click on the image for a larger verion.

We have contributed to State of the World 2013, a publication of the World Watch Institute:

Every day, we are presented with a range of “sustainable” products and activities—from “green” cleaning supplies to carbon offsets—but with so much labeled as “sustainable,” the term has become essentially sustainababble, at best indicating a practice or product slightly less damaging than the conventional alternative. Is it time to abandon the concept altogether, or can we find an accurate way to measure sustainability? If so, how can we achieve it? And if not, how can we best prepare for the coming ecological decline? 
In the latest edition of Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World series, scientists, policy experts, and thought leaders tackle these questions, attempting to restore meaning to sustainability as more than just a marketing tool. In State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?,experts define clear sustainability metrics and examine various policies and perspectives, including geoengineering, corporate transformation, and changes in agricultural policy, that could put us on the path to prosperity without diminishing the well-being of future generations. If these approaches fall short, the final chapters explore ways to prepare for drastic environmental change and resource depletion, such as strengthening democracy and societal resilience, protecting cultural heritage, and dealing with increased conflict and migration flows. 
State of the World 2013 cuts through the rhetoric surrounding sustainability, offering a broad and realistic look at how close we are to fulfilling it today and which practices and policies will steer us in the right direction. This book will be especially useful for policymakers, environmental nonprofits, and students of environmental studies, sustainability, or economics.

Mohammad Saba'aneh Arrested

March 25

The Arabic desk of Radio Netherlands Worldwide has posted an update (as well as our series of support cartoons) on Mohammad, adn has some more information on what he is accused of. According to his lawyer, Mohammad is accused of accepting money in Jordan for his brother Tamer, a member of Hamas who is currently in an Israeli prison. Mohammad denies this, and claims he handed the money to another person while still in Jordan, because he suspected the funds were linked to Hamas.

March 20

The Palestinian News Network reports that on March 19, the militiray court has once again requested an extension of the detention of Mohammad. The prosecution now has until next Thursday to decide whether they will present an indictment or not.

In the meantime, media around the globe are still following Mohammad's case. +972 reported on the case, and Daryl Cagle of posted a letter he send to the Isreali ambassador to the US:

I run a small business, Cagle Cartoons, Inc., that syndicates the work of cartoonists from around the world to over 850 subscribing newspapers, including half of the daily, paid-circulation newspapers in America. Among the cartoonists we distribute is Yaakov Kirschen, the cartoonist who draws Dry Bones for The Jerusalem Post; Yaakov’s cartoons run in Jewish newspapers throughout the USA. Our American editorial cartoonists are great supporters of Israel, in contrast to cartoonists from the rest of the world who harshly criticize Israel. The contrast is easy to see as editorial cartoons reflect world opinion. American cartoonists are Israel’s most visible suporters, and my own small business is the leader in distributing these views for America and the world to see.

It seems clear that Muhammad has been jailed to chill his cartoons that are critical of Israel. Instead, this ugly incident risks chilling Israel’s most visible supporters in America’s press, at a time when Israel needs our support more than ever.

Read the entire letter here.

March 15

Another week has passed, and the Fars News Agency reports that the detention of Mohammad has yet again been extenden by another eight days. They also report Mohammad's brother was arrested on March 6, also for reasons yet unclear. The judge did say that the arrest of Mohammad's brother necessitated further interrogation of Mohammad, who is held in solitary confinement, and has received no official charges to date. Ramzy Taweel tells us that the Israeli authorities are looking into files from 1998, when Mohammad was at University.

Cartoon by Sherif Arafa

Cartoon by Amr Okasha

March 10

PRI's The World speaks with Israeli comic book artist Uri Fink about the arrest of Mohammad Saba'aneh. There's also a slidewhow of Mohammads work, narrated by Carol Hills (editor of Global Political Cartoons).

March 7

Another update reaches us via Ramy Taweel, colleague of Mohammad. Sadly, the Isreali authorities decided today to extend the detention with another 8 days. There is still no clarity on what the charges are against Mohammad, exactly.

These is some positive news as well: Mohammad's lawyers met with him, and report he is doing fine. They have published a statement calling the detention unjustified.

March 6

The next issue of New Internationalist Magazine devotes half a page to the arrest of Mohammad Saba'aneh and the support of cartoonists:


March 2

ZebiriCartoon by Siham Zebiri

The Committee to Protect Journalists has posted an update on Mohammad's case:

Israeli authorities said they were investigating the cartoonist for providing services to hostile organizations, according to the cartoonist's lawyer. No formal charges have been announced.

