Commentary Magazine


Topic: cartoonist

The Jewish Chronicle Joins Condemnation of the Guardian

The Jewish Chronicle, a highly influential newspaper among the British Jewish community, published a surprisingly hard-hitting editorial today slamming the Guardian for its coverage of the Palestinian Papers controversy.

“There is nothing, of itself, wrong with the Guardian publishing its scoop; all serious newspapers relish scoops,” wrote the Chronicle, in reference to the Guardian‘s collaborating with Al Jazeera to break the Palestinian Papers story. “What is very wrong is the way the paper chose to present its story: the distortions, the bias, the agenda, the spin and the breathtaking arrogance of its handing down instructions to the Palestinians of how they should behave.”

The Guardian and Al Jazeera have been criticized for heavily spinning the story: taking quotes out of context, printing misleading claims, and leaving out information that might contradict a preconceived narrative.

But that’s nothing new for the Guardian, especially when it comes to its obsessive and highly tendentious coverage of Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s editorial section, however, did cross a line with the Palestinian Papers story — one that may be impossible to step back over.

Let’s no longer pretend that the Guardian supports a two-state solution. This week its editorial board aligned itself with the views of Hamas. Its columnists have called on Palestinians to rise up against the Palestinian Authority leaders. And, perhaps most shameful, it printed a cartoon of PA President Mahmoud Abbas dressed up like an Orthodox Jew — drawn by cartoonist Carlos Latuff, known for his viciously anti-Israel work.

“The Guardian crossed a line this week. It has not practised journalism but rather hardcore political activism, playing with people’s lives,” the Chronicle concluded.

The Chronicle’s editors are correct in their condemnation. Other Jewish organizations concerned about anti-Semitic incitement would be smart to follow their lead.

The Jewish Chronicle, a highly influential newspaper among the British Jewish community, published a surprisingly hard-hitting editorial today slamming the Guardian for its coverage of the Palestinian Papers controversy.

“There is nothing, of itself, wrong with the Guardian publishing its scoop; all serious newspapers relish scoops,” wrote the Chronicle, in reference to the Guardian‘s collaborating with Al Jazeera to break the Palestinian Papers story. “What is very wrong is the way the paper chose to present its story: the distortions, the bias, the agenda, the spin and the breathtaking arrogance of its handing down instructions to the Palestinians of how they should behave.”

The Guardian and Al Jazeera have been criticized for heavily spinning the story: taking quotes out of context, printing misleading claims, and leaving out information that might contradict a preconceived narrative.

But that’s nothing new for the Guardian, especially when it comes to its obsessive and highly tendentious coverage of Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s editorial section, however, did cross a line with the Palestinian Papers story — one that may be impossible to step back over.

Let’s no longer pretend that the Guardian supports a two-state solution. This week its editorial board aligned itself with the views of Hamas. Its columnists have called on Palestinians to rise up against the Palestinian Authority leaders. And, perhaps most shameful, it printed a cartoon of PA President Mahmoud Abbas dressed up like an Orthodox Jew — drawn by cartoonist Carlos Latuff, known for his viciously anti-Israel work.

“The Guardian crossed a line this week. It has not practised journalism but rather hardcore political activism, playing with people’s lives,” the Chronicle concluded.

The Chronicle’s editors are correct in their condemnation. Other Jewish organizations concerned about anti-Semitic incitement would be smart to follow their lead.

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Terrorists Target “Children, Daughters, and Sisters.”

Reason‘s Michael Moynihan has the scoop on an under-reported terrorist attack that occurred yesterday:

Two explosions rocked the downtown shopping district in Stockholm this evening as holiday shoppers crowded the chainstore-clogged area around Drottninggatan. According to early Swedish media reports, a car parked on the busy shopping street exploded at just after 5PM today, wounding two passersby. Two minutes later, say investigators, a second explosion was heard from a nearby street, where police found a bag stuffed with nails and the body, it appears, of the bomber.

According to this report in the tabloid newspaper Expressen, the Swedish security service and TT newswire (the Swedish equivalent to the AP) received a threat “against the Swedish people” ten minutes before the explosions. In a letter and audiotape, the bomber wrote that “Now your children, daughters, and sisters die like our brothers and sisters die.” He continued: “Our actions speak for themselves. As long as you don’t stop your war against Islam, and you degrade the Prophet, and your support for that stupid pig [cartoonist Lars] Vilks.”

Indeed, their actions do speak, repulsively, for themselves.

Reason‘s Michael Moynihan has the scoop on an under-reported terrorist attack that occurred yesterday:

Two explosions rocked the downtown shopping district in Stockholm this evening as holiday shoppers crowded the chainstore-clogged area around Drottninggatan. According to early Swedish media reports, a car parked on the busy shopping street exploded at just after 5PM today, wounding two passersby. Two minutes later, say investigators, a second explosion was heard from a nearby street, where police found a bag stuffed with nails and the body, it appears, of the bomber.

