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Political Cartoons and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


Cover_Danjoux1Ilan Danjoux
Manchester University Press
$ 85.04, 150 pages

Not surprisingly, at Cartoon Movement we often talk about the power of cartoons, and their important role in media as the visual watchdogs of those in power. In Political Cartoons and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Ilan Danjoux also talks about the power of cartoons, but his premise is different.

His line of reasoning starts with the assumption that political cartoons have long been safe havens for extreme opinion and unfounded accusation. Looking at how political cartoons demonised Jews in Nazi Germany or Tutsis in Rwanda in the early '90s, it is clear that sometimes cartoons become propaganda, and targets of ridicule become victims of violence. Building on the special role of cartoons in conflict areas, Ilan Danjoux sets out to explore if cartoons can actually predict violence. Focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and on the 2000 Al-Aqsa Intifada (uprising) in particular, Danjoux examines if there was a shift in the style, content and focus of Palestinian and Israeli political cartoons preceding the outbreak of violence.

In the introduction, he already provides an answer to this question. His research shows cartoons cannot predict violence; rather, they function as a kind of seismograph. The shift in content and focus of cartoons reflects the shift and focus in public opinion. So the obvious question is: why read a book in which the plot is given away on page 2? The answer is that you shouldn't read this book for its plot (the question if cartoons predict violence), unless you are a student of social research. If you're a cartoon aficionado or cartoonist (I happen to be both), you should read this book for the interesting insights it gives about political cartoons and how they work.

According to Danjoux, cartoons are special in a number of ways. They have an exceptional role within journalism, because they do not have to be evidence-based. Cartoonists play with the truth, mixing it up with fiction, myth, symbols and historical references. In his book, Danjoux identifies the main tools cartoonists use. Interestingly, exaggeration (a tool often employed in cartoons) is sometimes not needed; placing the main character in a cartoon at a table with Adolf Hitler will immediately convey meaning, although what meaning is dependent on the action depicted in the cartoon and the facial expressions of the characters in the cartoon.

Because cartoons are not bound by the truth, they are one of the best ways to gauge public opinion. Although opinion polls might give accurate figures, they might not reflect the entire truth, as people will often give answers that are socially acceptable, rather then saying what they think. The instruments employed by the cartoonist, such as exaggeration, symbols and metaphors, can convey the mood in a country better than polls. Another important point that Danjoux makes is that cartoons are incomplete narratives. Because they are often bound to current events, the outcome of the situation they depict is not certain yet. Several outcomes are possible, and it is left to the reader to interpret which outcome should be feared, and which should be desired.

This toolkit for analyzing cartoons is then applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in particular the outbreak of violence in October 2000, after the Oslo Peace Process collapsed. What is probably most interesting, is how cartoons can be compared as reflections of the public mood, even though the media of Israel and Palestine are vastly different. Isreael has a commercial, competitive and free media, while the media in Palestine is heavily censored and largely government funded. These differences do not inhibit the role of political cartoons to chronicle the conflict.

Some definitions in the book are too restrictive. Danjoux's statement that the main defining aspect of political cartoons is that they are bound to current events and therefore have a limited context in which they can be understood is flawed. Although this definition applies to lots of cartoons, it foregoes the equally considerable group of cartoons that deal with the more or less timeless issues of human rights, war, or the environment. Danjoux also devotes a lot of attention on the difficulties of reading cartoons, because they often employ symbols, inside information and word puns that can only be understood within the cultural context they were published. Again, this is true for many cartoons. But cartoons can, and many do, also employ symbols that have universal appeal. Especially cartoons that do not have any text and rely entirely on visuals can be understood throughout the world.

Another problem of the book is the price. I doubt many people outside academic circles would spend more than 80 dollars on a book of barely 150 pages. For a wider appeal, Ilan Danjoux might consider publishing a non-academic paperback on how to read political cartoons.