The cartoonist has been transferred from the Jalemeh detention center to Ashkelon prison, according to news reports. Dozens of protesters staged a rally in front of the Al-Hayat al-Jadidabuilding on February 28, 2013, to show their support for Saba'aneh and other detained Palestinians.

Read the full update here.

Cartoon by Manos Symeonakis

March 1

Cartoons (clockwise) by Dlog, @revolution, Tunis from Willis and Troud

Although the outlook is not good, the news about the fate of Mohammad is still spreading. The Doha Center for Media Freedom (DCMF) released an official statement yesterday:

“DCMF calls for the Israeli authorities to release Mohammad Saba’aneh immediately.

It is unacceptable for governments to use outdated and archaic legal restrictions to detain journalists indefinitely and without charge, as is the case with Mohammad.

The security forces have not yet disclosed any information about Saba’aneh or his whereabouts, and the centre is urging the authorities to allow the journalist access to a lawyer as well as his family.

Access to information and media freedom are basic human rights which can never be compromised.  Journalists should never face persecution for their work, no matter where they are.  We are hoping for a speedy resolution to Saba’aneh’s case and that he can return to his home as soon as possible.”

Well-known Israeli cartoonist Michel Kichka  writes to support Mohammad on his website (in French), and Israeli newspaper Haaretz also writes (in Hebrew) about the plight of the young Palestinian cartoonist.

Tunisian cartoon website has started a solidarity campaign in support of Mohammad:

The Yaka ! ( who promotes caricaturists and press cartoonists joins the international solidarity movement to fully support Mohammad Saba’aneh. We invite our readers to join the International Human Right Council’s international campaign to write a letter for Mohammed’s imminent release. This action is by no means political, but only based on the basic rights of the Universal Declaration of Human’s Rights that forbids, amongst other things, torture and arbitrary detentions.

A number of cartoonistsshow their support visually at With their permission, we have published some of them here. To see all the cartoons in support of Mohammad, visit their website.

Cartoon Movement is working together with international organizations to offer legal aid to Mohammad and his family, in an effort to get Mohammad released, or at least ensure his welfare. More news will be posted here as soon as we have it.

February 28

Ramzy Taweel gives us an update on the situation: today, the Israeli court extended the detention of Mohammad Saba'aneh with another 9 days. Things are looking grim for the cartoonist, who is held without an official charge. It is starting to look like he might be facing indefinite detention. Family and lawyers are not allowed contact with Mohammad, and have not been in contact with him since he was detained by Israeli authority. Friends and family express grave concerns about his welfare and health; they do not know if Mohammad is held in isolation or with other captives, nor any other condition of his captivity.

Hassan2Cartoon by Fadi Abou Hassan

February 25

In response to the death of Palestinian detainee Arafat Jaradat, who died in Israeli custody on Saturday, the family of Mohammad have written an open letter, calling on humantiarian organizations to help them visit Mohammed:

We are the family of Mohammed Abdel Ghani Saba'na, who has been arrested by the Israeli Occupation Army as he was coming back home from Jordan through Al-Karama crossing. And since that day his lawyers was unable to meet him and all their requests were rejected.

We – Family of Sabaaneh – and after the death of “ARAFAT JARADAT” during investigation by Israeli army, at Aljalameh compound or after that in Majeddo prison, We appeals to all parties especially humanitarian organizations all around the world to interfere fast to help us visiting our son to check on him and his safety we appeal to them to work hard to save our our Son and all prisoners from the Occupation prisons to end their suffering by lifting their case up to international forums to assure their safety and their legal rights.

Family of Sabaaneh

English version of the letter was approved by Adel Sabaaneh, brother of Mohammad Sabaaneh

Mohammad is scheduled to appear in court again on Thursday. So far, every appeal from lawyers and family to visit him has been denied.

February 24

The latest update reaches us again via fellow cartoonist Ramzy Taweel: on Friday, a request by lawyers to visit Mohammad was denied by the Israeli authorities. Mohammad's family has not been in contact with him since his arrest.

February 23

More cartoonists show their support for Mohammad:

'Dreadful weapon' by Ramses Morales Izquierdo

'Solidarity to Mohammad Saba'aneh' by Enrico Bertuccioli

'Saba'aneh's pencil' by Alex Falco

'For my brother Mohammad Saba'aneh' by Fadi Abou Hassan

February 22

'Mohammad Saba'aneh' by Eyad Shtaiwe

Word about Mohammad's arrest is spreading: after Reporters Without Borders issued a press release, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a statement calling for his immediate release.