According to this report in the tabloid newspaper Expressen, the Swedish security service and TT newswire (the Swedish equivalent to the AP) received a threat “against the Swedish people” ten minutes before the explosions. In a letter and audiotape, the bomber wrote that “Now your children, daughters, and sisters die like our brothers and sisters die.” He continued: “Our actions speak for themselves. As long as you don’t stop your war against Islam, and you degrade the Prophet, and your support for that stupid pig [cartoonist Lars] Vilks.”

Indeed, their actions do speak, repulsively, for themselves.

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Euro-Freedom Watch

With little fanfare, the EU adopted new legislation this week that makes “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia” criminal offenses — and allows individual EU nations to prosecute the citizens of other nations for those offenses. And no, it’s not European anti-Americanism that’s being targeted by the xenophobia provisions. Advocates of free speech in Europe are quite clear that what the new law will criminalize is analytical, factual, or hortatory discussion of Islam and Sharia by non-Muslims.

Their conclusion is bolstered by recent events. Geert Wilders of the Netherlands is only the most famous of several Europeans who have faced criminal charges for speaking critically of Islam. Another is Austrian journalist and activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, whose trial for “hate speech” opened in Vienna on November 23. Take a moment to read publicized transcripts of the proceedings; it is worth understanding that Sabaditsch-Wolff is being tried, literally, for quoting both the Koran and an authoritative work on Sunni law, and expressing criticism of the social institutions condoned in those religious texts.

She is not a cartoonist lampooning Muhammad, something most Westerners would recognize as less than respectful even if they didn’t all agree that it was “offensive.” Sabaditsch-Wolff quotes the texts of Islam seriously and accurately; she objects to their implications, but she doesn’t poke fun at them. However, as Ned May observes at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace:

It has been well-established in a number of jurisdictions — including several in the West — that a non-Muslim who quotes the Koran accurately can still be convicted of “hate speech”. This aligns with the definition of Islamic slander (also to be found in [Sunni law document] Reliance) which considers anything that insults Islam, whether true or false, to be defamation.

The author at the pseudonymous Daphne Anson blog (top link) wonders what will happen if Turkey is finally admitted to the EU, given the newly approved framework allowing cross-border prosecutions in Europe. But I am inclined to wonder how the other nations will react to being in the same union with Austria and the Netherlands, which have already shown a willingness to prosecute free speech as a hate crime. The charges against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff are centered on questions like these, brought up one after another on the first day of her trial:

10:53: The judge inquires if we are talking about Islamic extremism, or of Islam as such?

Elisabeth explains that we are talking Islam as such, as defined by its scripture, and quotes Erdogan that there is no moderate Islam anyway.

The intellectual basis for her certainty (or the judge’s, for that matter) is not the issue here, nor should it be. The issue is that she is being prosecuted for forensic, critical investigation of Islam: for advancing opinions we hear argued nightly on American TV talk shows. The most basic of intellectual freedoms — attributing facts to sources and expressing opinions about them — is in the process of being criminalized in parts of the EU. Free-speech advocates fear that the new Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia will spread this trend toward criminalization across borders throughout Europe. They are justified in their concern.

With little fanfare, the EU adopted new legislation this week that makes “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia” criminal offenses — and allows individual EU nations to prosecute the citizens of other nations for those offenses. And no, it’s not European anti-Americanism that’s being targeted by the xenophobia provisions. Advocates of free speech in Europe are quite clear that what the new law will criminalize is analytical, factual, or hortatory discussion of Islam and Sharia by non-Muslims.

Their conclusion is bolstered by recent events. Geert Wilders of the Netherlands is only the most famous of several Europeans who have faced criminal charges for speaking critically of Islam. Another is Austrian journalist and activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, whose trial for “hate speech” opened in Vienna on November 23. Take a moment to read publicized transcripts of the proceedings; it is worth understanding that Sabaditsch-Wolff is being tried, literally, for quoting both the Koran and an authoritative work on Sunni law, and expressing criticism of the social institutions condoned in those religious texts.

She is not a cartoonist lampooning Muhammad, something most Westerners would recognize as less than respectful even if they didn’t all agree that it was “offensive.” Sabaditsch-Wolff quotes the texts of Islam seriously and accurately; she objects to their implications, but she doesn’t poke fun at them. However, as Ned May observes at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace:

It has been well-established in a number of jurisdictions — including several in the West — that a non-Muslim who quotes the Koran accurately can still be convicted of “hate speech”. This aligns with the definition of Islamic slander (also to be found in [Sunni law document] Reliance) which considers anything that insults Islam, whether true or false, to be defamation.

The author at the pseudonymous Daphne Anson blog (top link) wonders what will happen if Turkey is finally admitted to the EU, given the newly approved framework allowing cross-border prosecutions in Europe. But I am inclined to wonder how the other nations will react to being in the same union with Austria and the Netherlands, which have already shown a willingness to prosecute free speech as a hate crime. The charges against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff are centered on questions like these, brought up one after another on the first day of her trial:

10:53: The judge inquires if we are talking about Islamic extremism, or of Islam as such?

