CRF Blog

Drawing While the Hand Trembles

by Bill Hayes

In Drawing While the Hand Trembles for Foreign Policy magazine, Jonathan Guyer looks at the view of “Charlie Hebdo” from the world of Arab cartoonists.

What can political cartoons do beyond messages of solidarity? We might look at how Arab cartoonists have responded to their own local and national conflicts, notably in Iraq and Syria, during moments as bloody and disturbing as the events in Paris. In fall 2013, when reports of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attacks spread, Jordanian cartoonist Osama Hajjaj illustrated an outlandish guide to surviving unconventional warfare, an example of humor’s power to address the very real menace. When Westerners were decapitated in Syria this past August, cartoonists made light of the Islamic State’s campaign of terror. Many readers were squeamish about the cartoons proliferating in the Arabic press. In the Egyptian paper Al-Masry Al-Youm, Abdallah drew a headless man walking into the “ISIS” barbershop and saying, “Pardon me, chief, has my head rolled through here?” Abdallah walks the fine line between bad taste and irreverence. While the world recoiled with revulsion at the executions, cartoonists unveiled imagery that shocked in order to shame the Islamic State jihadis and other extremists. This is offensive. This is also Muslims critiquing Muslims. Beheading cartoons are an answer to anti-Muslim chatter, and that vapid intonation of “Where are the moderate Muslims?” They’re drawing. [more]