Israeli authorities said they were investigating the cartoonist for providing services to unspecified "hostile organizations,"according to Saba'aneh's employer, the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida, which cited the cartoonist's lawyer.

Saba'aneh works as a political cartoonist for Al-Hayat al-Jadida, and has depicted imprisoned Palestinians in his most recent cartoons. One, published on February 17, shows a mirror on the wall of a prison, revealing prison bars in its reflection. More than 300 Palestinians are being held without charge in administrative detention in Israel, according to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.

The International Council for Human Rights has issued a call to action, asking all to write letters calling for Mohammad's immediate release to the Israeli authorities:

Please write immediately in English, Hebrew or your own language:
Calling on the Israeli authorities to release Mohammed Sabaana and all other Palestinian administrative detainees immediately, unless they are properly charged with internationally recognizable criminal offences and brought to trial in full conformity with international fair trial standards;
Calling on them to ensure that Mohammed Sabaana and all hunger strikers receive all the specialist medical attention they require, which is only available in a civilian hospital, ensuring regular access to doctors of their choice, and  not subjected to shackling or other cruel or inhuman treatment;
Urging them to end the use of administrative detention and permit all detainees family visits.
Avi Mizrahi 
West Bank Commander of the IDF – GOC Central Command
Military Post 01149Battalion 877
Israel Defense Forces, Israel
Fax: +972 2 530 5741
Menahem Mazuz
Israeli Attorney General
29 Salah al-Din Street
Fax: +972 2 530 5741 / 530 5724
Ban Ki-moon
Secretary General
United Nations
New York, 10017, USA
Fax: +1 212 963 4879
Navanethem Pillay 
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson , 52 rue des Pâquis 
CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 90 00
Christof Heyns 
Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (OHCHR) 
Palais des Nations 
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 90 00  
Bastiaan Belder MEP 
Chair, Delegation for relations with Israel 
Parlement européen
Bât. Altiero Spinelli
04F266, rue Wiertz 60
B-1047 Bruxelles, Belgium
Fax: +32(0)2 28 49270

We also urge you to write a letter expressing your concern to the Israeli authorities and the organizations mentioned above.

'All My Best Friends Are Superheroes' by Manos Symeonakis

February 21

Reporters Without Borders has issued a press release condemning the arbitrary arrest of Mohammad Saba'aneh, and calling for his release:

Reporters Without Borders condemns Palestinian cartoonist Mohamed Sabaaneh’s arbitrary arrest by Israeli authorities on his return from Jordan on 16 February and his continuing detention. An Israeli military court decided yesterday to hold him for another nine days.

The press freedom organization calls on the Israeli authorities to publicly say what he is charged with and to let him see a lawyer.

Read the entire press release here.

February 20

Update 12:46 GMT: Fellow Palestinian cartoonist Ramzy Taweel tells us that the Israeli Court has decided to extend the detention of Mohammad Saba'aneh by another 9 days, during which time lawyers will not be allowed to visit with him (nor anyone else). Lawyers say this is a tactic to delay the release of Mohammad, and that there is no justified reason for the extended detention.

Here is a video of a protest outside Ofer Military Prison against the arrest of Mohammad and other journalists:

Mohammad is supposed to appear in court today, and we hope to have more information by the end of the day. The good news is that many organizations are now aware of Mohammad's situation, and we have been informed that both the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders are investigating the case. Our cartoonists have begun to do what they do best: expressing their support visually. Here are some cartoons that have come in over the last 24 hours:

Murtadha'Mohammad Saba'aneh' by Saad Murtadha

'Freedom for Palestinian Cartoonist Mohammad Saba'aneh' by Fadi Abou Hassan

'Jail for a Cartoonist' by Bernard Bouton

Saba'anehFebruary 19

We have spoken to another Palestian cartoonist, Ramzy Taweel, to find out more about Mohammad's arrest. Unfortunately, there is not much information available. Tomorrow Mohammad is due to appear in court, and in the meantime, no one is allowed to visit him, including his lawyer.

He was arrested in Jericho and sent to ALJAFLA military base near Jenin City, where he was held for 12 hours with no information at all. Under the law of secret information the Israeli court can expand his detention another 16 days 'for more investigation'. After that period, it can be expanded with another 16 days, and then it becomes a period of 6 months, which can be extended without the need to have any clear accusation. This is called indefinite detention. According to Ramzy, friends and family of Mohammad fear this will happen.

Mohammad's brother says the Palestinian state lawyer and the Palestinian prisoners lawyer are working hard to be present in court tomorrow, to prevent any further detention of Mohammad.