Elisabeth explains that we are talking Islam as such, as defined by its scripture, and quotes Erdogan that there is no moderate Islam anyway.

The intellectual basis for her certainty (or the judge’s, for that matter) is not the issue here, nor should it be. The issue is that she is being prosecuted for forensic, critical investigation of Islam: for advancing opinions we hear argued nightly on American TV talk shows. The most basic of intellectual freedoms — attributing facts to sources and expressing opinions about them — is in the process of being criminalized in parts of the EU. Free-speech advocates fear that the new Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia will spread this trend toward criminalization across borders throughout Europe. They are justified in their concern.

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RE: Mosque Builders Drop Mask of ‘Reconciliation’

The other guest on that segment of This Week, Jennifer, Rabbi Joy Levitt of the Jewish Community Center, seemed awfully ignorant of the religious history of New York City. She said:

Peter Stuyvesant refused to allow synagogues to be built in New York in the 1600s. It took an act of Congress here in Washington to allow a synagogue to be built. … The British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City. So, we understand some of this pain, and yet we’ve also experienced a tremendous amount of support in this country, so I think we actually are in a position to both understand and be helpful, to support religious tolerance in this country.

Unlike the New England Puritans, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and the Catholics in Maryland, the Dutch did not come to Manhattan to escape religious persecution or to build a shining city on a hill. They came to Manhattan to make a buck. Indeed, they did not even get around to building a proper church for 17 years. Named after St. Nicholas, Santa Claus has been the city’s patron saint ever since. (In fact, the modern version of Santa Claus is a wholly New York invention, developed by such New York writers as Clement Moore and the cartoonist Thomas Nast.)

Peter Stuyvesant, however, was a deeply religious man, adhering to the Dutch Reform Church. He banned both Jews and Quakers from New Amsterdam. They appealed to the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam in what is known as the Flushing Remonstrance, often considered the birth of religious freedom in America. The company wrote Governor Stuyvesant and instructed him in no uncertain terms to mind his own business so that the Jews and Quakers could mind theirs.

Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in 1654, while Stuyvesant was still very much governor of New Amsterdam. It is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, now located at Central Park West and 70th Street. It did not require an act of Congress (which wouldn’t even exist until 1789 and Washington wouldn’t be the capital until 1800). All it took was a sharp rap on the knuckles by the Dutch West India Company to remind Peter Stuyvesant what New Amsterdam was all about.

And if the British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City, how did Shearith Israel build one on Mill Street in 1730?

The other guest on that segment of This Week, Jennifer, Rabbi Joy Levitt of the Jewish Community Center, seemed awfully ignorant of the religious history of New York City. She said:

Peter Stuyvesant refused to allow synagogues to be built in New York in the 1600s. It took an act of Congress here in Washington to allow a synagogue to be built. … The British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City. So, we understand some of this pain, and yet we’ve also experienced a tremendous amount of support in this country, so I think we actually are in a position to both understand and be helpful, to support religious tolerance in this country.

Unlike the New England Puritans, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and the Catholics in Maryland, the Dutch did not come to Manhattan to escape religious persecution or to build a shining city on a hill. They came to Manhattan to make a buck. Indeed, they did not even get around to building a proper church for 17 years. Named after St. Nicholas, Santa Claus has been the city’s patron saint ever since. (In fact, the modern version of Santa Claus is a wholly New York invention, developed by such New York writers as Clement Moore and the cartoonist Thomas Nast.)

Peter Stuyvesant, however, was a deeply religious man, adhering to the Dutch Reform Church. He banned both Jews and Quakers from New Amsterdam. They appealed to the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam in what is known as the Flushing Remonstrance, often considered the birth of religious freedom in America. The company wrote Governor Stuyvesant and instructed him in no uncertain terms to mind his own business so that the Jews and Quakers could mind theirs.

Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in 1654, while Stuyvesant was still very much governor of New Amsterdam. It is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, now located at Central Park West and 70th Street. It did not require an act of Congress (which wouldn’t even exist until 1789 and Washington wouldn’t be the capital until 1800). All it took was a sharp rap on the knuckles by the Dutch West India Company to remind Peter Stuyvesant what New Amsterdam was all about.

And if the British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City, how did Shearith Israel build one on Mill Street in 1730?

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Post Cartoonist Should Read His Own Paper

There is a difference between the ordinary distortions of news stories that fail to take into account the history of the Middle East conflict and published material that spreads out-and-out lies. And there is no other way to describe the editorial cartoon drawn by Tom Toles in Monday’s Washington Post than as a lie. Toles portrays a three-way meeting between President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas taking place without a table in front of the trio. Obama listens as Abbas says “Okay. … Everything is on the table.” Netanyahu — labeled “Bibi” — replies, “But we refuse to sit at that table.” This leaves the reader with the idea that Israeli intransigence that is foiling the peace process.