In spite of the minor flaw of narrow definitions (which might be needed, given that the book is devoted to social research) and the bigger hurdle of the price, the book is definitely worth reading. It is an especially interesting read for cartoonists. At the beginning of this review, I mentioned how, at Cartoon Movement, we often talk about the positive aspects of political cartoons. This book shows how cartoons can be deconstructed, and how to analyse the different elements of cartoons, such as the tone of the cartoon, the symbols it uses and the focus. All these aspects say something about the meaning of the author, but, more importantly, also how the cartoon will be read by the audience. After reading, I found myself regarding my own and fellow cartoonists' work with a new set of eyes. If we cartoonists want to live up to our (mostly self-proclaimed) title as watchdogs keeping check on those in power, we are also responsible to keep check on our own work. At the one hand of the spectrum, there is the danger of self-censorship, and at the other end cartoons become unsubstantiated propaganda. To stay in the middle, a cartoonist needs to understand the tools he uses to make cartoons work (beyond pen, ink and Photoshop). And that is exactly where this book can help.

Tjeerd Royaards


New Cartoonist: Lila Kalogeri

Kalogeri

Lila Kalogeri is a freelance illustrator, comic artist and painter based in Athens, Greece. She works for book publishers, magazines and ad agencies, and has been commissioned for various painting projects. Her work has been displayed in numerous exhibitions in Greece and abroad. Her work is mostly computer generated, but she also enjoys working with traditional media. Visit her website to see more of her work.


Viral Images

This article by Sophie J. Williamson originally appeared Art Monthly Issue 364 (March 2013). It is reproduced here with permission of the author.

On 6 June 2010, Khaled Mohamed Saeed, a young Egyptian, died at the hands of police officers after a brutal beating in a suburb of Alexandria. Subsequently the image of his disfigured corpse, released by his family, spliced alongside his passport photograph, was vigorously redistributed by online networks throughout Egypt, inciting widespread rage against endemic police brutality. It was this single striking image that inspired the first Egyptian protests, in both Alexandria and Cairo, and marked the rapid countdown to the revolution.

In his seminal text The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord writes that ‘the spectacle is not a collection of images; rather it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by image’. Debord was writing in the context of the May 1968 protests in Paris, where distributed posters depicting simple yet striking iconography played a major role in uniting workers. Throughout the socalled Arab Spring the use of iconic posters has continued to play a part, with an abundance of artists turning their hand to producing them; and new networks have emerged, such as the poster blog The Syrian People Know Their Way, which uses digital networks more effectively to collate, produce and disseminate imagery. Moreover, the image is at the heart of political dynamics in the Middle East. Spectacle is employed by all sides – the state, oppositional groups and ordinary people are all utilising the image to exert political influence. Images such as that of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire, or Hamza Ali Al-Kateeb, the 13-year-old Syrian boy who died while in government custody, are familiar worldwide. As Lina Khatib has recently outlined in Image Politics in the Middle East, the construction of social and political reality throughout the political struggle has been an inherently visually productive process, with an endless process of competing images battling, reversing, erasing and replacing one another.

The Egyptian revolution is often misleadingly referred to as the ‘Facebook Revolution’. It is important to recognise the wider media context of independent online news channels and online activist forums that, coupled with the infrastructure of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, were integral to providing material and information to Al Jazeera and other international media. Importantly, however, the redistribution of the image does not only exist online; images, and their associated commentary, also spread materially and in person through mosques, cafes, squares and other public meeting places. Throughout the revolution and the continuing political struggles, images have circulated cyclically from online to the streets, then back to mass media and online media. A Google search for Khaled Mohamed Saeed will produce numerous rehashings of the original image, from YouTube montages to photographs of graffiti, from Twitter meme to documentary footage of protesters’ placards.


'The image is at the heart of political dynamics in the Middle East.'

At least since the elections of 2005, when protesters, attacked by thugs and the riot police, responded by photographing incidents of state brutality and later integrating the imagery into their demonstration banners, the camera has been a potent weapon of resistance to political oppression. The photograph is commonly seen to evidence history visually; however, as Susan Sontag reminds us, ‘to photograph [is] to compose’. In Egypt, in an atmosphere of acute visual awareness, no single image, however amateur in its production, can be seen to represent an objective truth. The decision by Saeed’s family to capture and circulate the image was a highly politicised act; what has become clear is that reality and consciousness are not only reflected but also produced by images and screens. What is so poignant about the image of Saeed is not the initial intention in its creation but how the image was received by its audience. As Roland Barthes has written, ‘the language of the image is not merely the totality of utterances emitted … It is also the totality of utterances received.’