Also tomorrow, the Palestinian journalists are making a stand outside the Ofer Military Court for Saba'aneh and another journalist that was arrested.

Cartoon Movement and Cartoonists Rights Network International have sent letters of protest to the embassies of Israel in the United States and the Netherlands, and are seeking international media attention to give publicity to the arrest of Mohammad.

February 18

One of our Palestian cartoonists, Mohammad Saba'aneh, was arrested by Israeli authorities on Saturday, for reasons as of yet unknown. Mohammed was detained at a border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank when returning from back home after attending a conference for the Arab American University (AAU), where he works in the public relations department, in Amman.

The Palestinian journalists syndicate denounced the arrest of Mohammed, and issued a press release that Mohammed’s arrest fell in line with the systematic targeting by Israeli authorities of journalists and infringement on their freedom of movement.

We have informed Cartoonists Rights Network International about the incident, and will work with them to find out why Mohammad was arrested, and to help and support the cartoonist. More information will follow as soon as we have it.

Freedom'Dreaming of Freedom' by Mohammad Saba'eneh

Against the Death Penalty


For our media partner 360 Magazine, we have started a new pitch on the death penalty. The next issue of 360 Magazine will be a special against the death penalty, with themes such as the inhumanity of the lethal injection and the profit made by the pharmaceutical industry on this type of execution, and the cruelty of 'death row', where prisoners can sometimes spend decades, waiting to be executed (or pardoned).

In the project newsroom, our cartoonists give their perspective on capital punishment.

Upcoming Review: The Art of Controversy

ControversyGoing on sale in April, The Art of Controversy by Victor S. Navasky is (according to the publisher) a 'lavishly illustrated, witty, and original look at the awesome power of the political cartoon throughout history to enrage, provoke, and amuse.' The following description is taken from the website of the publisher:

As a former editor of The New York Times Magazine and the longtime editor of The Nation, Victor S. Navasky knows just how transformative—and incendiary—cartoons can be. Here Navasky guides readers through some of the greatest cartoons ever created, including those by George Grosz, David Levine, Herblock, Honoré Daumier, and Ralph Steadman.  He recounts how cartoonists and caricaturists have been censored, threatened, incarcerated, and even murdered for their art, and asks what makes this art form, too often dismissed as trivial, so uniquely poised to affect our minds and our hearts.

Drawing on his own encounters with would-be censors, interviews with cartoonists, and historical archives from cartoon museums across the globe, Navasky examines the political cartoon as both art and polemic over the centuries. We see afresh images most celebrated for their artistic merit (Picasso's Guernica,Goya's "Duendecitos"), images that provoked outrage (the 2008 Barry Blitt New Yorker cover, which depicted the Obamas as a Muslim and a Black Power militant fist-bumping in the Oval Office), and those that have dictated public discourse (Herblock’s defining portraits of McCarthyism, the Nazi periodical Der Stürmer’s anti-Semitic caricatures). Navasky ties together these and other superlative genre examples to reveal how political cartoons have been not only capturing the zeitgeist throughout history but shaping it as well—and how the most powerful cartoons retain the ability to shock, gall, and inspire long after their creation.

A review of this title is coming soon on the Cartoon Movement blog.

International Cartoon Festival in Caen (France)


From Monday April 8 until Saturday April 13, Le Mémorial de Caen is hosting the 3e Festival International du Dessin de Presse. The event is co-organized by Iranian cartoonist Kianoush Ramezani, and a number of Cartoon Movement contributors will be present: Vladimir Kazanevsky, KAP and Willis from Tunis.  Some other great artists that will be present are Jeff Danziger, Liza Donnely, Kichka and Haddad.

 The program includes a daily (evening) debate on themes such as the role of cartoons in newspapers and on the Internet, the existence of cartoon taboos and self-censorship, and censorship by the media cartoonists work for. On Friday, the program offers a preview of the Arte documentary Fini de Rire, directed by Olivier Malvoisin,  in the presence of some of the cartoonists who participated.

A full program of the week (in French) can be found here.

New Cartoonist: Marian Kamensky

'Math in America' by Marian Kamensky

Marian Kamensky is a cartoonist originally from Slovakia, but now residing in Vienna (Austria). In 1982, he began illustrating the satirical books of Gabriel Laub. He also created illustrations for adventure books by Rudiger Nehberg, and the Biology/Zoology literature of Christian Kuehl. For a number of years, his artworks have been published in numerous newspapers and magazines in many countries of Europe (Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, Focus, Nebelspalter, Eulenspiegel, Psychologie heute, etc) and in the United States and Canada (Playboy, The New York Sun, The Humanist, etc).