Cartoons are not the same thing as a news article and Toles is entitled to his opinion about the Middle East. But he is not, as they say, entitled to his own facts. You needn’t be a supporter of Israel to understand that the reason direct talks between the parties aren’t being held is because the Palestinians have, quite vocally, refused to sit at the same table as the Israelis. One just has to follow the news about the Middle East to know this. Indeed, just the day before Toles’s cartoon was published, the Post ran a story that directly discussed President Obama’s displeasure with Abbas and his flat refusal to sit at the same table with the Israelis.

So the problem with the cartoon is not that it is biased against Israel or that it puts forward a premise about Netanyahu’s policies that is out of context. It is that it is ignorant. Toles may think whatever he likes about Israel, and he may draw anti-Israeli cartoons as long as the Post is willing to publish them. But surely there is some obligation on the part of a person who works for a newspaper to stay abreast of the news that is published within its own pages. You also have to wonder what the editorial page editor was thinking while signing off on a page that includes Toles’s cartoon, which flatly contradicts well-known facts about the peace process.

Is the problem here that Toles and his editor just don’t read the Middle East news published in the Post or elsewhere? Or is it just that Toles’s bias against Israel is so profound that he is unwilling to adjust the tone of his scribbling to accommodate the actual facts about the conflict? Either way, this cartoon raises some serious questions about the judgment of Toles and the editors, which the newspaper needs to answer.

(Hat tip to Eric Rozenman, Washington director of CAMERA.)

There is a difference between the ordinary distortions of news stories that fail to take into account the history of the Middle East conflict and published material that spreads out-and-out lies. And there is no other way to describe the editorial cartoon drawn by Tom Toles in Monday’s Washington Post than as a lie. Toles portrays a three-way meeting between President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas taking place without a table in front of the trio. Obama listens as Abbas says “Okay. … Everything is on the table.” Netanyahu — labeled “Bibi” — replies, “But we refuse to sit at that table.” This leaves the reader with the idea that Israeli intransigence that is foiling the peace process.

Cartoons are not the same thing as a news article and Toles is entitled to his opinion about the Middle East. But he is not, as they say, entitled to his own facts. You needn’t be a supporter of Israel to understand that the reason direct talks between the parties aren’t being held is because the Palestinians have, quite vocally, refused to sit at the same table as the Israelis. One just has to follow the news about the Middle East to know this. Indeed, just the day before Toles’s cartoon was published, the Post ran a story that directly discussed President Obama’s displeasure with Abbas and his flat refusal to sit at the same table with the Israelis.

So the problem with the cartoon is not that it is biased against Israel or that it puts forward a premise about Netanyahu’s policies that is out of context. It is that it is ignorant. Toles may think whatever he likes about Israel, and he may draw anti-Israeli cartoons as long as the Post is willing to publish them. But surely there is some obligation on the part of a person who works for a newspaper to stay abreast of the news that is published within its own pages. You also have to wonder what the editorial page editor was thinking while signing off on a page that includes Toles’s cartoon, which flatly contradicts well-known facts about the peace process.

Is the problem here that Toles and his editor just don’t read the Middle East news published in the Post or elsewhere? Or is it just that Toles’s bias against Israel is so profound that he is unwilling to adjust the tone of his scribbling to accommodate the actual facts about the conflict? Either way, this cartoon raises some serious questions about the judgment of Toles and the editors, which the newspaper needs to answer.

(Hat tip to Eric Rozenman, Washington director of CAMERA.)

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Mob Rule in Sweden

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was attacked a few days ago during the screening of a short film he made depicting Islamic religious figures in homoerotic positions. He wasn’t hurt badly, but he was surely shaken up when a dozen or so enraged Muslims in the audience exploded out of their seats and rioted in the theater.

The police were on hand as though they expected something like this, just as Vilks himself must have expected it. His film is rude and provocative and could be considered offensive even to people who are not Muslims, which of course doesn’t excuse the reaction.

The reaction could have been even worse. Two people in the United States and seven people in Ireland were arrested in March for conspiring to kill him after he drew a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad with his head on a dog’s body. Vilks is an equal-opportunity offender who also enjoys tweaking the noses of Christians and Jews, none of whom, to my knowledge anyway, have ever rioted or tried to hunt him down with a death squad.

Someone posted a video clip to YouTube, which shows the entire incident in the Swedish theater from beginning to end, including the opening shots of Vilks’s film. What stands out more than anything else, aside from the dismal spectacle of a hysterical mob behaving atrociously for 10 minutes, is how the Muslims in the audience cheer when the screening is canceled for security reasons.

They cheered because they won. Censoring the film was the point. It’s almost certainly what they intended to do when they showed up.