While the redistributed image of Saeed remained largely unchanged, the supporting story that circulated with it varied considerably. Seized from an internet cafe, some accounts say that he was left dead in the street after a brutal beating in a doorway, while others claim that he was bundled into a police van only for his corpse to be dumped minutes later. Official police reports say that, as a regular drug user arrested for theft and weapons possession, he choked to death while trying to swallow hashish. His family, however, claims that he was uploading video material that implicated members of the Egyptian police in a drug deal. The photo itself was taken after an autopsy, which sparked disputes about whether some of the injuries seen in the image were delivered before his death or were the outcome of postmortem examinations. Saeed’s neighbour, Amro Ali, has since published an in-depth critique of the events, Saeeds of Revolution: De-Mythologizing Khaled Saeed, which gives an insight into Saeed’s somewhat dubious past. However, the discrepancies in these details were not important to the thousands of Egyptians who redistributed the image through their Facebook and Twitter accounts. The image quickly became independent of any objective retelling of its story; it stood for itself as telling of a seemingly objective reality of police brutality and the loss of individual dignity prevalent across the country. As it reached epidemic circulation, the image reflected a desire for political action within the population, creating new social and political dynamics in its path. A Facebook group, We are all Khaled Said, set up by Google executive and internet activist Wael Ghonim, attracted hundreds of thousands of followers within weeks, creating in turn a human rights outcry across the globe. Within weeks Saeed was elevated to become a national rallying point within Egypt itself. It was through this Facebook group that the first calls to protest were announced. Whether he was an online activist uploading incriminating footage or just another of Eygpt’s disaffected youths, Saeed became the revolutionary poster child who inspired the masses.

In Hito Steyerl’s insightful essay ‘In Defense of the Poor Image’, she describes the life of the online image as one of acceleration and deterioration; ‘a copy in motion’. The ‘poor image’ is one which has been ‘thrust into digital uncertainty’ – somersaulted through successions of uploading, downloading, reformatting, re-editing and redistribution; quality is transformed into accessibility. In turn, image-value is defined not by resolution and content but by velocity, intensity and spread. This is not only true of the physical quality of the image, as Steyerl speaks about it, but also of the depth of meaning, understanding and context of the image.

Steyerl reflects on this development in relation to Juan García Espinosa’s manifesto for the Imperfect Cinema, written in Cuba in the late 1960s, in which he claims that perfect cinema while ‘technically and artistically masterful is almost always reactionary cinema’. According to Espinosa, imperfect cinema, by insisting on its own imperfection, strives to overcome social division and – as in the economy of the poor image – merges art with life, blurring the distinction between consumer and producer, audience and author.

Espinosa predicted that, as video technology developed, the elitist position of traditional filmmakers would be undermined, enabling some sort of mass film production to emerge: an art of the people. The outcome has been much more widespread and affective than even Espinosa had anticipated. The economy of poor images, with its immediate possibility of worldwide distribution within a structure that facilitates almost instantaneous appropriation, enables the participation of a much larger group of producers than ever before. Users become the editors, critics, translators and (co-)authors within a constant frenzy of imagery production and re-production.


'In an atmosphere where the image plays such a powerful role in translating political sentiment, there is little doubt that established and highly visible artists, collectives and cultural organisations will be easy targets.'

For Steyerl this is a transition from ‘contemplation into distraction’. From an art perspective, we regularly see artists appropriating this kind of imagery in order to present a coherent argument for contemplative consumption. In the context of the explosion of citizen journalism over recent years, we need only to think of artists such as Thomas Hirschhorn or Rabih Mroué to have flashbacks of shocking imagery imprinted onto our memory. There have also been numerous cultural groups, born out of the Arab Spring, that have attempted to navigate the sea of imagery proliferating through the internet. From Egypt, two prominent examples come to mind: the Mosireen Collective’s video blog, representing perspectives not covered by the mainstream Egyptian press, is the country’s most-watched non-profit YouTube channel, and the group holds workshops on video editing from its Cairo-based media centre; and Wael Abbas’s Misr Digital blog collects stories that the press would not otherwise be able to report on directly but is able to sidestep censorship by reporting instead on his coverage of events.

