Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, General Secretary of Hezbollah, has denied playing a part in the demonstrations that took place in Christian areas of Beirut, during which individuals and landmarks were targeted in protest of a television show that mocked Nasrallah. However, Nasrallah’s actions were much worse than those of the demonstrators, as he warned that he would not accept being ridiculed in this way. His position on the matter reminded me of a friend, Mahmoud Kaheel, who spent most of his life drawing caricatures. He said, “You could never imagine how difficult it is for an Arab caricaturist to do his job in comparison to other cartoonists throughout the world. We are requested to present satirical cartoons of what is around us without actually mocking anything or anyone.” I would like to add that the majority of caricatures in the Arab world target American President George Bush, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the current Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert.
Nasrallah’s reaction to the television program that aims to mock politicians was similar to the response of other Arab leaders who only call for freedom when their opponents are being mocked. I heard numerous comments made by many Arab intellectuals who were “shocked by Nasrallah’s reaction.” Their surprise was due to the fact that Nasrallah is a “modern” religious leader as well as a conventional Lebanese politician, and that political satire has always existed in Lebanon even throughout the wars, the Taif Accords and international investigations.
Nasrallah has entered a battle that is more than a simple dispute with a television show. He has freely provided clear evidence that a religious figure does not suit politics as long as he mixes sanctity with his post and seeks to deprive people of their right to criticize politicians.
Some may seek to justify Nasrallah’s position on the pretext that our region is bleeding so there is no room for humor. This would explain the numerous caricatures that fill our newspapers that are more like Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ rather than a satirical cartoon. Recently in Iran, protests against the publishing of a cartoon that depicted children running away from a cockroach that spoke Azeri resulted in the death of four people and injuries sustained by forty people. It is true to say the cartoon is extremely offensive to Iranian Azeris; however, the problem is not solely related to the cartoon as the hearts of demonstrators were filled with anger before any cartoons were drawn. The Azeris consider themselves a despised part of Iranian society as they are forbidden to use their own language and enjoy their own culture.
Caricaturists are usually the easiest targets for angry people, as most people can understand the meaning behind the cartoons however vague they may be. During the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi ambassador to France was fully aware of the connotations behind a cartoon that was on display at the opening of a gallery attended by the ambassador. The cartoon depicted a military leader in uniform who did not physically resemble Saddam but obviously shared the same principles. The cartoon showed the leader filling the plates of hungry people on crutches with medals and badges of honor. The ambassador complained and left the gallery with a warning despite no one realizing that the caricature was actually Saddam Hussein.