The mob deserves most of the blame, but the authorities need to own a small part of it. Surely they believed in Vilks’s right to show his film. Otherwise they would have shut him down, and they would have shut him down in advance. And I can certainly understand why the organizers would want to cancel an event that became unruly and dangerous. Still, they pulled the plug on a film while a mob cheered as the police failed to keep order. Free speech in Sweden has taken a body blow. There is no way around this.

Too many Westerners don’t have a clue how to handle problems like this, but a solution, at least in this case, was actually pretty straightforward. Those who couldn’t control themselves should have been arrested or escorted out of the theater so the film could be restarted. The police, by failing to control or remove all the violent and potentially violent agitators, will only encourage more of the same as people can generally be counted on to learn what works and repeat it.

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was attacked a few days ago during the screening of a short film he made depicting Islamic religious figures in homoerotic positions. He wasn’t hurt badly, but he was surely shaken up when a dozen or so enraged Muslims in the audience exploded out of their seats and rioted in the theater.

The police were on hand as though they expected something like this, just as Vilks himself must have expected it. His film is rude and provocative and could be considered offensive even to people who are not Muslims, which of course doesn’t excuse the reaction.

The reaction could have been even worse. Two people in the United States and seven people in Ireland were arrested in March for conspiring to kill him after he drew a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad with his head on a dog’s body. Vilks is an equal-opportunity offender who also enjoys tweaking the noses of Christians and Jews, none of whom, to my knowledge anyway, have ever rioted or tried to hunt him down with a death squad.

Someone posted a video clip to YouTube, which shows the entire incident in the Swedish theater from beginning to end, including the opening shots of Vilks’s film. What stands out more than anything else, aside from the dismal spectacle of a hysterical mob behaving atrociously for 10 minutes, is how the Muslims in the audience cheer when the screening is canceled for security reasons.

They cheered because they won. Censoring the film was the point. It’s almost certainly what they intended to do when they showed up.

The mob deserves most of the blame, but the authorities need to own a small part of it. Surely they believed in Vilks’s right to show his film. Otherwise they would have shut him down, and they would have shut him down in advance. And I can certainly understand why the organizers would want to cancel an event that became unruly and dangerous. Still, they pulled the plug on a film while a mob cheered as the police failed to keep order. Free speech in Sweden has taken a body blow. There is no way around this.

Too many Westerners don’t have a clue how to handle problems like this, but a solution, at least in this case, was actually pretty straightforward. Those who couldn’t control themselves should have been arrested or escorted out of the theater so the film could be restarted. The police, by failing to control or remove all the violent and potentially violent agitators, will only encourage more of the same as people can generally be counted on to learn what works and repeat it.

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Bookshelf

• One of the smartest decisions the Library of America ever made was to include the complete text of Bill Mauldin’s Up Front in Reporting World War II, its two-volume anthology of World War II journalism. Up Front is the best collection of editorial cartoons ever published by an American, though that flat phrase cannot begin to suggest the true nature of the book’s excellence, much less its formal uniqueness. Not only are the cartoons themselves devastating in the deadpan eloquence with which they sum up the combat soldier’s now-grubby, now-terrifying life (“I’m beginnin’ to feel like a fugitive from th’ law of averages”), but the combination of Mauldin’s brilliantly evocative drawings and plain-spoken accompanying text adds up to something far greater than the sum of its considerable parts. He and Ernie Pyle were without doubt the best newspaper journalists to cover the war, and it is all the more impressive to learn that Mauldin was a smooth-faced boy in his early twenties when he drew the cartoons that went into Up Front—and all the more dismaying to discover that he never did anything remotely as good for the rest of his life.

Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front (W.W. Norton, 352 pp., $27.95), Todd DePastino’s too-admiring but nonetheless illuminating biography of the cartoonist, is interesting for the first two-thirds of its length, in which DePastino describes Mauldin’s troubled youth and the demanding circumstances under which he produced the cartoons that went into Up Front. Much of this story has already been told in Mauldin’s autobiographical writings, but DePastino goes over the same ground with more detachment and detail. It is especially interesting to see reproductions of Mauldin’s early work, which is conventional and devoid of obvious promise—it could have been drawn by any provincial cartoonist—and to watch his familiar style start taking shape as soon as he was shipped out to Europe in 1943. All at once (it is almost as sudden as that) he breaks free from the conventions of early-40’s cartooning and turns into an artist, one whose ability to embody the feel of modern war in individual, lightning-like flashes of candor and grim wit brings him on occasion within spitting distance of Daumier.