Eladl
The Voice of Egyptian Women - Doaa Eladl

While these practices are extremely effective – both Mosireen and Misr Digital have been avidly followed by an international audience and their stories re-reported by worldwide media – their organisation nevertheless places them in a precarious position. State-sponsored art played little or no part in the revolutions of the Arab Spring, the artists being fearful that involvement could affect their standing, future funding and livelihoods. Among the more daring independent organisations there have already been casualties; the non-profit art space Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum closed in January due to ‘heightened political and social transitions’ and prominent cartoonist Doaa Eladl, supposedly ‘freed from the censorship of the past’, is currently being sued by the secretary-general of the National Centre for Defence for her allegedly blasphemous depictions in the daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm.

In an atmosphere where the image plays such a powerful role in translating political sentiment, there is little doubt that established and highly visible artists, collectives and cultural organisations will be easy targets. The vague language of President Mohamed Morsi’s new constitution, especially with regard to freedom of expression, inevitably reinforces concerns over the growing tyranny of the permanent state of emergency declared since the revolution. Using Giorgio Agamben’s definition of sovereign power as the ability to decide on the state of exception, to define what is permitted – who is included and who is not – Morsi effectively places himself outside the law. Agamben argues that sovereignty is therefore based on the ability to impose exclusion and is ‘the hidden foundation on which the entire political system rested’.

While for Morsi, and Hosni Mubarak before him, this is possible with established figures and organisations, it is much harder, arguably impossible, to censor in its entirety online activity which is spearheaded not by an individual but by the masses; as Deleuze and Guattari argue, ‘sovereignty only rules over what it is capable of interiorising’. Within a networked society, the power of the political institution is undermined, giving way to the power of instrumental fl ows and cultural codes that are embedded in networks. As Franco Bifo has argued, the internet can no longer be viewed as purely an instrumental tool, but as a sphere or an environment where the ‘anthropological mutation produced by digital media and by the acceleration of the Infosphere is the most relevant effect from the point of view of social and political effects’. Furthermore, cultural memory is increasingly taking on a more visual form, as Sontag has outlined: ‘in an era of information overload the photograph provides a quick way of apprehending something and a compact form for memorising it.’

Citizens are therefore able to reclaim a national memory independent from the authoritarian state. The image of Saeed exemplifies the state’s powerlessness to have full biopolitical control over its people. The viral image is outside the scope of the law so it facilitates the construction of anonymous global networks and a shared history that political institutions are incapable of regulating. As the image travels it builds alliances, provoking translation or new readings, and in doing so creates new publics and debates. Each individual that cared enough to redistribute the image – whether digitally, in printed form or by word of mouth – became an active player in the growing catalytic potential of this single image to realise the ideology it represents.

There is no doubt that the proliferation of iconic imagery in the public realm has acted to enhance, consolidate and articulate public opinion across the Arab world. The image of Saeed proves that the digital image is not as ephemeral as we might commonly think; as Steyerl argues: ‘just as a photograph is lodged in paper, the digital image is lodged in a circulatory system of desire and exchange.’ With this transient form, the viral image comes to encapsulate moments where politics and representation have collided and subsequently affected one another. Bifo has claimed that ‘history has been replaced by the endless flowing recombination of fragmentary images. Political awareness and political strategy have been replaced by the random recombination of frantic precarious activity.’ However, as the image of Saeed exemplifies, it is precisely because of this ‘frantic precarious activity’, without any curatorial control, that the viral image has the potential to become a powerful and democratic political catalyst.

SOPHIE J WILLIAMSON is a curator based in London.


Who Owns the Fish?

