Iran cartoon show mocks Holocaust
Tehran exhibition attacks West's 'double standards' over religious satire
Robert Tait in Tehran
Sunday August 20, 2006
Ariel Sharon, the incapacitated former Israeli Prime Minister, is wearing an SS uniform. A man with Jewish side locks is depicted as a vampire drinking from a container marked 'Palestinian blood'. An Arab figure is impaled to the ground by the absurdly long nose of a man in a black hat characteristic of orthodox Jews and marked 'Holocaust'.
At their worst, the images conform to lurid western stereotypes of Iran as a hotbed of anti-Semitism, as evoked by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's dismissal of the Holocaust as a 'myth'.
They are among the results of a competition run by the country's biggest-selling newspaper, Hamshahri, to find the 'cleverest' cartoons satirising the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis in the Second World War.
More than 200 images have gone on public display in an exhibition at Tehran's Palestine Contemporary Art Museum. The exhibition's opening was attended by the de facto Palestinian ambassador to Iran, Salah al-Zawawi, who has full diplomatic status in Tehran.
Organisers say they received about 750 entries from around the world, including America and Britain, as well as many Muslim countries. The winning entrant will be announced next month and will receive a prize of US$12,000 (£6,380).
The contest, condemned by Israel and Jewish organisations, was launched in February in response to widespread Muslim outrage at the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in European newspapers. It followed a series of anti-Israeli outbursts from Ahmadinejad, including a call for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map.
Massoud Shojai Tabatabai, director of the Iranian House of Cartoons which co-ordinated the project, said its aim was to challenge perceived western double-standards on free speech, which Iran's leaders insist precludes openly debating the authenticity of the Holocaust.
'Why is it acceptable in western countries to draw any caricature of the Prophet Mohammed, yet as soon as there are any questions or doubts raised about the Holocaust, fines and jail sentences are handed down?' Tabatabai told The Observer.
That sentiment finds expression in a split-image cartoon from a Brazilian entrant in which a stand-up comic is portrayed performing in a venue called the West Club. In one image, captioned 'Making jokes about Islam', the comedian is greeted with raucous laughter. But the accompanying picture, marked 'Making jokes about the Holocaust', shows him being booted out of the window.
The exhibition's other themes are a contention that the death toll of the Holocaust is exaggerated and a comparison of the Nazis' behaviour with Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. The latter is explored in a cartoon, purportedly by a Belgian Jewish artist, in which two parallel railway lines - one marked with a swastika, the other with a star of David - merge before leading into a building resembling Auschwitz and bearing the slogan 'Welcome home'.
'We are concerned about the real holocaust, which is happening to Palestinians,' said Tabatabai. 'Why should Palestinians pay for events which happened thousands of kilometres away in Europe?'
The exhibition comes at time when displays of official anti-Zionist propaganda in Iran have reached new levels following the conflict in Lebanon between Israel and the Iranian-backed Shia militia, Hizbollah.
Nevertheless, some of those attending seemed more interested in the art and uncertain about the underlying political convictions of the work on show. 'It's a good exhibition with different levels of artistic ability,' said Mohammed, 26, a student in Tehran University's fine arts faculty. 'Of course I'm supportive of the Palestinians. But if so many artists decided to participate in this contest, then the Holocaust must have happened.'