Then the war ended, and Mauldin, by now famous, returned stateside and started floundering. He would not be the first prodigy who later proved incapable of producing work comparable in quality to that with which he made his name, though DePastino fails to see what went wrong. The problem was that Mauldin, who had no feel whatsoever for politics, tried to fit his genius into the wrong mold when he attempted to retrofit himself as a political cartoonist. His newly acquired liberal views, which ran to the reflexive, were too obvious to serve as the basis of striking comment on the issues of the day, and the only postwar cartoon of his that continues to be remembered, the captionless caricature of the Lincoln of the Lincoln Monument holding his head in his hands after hearing of the Kennedy assassination, is both crude and mawkish.
Mauldin was largely forgotten by the time he died in 2003, though the publication in 1995 of Reporting World War II (an event of which DePastino inexplicably makes no mention whatsoever) was to introduce his and Pyle’s work to a small but significant number of readers born too young to know how well those two men captured the American experience in World War II. Owners of that invaluable collection will want to read Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front and see for themselves how the horrors of war transformed a confused ne’er-do-well into—briefly—a great journalist.

• One of the smartest decisions the Library of America ever made was to include the complete text of Bill Mauldin’s Up Front in Reporting World War II, its two-volume anthology of World War II journalism. Up Front is the best collection of editorial cartoons ever published by an American, though that flat phrase cannot begin to suggest the true nature of the book’s excellence, much less its formal uniqueness. Not only are the cartoons themselves devastating in the deadpan eloquence with which they sum up the combat soldier’s now-grubby, now-terrifying life (“I’m beginnin’ to feel like a fugitive from th’ law of averages”), but the combination of Mauldin’s brilliantly evocative drawings and plain-spoken accompanying text adds up to something far greater than the sum of its considerable parts. He and Ernie Pyle were without doubt the best newspaper journalists to cover the war, and it is all the more impressive to learn that Mauldin was a smooth-faced boy in his early twenties when he drew the cartoons that went into Up Front—and all the more dismaying to discover that he never did anything remotely as good for the rest of his life.

Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front (W.W. Norton, 352 pp., $27.95), Todd DePastino’s too-admiring but nonetheless illuminating biography of the cartoonist, is interesting for the first two-thirds of its length, in which DePastino describes Mauldin’s troubled youth and the demanding circumstances under which he produced the cartoons that went into Up Front. Much of this story has already been told in Mauldin’s autobiographical writings, but DePastino goes over the same ground with more detachment and detail. It is especially interesting to see reproductions of Mauldin’s early work, which is conventional and devoid of obvious promise—it could have been drawn by any provincial cartoonist—and to watch his familiar style start taking shape as soon as he was shipped out to Europe in 1943. All at once (it is almost as sudden as that) he breaks free from the conventions of early-40’s cartooning and turns into an artist, one whose ability to embody the feel of modern war in individual, lightning-like flashes of candor and grim wit brings him on occasion within spitting distance of Daumier.

Then the war ended, and Mauldin, by now famous, returned stateside and started floundering. He would not be the first prodigy who later proved incapable of producing work comparable in quality to that with which he made his name, though DePastino fails to see what went wrong. The problem was that Mauldin, who had no feel whatsoever for politics, tried to fit his genius into the wrong mold when he attempted to retrofit himself as a political cartoonist. His newly acquired liberal views, which ran to the reflexive, were too obvious to serve as the basis of striking comment on the issues of the day, and the only postwar cartoon of his that continues to be remembered, the captionless caricature of the Lincoln of the Lincoln Monument holding his head in his hands after hearing of the Kennedy assassination, is both crude and mawkish.
Mauldin was largely forgotten by the time he died in 2003, though the publication in 1995 of Reporting World War II (an event of which DePastino inexplicably makes no mention whatsoever) was to introduce his and Pyle’s work to a small but significant number of readers born too young to know how well those two men captured the American experience in World War II. Owners of that invaluable collection will want to read Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front and see for themselves how the horrors of war transformed a confused ne’er-do-well into—briefly—a great journalist.

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Re-branding Capitulation

The Dutch were arguably the first to harness the capital and military potential of the sea and establish a muscular free-trade empire; England followed, and then the U.S. In accordance with a simple timeline school of history the undoing of Dutch culture should proceed that of England or America. Sometimes history can be frighteningly simple.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports that Dutch Catholics have “re-branded” the Lent fast “Christian Ramadan.” Martin Van der Kuil, director of the Catholic charity Vastenaktie said, “The image of the Catholic Lent must be polished. The fact that we use a Muslim term is related to the fact that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young people than Lent.”

Meanwhile, the second great sea power lays the groundwork. The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has recommended that England formally adopt certain aspects of shari’a law to “help maintain social cohesion.”

Williams’ sentiment is echoed by Van der Kuil, who said of Lent and Ramadan: “The agreements are more striking than the differences. Both for Muslims and Catholic faithful the values of frugality and spirituality play a central role in this tradition.”

As this plays out, former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was forced to flee the Netherlands under Islamist death threats, can’t find her way to the “social cohesion” of an interfaith Europe. She’s going from country-to-country in the hopes of convincing a government to protect her from would-be assassins. Hard to say what her chances are in Denmark, where police just arrested three men plotting to kill a cartoonist who drew a picture of the Prophet Mohammad.