The Center for Investigative Reporting has published another graphic journalism production, this time about the fishing industry. The focus in the report is on the US, but the system of quotas and tradeable catch shares (which leads to all the fishing rights being owned by a few large cooperations) is applicable to many more countries with fishing industries.

Other interesting graphic journalism productions by the CIR include The Hidden Cost of HamburgersThe Cost of Gas, The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden and In Jennifer's Room, a gripping story about sexual harassment of mentally disabled persons.


The Power of Cartoons 8 - Eray Özbek from Turkey

This series was produced in a partnership with Dutch magazine Nieuwe Liefde. Eight of our cartoonists talk about cartoons that were controversial or that got them in trouble. The interviews run in the March issue of Nieuwe Liefde magazine, and will be published in English here on the blog. The interviews were conducted by Julia Ploum. Today's cartoonist: Eray Özbek from Turkey

0623-111203 Islam (Ozbek)_small

The Turkish cartoonist Eray Özbek received extreme reactions from insulted Muslims because of his cartoon about elections in the Arab world.

What inspired you to make this cartoon and what were the consequences?

‘I drew this cartoon in December of 2011 because I shared the Islamic world’s excitement during the expected democratic voting in their countries. I was surprised by the ado; I never wanted to mock anything with this drawing, I wanted to encourage the democratic growth. The ballow-box, with which I am referring to the Ka’aba, I only meant respectfully.’

In which ways is freedom of press restricted in your country?

‘With the instalment of Erdogan there hasn’t been much change for cartoonists. Some people apparently think cartoons with a religious element only want to mock. At least that would explain the furious reactions. Besides, I cannot find a single sentence in any of the holy books that praises humour. But fatal conflicts arise from our intolerance and our intolerance arises from a lack of confidence in our own doctrines.’

How, in your opinion, can cartoons contribute to greater freedom?

‘Cartoons can contribute by, instead of insulting or correcting people who are wrong, pointing out their own contradictions.’


The Power of Cartoons 7 - Sergei Tunin from Russia

This series was produced in a partnership with Dutch magazine Nieuwe Liefde. Eight of our cartoonists talk about cartoons that were controversial or that got them in trouble. The interviews run in the March issue of Nieuwe Liefde magazine, and will be published in English here on the blog. The interviews were conducted by Julia Ploum. Today's cartoonist: Sergei Tunin from Russia

0624-111204 Russia (Tunin)_small

Sergei Tunin is a renowned cartoonist, both in and outside of Russia. In Russia no less than 54 journalists have been killed since 1992. Their murderers are rarely prosecuted.

What inspired you to make this cartoon and what were the consequences?

‘The idea for this cartoon about elections in Russia is the result of my personal impression during the last elections. I saw so-called carrousel voters, buses full of young electors moving from one to another election centre and voting for the appointed candidate. It then became clear that my vote means nothing. This cartoon about fraudulent electing was published in the Russian liberal magazine "The New Times" and took part in exhibition in Sakharov Centre in Moscow.’

In which ways is freedom of press restricted in your country?

‘In the former Soviet Union I experienced many personal restrictions. In 1975 I took part in the exhibition in the West Berlin with a drawing about differences between propaganda and reality. One Soviet journalist visited this exhibition and as a result I got six months of prohibition on publication of my drawings in the Soviet press. Fortunately, today every author has a great field for creation all over the world.’

How, in your opinion, can cartoons contribute to greater freedom?

‘Cartoons cannot contribute to greater freedom. Cartoons can appeal to freedom and criticize restrictions. But there is no kind of art that can exist without freedom.’


The Power of Cartoons 6 - Dario Castillejos from Mexico

This series was produced in a partnership with Dutch magazine Nieuwe Liefde. Eight of our cartoonists talk about cartoons that were controversial or that got them in trouble. The interviews run in the March issue of Nieuwe Liefde magazine, and will be published in English here on the blog. The interviews were conducted by Julia Ploum. Today's cartoonist: Dario Castillejos from Mexico

Castillejos

Dario Castillejos is a Mexican cartoonist. Tens of thousands of people, among them many journalists, have died in the conflict between Mexican drug gangs and the state since 2006.

What inspired you to make this cartoon and what were the consequences?

