The Theran Times reports that Iran’s House of Cartoon and the Sarcheshmeh Cultural Complex plan to hold a second international contest on the theme of Holocaust denial in the near future. The competition is a direct response to the recent publications of cartoons that insult the prophet Mohammed in Charlie Hebdo.
The manager of the House of Cartoon, Shojai Tabatabai, said in an interview (in addition to accusing renowned cartoonists Ranan Lurie and Plantu from somehow orchestrating a cartoon attack on Islam): 'The strange point is that western government officials explain insulting [the] Islam prophet as […] freedom of expression, but [when] we ask them: [why is it] when anybody talks about Holocaust he [might go to] prison [or receive a] cash penalty and nobody [is allowed] to [re]search […] this issue?'
At Cartoon Movement, we consider ourselves to be very strong defenders of freedom of expression, even if it results in cartoons we utterly abhor. So, what's our take on a cartoon competition denying the Holocaust?
We're based in Europe, and in Europe the Holocaust (or anything related to the Second World War) is a big thing. It's is considered a no-go area for many European cartoonists, and you can be sure to stir up controversy if you do make a reference to the Holocaust in a cartoon.
But because something weighs heavily on our European conscience, should it be considered a taboo for others as well? If we take a look a the results from the first Holocaust competition from 2006, we see that only a few cartoons actually deny the Holocaust. The majority of the cartoons compare the plight of the Palestinians to the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust (with the Israelis now as perpetrators instead of victims) or accuse Israel of using the Holocaust as a shield against any criticism of their policies regarding Palestinians. The comparison of the Holocaust with the way Palestinians are treated is blatantly wrong in one very important way: Palestinians are not systematically exterminated in gas chambers. There is no genocide. But does that mean we should ban any cartoon comparing Gaza to a concentration camp?
Of course we think a cartoon competition that sets out to deny the Holocaust is tasteless, to say the very least. But it is actually another reason that should stop any self-respecting cartoonist from entering. This competition is politically motivated, politically funded, and politically controlled by the Iranian government. As such, it is diametrically opposed to one of the essential requirements of being a good political cartoonist, which is to be independent.
The prizes to be won in the competition ($12000 for first place, $4000 for second and third each) are some of the highest to be had in any competition around the world, probably meant to entice as many cartoonists as possible to send in work. But this is not a prestigious competition such as World Press Cartoon (with comparable monetary awards) where the best press cartoons are honored. This competition is nothing more than simple state-funded propaganda to make a political point. Regardless of the subject matter, that alone should be enough to put off true political cartoonists.