The “re-branding” of Lent is really a re-defining of several things: Catholicism, European culture, and the fate of nations. “Re-branding” is one of those weaselly terms common to market-driven societies such as the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the U.S.. What’s really happening isn’t marketing, but product development: Anglican shari’a and Catholic Ramadan. When some version of this trend hits America, us savvy consumers should at least be able to call it by its name.

The Dutch were arguably the first to harness the capital and military potential of the sea and establish a muscular free-trade empire; England followed, and then the U.S. In accordance with a simple timeline school of history the undoing of Dutch culture should proceed that of England or America. Sometimes history can be frighteningly simple.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports that Dutch Catholics have “re-branded” the Lent fast “Christian Ramadan.” Martin Van der Kuil, director of the Catholic charity Vastenaktie said, “The image of the Catholic Lent must be polished. The fact that we use a Muslim term is related to the fact that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young people than Lent.”

Meanwhile, the second great sea power lays the groundwork. The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has recommended that England formally adopt certain aspects of shari’a law to “help maintain social cohesion.”

Williams’ sentiment is echoed by Van der Kuil, who said of Lent and Ramadan: “The agreements are more striking than the differences. Both for Muslims and Catholic faithful the values of frugality and spirituality play a central role in this tradition.”

As this plays out, former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was forced to flee the Netherlands under Islamist death threats, can’t find her way to the “social cohesion” of an interfaith Europe. She’s going from country-to-country in the hopes of convincing a government to protect her from would-be assassins. Hard to say what her chances are in Denmark, where police just arrested three men plotting to kill a cartoonist who drew a picture of the Prophet Mohammad.

The “re-branding” of Lent is really a re-defining of several things: Catholicism, European culture, and the fate of nations. “Re-branding” is one of those weaselly terms common to market-driven societies such as the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the U.S.. What’s really happening isn’t marketing, but product development: Anglican shari’a and Catholic Ramadan. When some version of this trend hits America, us savvy consumers should at least be able to call it by its name.

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Cartoons After Columbia

Unctuous bows, veiled threats, and smug mockery do not an edifying speech make, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s performance at Columbia University offers at least one consolation: the cartoons. The utter absurdity of the event has drawn forth a pageant of arresting editorial cartoons, some quite amusing. But only one managed to capture its essential grotesqueness—the ostentatious display of tolerance to a man whose most notable characteristic is his murderous intolerance, killing with roadside bombs today and atomic weapons tomorrow.

Presumably because of the pressure of deadlines, most cartoonists did not deal with the substance of the Iranian president’s talk, and depicted the event only in generic terms. Ed Stein of the Rocky Mountain News, for example, simply showed the worm in the Big Apple. Others focused on the theme of free speech. Pat Oliphant showed a disdainful Statue of Liberty, holding a diminutive Ahmadinejad at arm’s length as he jabbers away harmlessly; for Tom Toles, Columbia gave its speaker a rope long enough with which to hang himself, the noose labeled “free speech.”

Those who waited until after the speech to draw produced more penetrating images. Jerry Holbert of the Boston Herald had Ahmadinejad telling a politically incorrect joke (“a bunch of American infidels, a rabbi, and a suicide bomber walk into a bar”), which, while amusing, was not enough removed from reality to be truly funny. Far less amusing was the smattering of cartoonists who evidently have no objection to Ahmadinejad at all. Some like Tony Auth, the graphically inept cartoonist of the Philadelphia Inquirer, did not even think the event worthy of note. But then this discreet silence is preferable to the work of Lalo Alcaraz, who writes the daily comic strip La Cucaracha. His cartoon showed the Iranian under a sign labeled Republican Party Dept. of Homosexual Control, sitting between a photograph of President Bush and a sign “22 days gay free.” In other words, the only real problem Alcaraz finds with Ahmadinejad, whose regime enforces the public execution of homosexuals, is that the Iranian leader reminds the cartoonist of Republicans—whose actions might just conceivably remove the death threat from those same homosexuals.

Read More

Unctuous bows, veiled threats, and smug mockery do not an edifying speech make, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s performance at Columbia University offers at least one consolation: the cartoons. The utter absurdity of the event has drawn forth a pageant of arresting editorial cartoons, some quite amusing. But only one managed to capture its essential grotesqueness—the ostentatious display of tolerance to a man whose most notable characteristic is his murderous intolerance, killing with roadside bombs today and atomic weapons tomorrow.

Presumably because of the pressure of deadlines, most cartoonists did not deal with the substance of the Iranian president’s talk, and depicted the event only in generic terms. Ed Stein of the Rocky Mountain News, for example, simply showed the worm in the Big Apple. Others focused on the theme of free speech. Pat Oliphant showed a disdainful Statue of Liberty, holding a diminutive Ahmadinejad at arm’s length as he jabbers away harmlessly; for Tom Toles, Columbia gave its speaker a rope long enough with which to hang himself, the noose labeled “free speech.”