‘The violence in Mexico, that has reached unexpected limits. The war on crime has left a trail of death, with more than 80,000 lives lost, many of which have been listed as "collateral damage" by the government. The country has positioned itself as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, comparable to war zones. Organized crime has found the perfect environment in the political system that governs us, characterized by impunity and corruption. The authorities know what these cartoons are about, but their indifferent complicity often makes silence their best escape.’

In which ways is freedom of press restricted in your country?

‘When the line between crime and authority becomes imperceptible, the freedom of press pays the price. In Mexico, you can write about almost any subject. But there are lines that should not be crossed, because they lead to dangerous roads where the good are not that good and the bad are even worse.’

How, in your opinion, can cartoons contribute to greater freedom?

‘The cartoon points out the abuses of governments, exhibits the temptations of power and criticizes the work of those who should commit the exercising of their authority to social causes. In this sense, the cartoon is a great tool for freedom of expression.’


The Power of Cartoons 5 - Ares from Cuba

This series was produced in a partnership with Dutch magazine Nieuwe Liefde. Eight of our cartoonists talk about cartoons that were controversial or that got them in trouble. The interviews run in the March issue of Nieuwe Liefde magazine, and will be published in English here on the blog. The interviews were conducted by Julia Ploum. Today's cartoonist: Aristides Hernandez (Ares) from Cuba

0789-121015 War (Ares)_small

Aristides Hernandes (Ares) is a world famous cartoonist from Cuba. Cuba was number nine in the top ten of most censoring countries that the Committee to Protect Journalists composes every year.

What inspired you to make this cartoon and what were the consequences?

‘The inspiration for this cartoon was the spread ‘information’ about war, war technology and war victories, while war crimes are scarcely mentioned, even kept secret for the public.’

In which ways is freedom of press restricted in your country?

‘In Cuba, social organizations – like workers unions, the communist young league, communist party, artist union, young artist association and the Cuban women federation – are the owners of the mass media. All those organizations agree with the government political lines. You can find criticism in Cuban media, but you can´t find articles against the revolution and his leaders.’

How, in your opinion, can cartoons contribute to greater freedom?

‘Information received with images and humour makes the reception by the public easier. A cartoon can say many things with a simple image without actually saying the message. I feel that is a very strong way to contribute to all ways of freedom.’


The Power of Cartoons 4 - Kianoush from Iran

This series was produced in a partnership with Dutch magazine Nieuwe Liefde. Eight of our cartoonists talk about cartoons that were controversial or that got them in trouble. The interviews run in the March issue of Nieuwe Liefde magazine, and will be published in English here on the blog. The interviews were conducted by Julia Ploum. Today's cartoonist: Kianoush Ramezani from Iran

Kianoush Ramezani

Kianoush Ramezani is an Iranian cartoonist and human rights activist who lives abroad as a political refugee since 2009 (currently as artist in residence in Geneva).

What inspired you to make this cartoon and what were the consequences?

‘In Iran homosexuality is a taboo in the society and a crime by Islamic law and of course in the Islamic republic of Iran. The penalty for this “crime” is the death penalty. I’m an activist against the death penalty and I’m working with the international organization ECPM (Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort) since 2010. The consequence being that many of my Iranian Facebook-friends had to leave the country. It became potentially dangerous to be my (online) friend.’

In which ways is freedom of press restricted in your country?

‘Firstly, freedom of press comes from press that is independent, but there is no such press in Iran. All of them directly or indirectly are under the control of authority and the government who determine the red-lines of the media. Because all kinds of organizations and the court monitor and investigate journalist activities, journalists who want to survive, are obliged to censor themselves.’

How, in your opinion, can cartoons contribute to greater freedom?

‘I always mention and now repeat: In the countries like mine, suffering from a crisis of freedom of expression and press, the only and strongest alternative is the free internet. Internet is my main medium to publish my cartoons, because it is available for my fans inside Iran. Because my blog is blocked in Iran, I send my cartoons to online media and paper magazine through the internet. The more freedom and availability that internet can bring to Iran, the more cartoons will be strong and effective.’