Image by John Kennedy
One year ago, 11 people were murdered in Paris in an attack on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo. Murdered because of cartoons. Lines drawn on paper; lines some people did not agree with. A senseless and tragic attack, and yet more proof of the power that images can have.
Since 2010 Cartoon Movement provides a platform for cartoonists from all over the world to share their images. Images that make you laugh, images that sometimes provoke and offend. But always with the goal to make you think. This year, we felt it was more important than ever to give our cartoonists the freedom to publish cartoons on topics they felt the need to draw about. In 2015, the Democracy & Media Foundation gave us the financial means to publish 100 cartoons this year. No strings attached.
Our goal is to to publish cartoons that show different views and perspectives. We think freedom of expression is best served by a free public debate. A debate in which there is room for different opinions. And cartoons are great at showing different opinions.
This is what our platform is best at: provide space for cartoonists to publish. Many of our cartoonists live and work in countries where they are not free to draw everything. Cartoon Movement offers them a platform to work that they would otherwise not be able to publish, to show this to an international audience.
And we had some great cartoons this year.
Such as a cartoon of the Burmese cartoonist Kyaw Thu Yein. This year, Burma (aka Myanmar) held free general elections for the first time in 25 years. We ran a project to put the spotlight on Burmese cartoonists and give them space publish their cartoons with us in the run-up to these historic elections. Thu Yein was one of these cartoonists : without text, this cartoon shows how a (military) dictator fears the power of the people. A cartoon that will be understood by anyone anywhere in the world.
Being a cartoonist is not easy. Often cartoonists are far from free to draw what they want. If it's not the government that is threatening to censor their work, there is always the danger that extremists (religious or otherwise) will take offense to a particular cartoon. Osama Hajjaj from Jordan experienced this when he made a cartoon about women and Islam. It is in many ways it's a fairly innocent cartoon. We see two families having fun on the beach. But in the second panel, the wife of one family is forced to watch while other are having fun in the water; religious rules do not allow her to go swimming with her family.
Osama received death threats from ISIS because of this cartoon. His response: 'Those cowards will not stop me. I still believe that freedom of thought and expression is a human right. "The immense popularity of this cartoon shows how powerful this medium is and why the freedom of it is a human right.' We couldn't agree more, and so does our audience, as this was our most popular cartoon of the year.
Recently, another threat emerged from an unexpected place. Osama's employer (he works in advertising, in addition to his work as a cartoonist) got wind of his work as a political cartoonist. The company wants to force him to sign a statement in which he promises not to make 'political' drawings anymore. At present it seems that Osama will need to quit his job to continue drawing. Together with other organizations (such as Cartooning for Peace) we are looking how we can best help him. Because we believe it is essential that his voice continues to be heard.
Another cartoon that is worth mentioning, was made following the drowning of the three-year-old Syrian refugee boy Aylan. Many cartoonists made a cartoon featuring this iconic image, but few did it as well as Rafat Alkhateeb. This also was one of our more popular cartoons of the year that too much is taken up by other media. One of our goals is to provide a platform for a new generation of cartoonists like 26 year-old Rafat. We can offer hime the opportunity to develop his talent for a large audience.
Giving space to young and experienced cartoonists from all over the world. Offer space for different perspectives. And providing space for discussion. With our audience more than doubling in 2015 in comparison with previous years, we can certainly say our cartoons have had an impact. And will hopefully continue to have impact in 2016.