Those who waited until after the speech to draw produced more penetrating images. Jerry Holbert of the Boston Herald had Ahmadinejad telling a politically incorrect joke (“a bunch of American infidels, a rabbi, and a suicide bomber walk into a bar”), which, while amusing, was not enough removed from reality to be truly funny. Far less amusing was the smattering of cartoonists who evidently have no objection to Ahmadinejad at all. Some like Tony Auth, the graphically inept cartoonist of the Philadelphia Inquirer, did not even think the event worthy of note. But then this discreet silence is preferable to the work of Lalo Alcaraz, who writes the daily comic strip La Cucaracha. His cartoon showed the Iranian under a sign labeled Republican Party Dept. of Homosexual Control, sitting between a photograph of President Bush and a sign “22 days gay free.” In other words, the only real problem Alcaraz finds with Ahmadinejad, whose regime enforces the public execution of homosexuals, is that the Iranian leader reminds the cartoonist of Republicans—whose actions might just conceivably remove the death threat from those same homosexuals.

In compensation for this, the event has produced at least one instant classic. In the cartoon by Sean Delonas of the New York Post, Ahmadinejad is shown at the podium as he calls on a questioner, saying “One last question, yes, the gentleman in the back.” Our point of view is from behind Ahmadinejad, and we must peer deep into the crowd to see the questioner, a skeletal concentration camp victim, in his stripes and yellow star. He wears a mournful and weary expression, and we are not even certain if he is dead or alive.

In every sense it is a masterpiece. Most editorial cartoonists think schematically, like Toles or Stein, placing cut-out figures on flat backgrounds. But Delonas typically employs dramatic perspective, as here with the haunting juxtaposition of foreground and background. Rather than a self-contained visual pun entailing a single joke, Delonas’s image implies much more than it shows, and we can’t help but imagine what is about to be said. Whatever the reason, it does what all successful graphic art must do: present an unforgettable image that resonates in the mind. It is a work of great dignity that almost washes away the vicious agitprop of Alcaraz.

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Greenwald and Vilks

When I postulated in a short post last week that comedienne Kathy Griffin would have faced a more dire fate than being hectored by the Catholic Leauge’s Bill Donohue had she made a joke about Muhammad rather than Jesus, Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald succumbed to his usual hysterics, running off a thousand-plus word screed grouping me alongside “right-wing warmongers” like Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and Mark Steyn, and calling my fears fantasies.

Not to needle the ever-excitable Greenwald, but in related news about the over-exaggerated Muslim threat that only exists in the minds of “right-wing warmongers,” the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, has called for the death of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks for—what else?—drawing a picture of Muhammad. Demonstrating a real entrepreneurial spirit, al-Baghdadi offered a “50 per cent bonus if Mr. Vilks was ‘slaughtered like a lamb’ by having his throat cut.”

Swedish police have placed Vilks under their protection. According to the Times (London), a spokesperson for the Swedish phone company Ericsson says that it has instructed its employees “to keep a low profile in Muslim countries and to take extra care in deciding where to go or park their cars.” The feckless Swedish ambassador to Saudi Arabia met with the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, offering his “deepest apologies for the controversy created by the publishing of the hurtful depiction.” I must have imagined this, too, right?

Fortunately, Mr. Vilks has responded to the bounty placed on his head with good humor, telling the Times, “I suppose that this makes my art project a bit more serious. It is also good to know how much one is worth.” Greenwald might want to consider emulating Lars Vilks’s sense of humor. All those tantrums have to be taxing.

When I postulated in a short post last week that comedienne Kathy Griffin would have faced a more dire fate than being hectored by the Catholic Leauge’s Bill Donohue had she made a joke about Muhammad rather than Jesus, Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald succumbed to his usual hysterics, running off a thousand-plus word screed grouping me alongside “right-wing warmongers” like Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and Mark Steyn, and calling my fears fantasies.

Not to needle the ever-excitable Greenwald, but in related news about the over-exaggerated Muslim threat that only exists in the minds of “right-wing warmongers,” the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, has called for the death of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks for—what else?—drawing a picture of Muhammad. Demonstrating a real entrepreneurial spirit, al-Baghdadi offered a “50 per cent bonus if Mr. Vilks was ‘slaughtered like a lamb’ by having his throat cut.”

Swedish police have placed Vilks under their protection. According to the Times (London), a spokesperson for the Swedish phone company Ericsson says that it has instructed its employees “to keep a low profile in Muslim countries and to take extra care in deciding where to go or park their cars.” The feckless Swedish ambassador to Saudi Arabia met with the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, offering his “deepest apologies for the controversy created by the publishing of the hurtful depiction.” I must have imagined this, too, right?

Fortunately, Mr. Vilks has responded to the bounty placed on his head with good humor, telling the Times, “I suppose that this makes my art project a bit more serious. It is also good to know how much one is worth.” Greenwald might want to consider emulating Lars Vilks’s sense of humor. All those tantrums have to be taxing.

Read Less




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