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It's just a cartoon

Adrian Raeside talks about Muslim riots, Tom Toles, and the state of editorial cartoons



Back in September a Danish newspaper called Jyllands-Posten published a dozen cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

The illustrations went along with a story on self-censorship and free speech, prompted by a Danish author’s difficulty in finding an artist willing to draw a picture of Muhammad for a children’s book – allegedly because the artists feared a violent backlash from extremist Muslims.

According to some interpretations the of the Koran, the holy book of Islam, it is blasphemous to draw, sculpt, or otherwise create an idol of the prophet. Because Allah is "the originator of the heavens and the earth… (and there is) nothing like a likeness of Him" some believe that attempts to capture Allah’s likeness are an insult to His creation. The same rule is also applied to the prophet Muhammad.

It took a few months for those cartoons – and other cartoons and images not part of the original publishing – to make their way back to the Middle East, but when they did the reaction was explosive. In late January and early February, several Danish embassies were abandoned because of protests, and one embassy in Beirut was burned to the ground. Dozens of protesters have also been injured at various protests, and at least five protesters have died so far in clashes with police and military (all in Afghanistan).

Some of the original cartoonists have gone into hiding, and various people associated with printing and reprinting the cartoons in several countries have received death threats.

It’s been an eventful few weeks for cartoonists to say the least but things got even stranger when some of the top brass at the Pentagon took exception to a cartoon by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Tom Toles of the Washington Post. The cartoon depicts a soldier missing arms and legs, with Defence Secretary Donald standing over him and saying "I’m listing your condition as ‘battle hardened’."

The Pentagon called the cartoon "tasteless", and the theme of their letter has been echoed by other supporters of the current administration who have accused Toles of using the tragedy of wounded soldiers to make a political point against Rumsfeld and the administration.

Most cartoonists and newspaper editors, when asked, have voiced their support for Toles, and the Washington Post and for freedom of speech.

At the same time, only one North American publication – Calgary’s Western Standard – has reprinted the Muslim cartoon from Jyllands-Posten.

Pique Newsmagazine caught up with journeyman editorial cartoonist Adrian Raeside last week to discuss these latest developments, and the current atmosphere for Canadian cartoonists.

Raeside has been a cartoonist for the Victoria Times Colonist for over 28 years, and his Other Coast comic strip now appears in over 200 publications around the world. He has also written 12 books and countless television scripts, mostly for children. His work also appears in Pique Newsmagazine every week.