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Although his now infamous cartoons featuring the prophet Mohammed were published over four years ago, Danish caricaturist Kurt Westergaard is clearly still feeling the aftereffects of the controversy the images caused. The news that a Somali man broke into Westergaard’s home yesterday, seemingly intent on killing the cartoonist, demonstrates the continuing power of the cartoons to inflame the passions of some Islamic extremists.

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Steve Bell, The Guardian, 7 May 2009

The ever-brilliant Steve Bell (in spite of what the occasional moaners about his ‘toilet’ humour in the comments section on the Guardian site might say) has, once again, pushed the boundaries for editorial cartooning with today’s image.

His cartoon is a response to the attempts by pro-Israeli lobbyists to put a halt to changes in the White House’s Middle East policy. Bell himself explains the basis for the image thus, as part of the body of comments made on the cartoon:

Just a point of information. Moeran is quite right. This is a photograph I took of the Qalandia, or Kalandia checkpoint on the north side of Jerusalem. All Palestinian inhabitants of the northern West Bank (should they be fortunate enough to get a pass) have to come through this thing in order to get to Jerusalem. Thus a large proportion of the working population in the Arab part of Jerusalem are detained for at least an hour, morning and evening, longer, or for much longer depending on the whim of the security forces. As you can see it is not a pleasant place to be. It reminded me of a meat processing facility. There are checkpoints like this all over the West Bank, though perhaps not as solidly built as Qalandia.

I do not want to get into the politics of this image one way or another in this discussion of it. What interests me here, rather, is how Bell takes his frequent habit of reproducing – and d├ętourning – photographic images in his cartoons to the next level, by using an actual photograph (which, as the quote above demonstrates, he himself took) and subverting it in order to make his point. Curiously enough, the sheer reality of the image, in all its photographic starkness, reminds me of a justly famous and equally political lithograph – Daumier’s ‘Rue Transnonain, 15 April 1834’, drawn in the wake of the brutal suppression of a riot in Paris.
Daumier, Rue Transnonain

As I noted above, Bell’s detractors may (without reason, I feel) criticise what they perceive as his reliance on ‘toilet humour’ (‘scatological’ is just that bit better a word, isn’t it?) – but to me he consistently takes his cartooning, and the very idea of what constitutes cartooning, in different, intriguing directions. Today’s image is another clear example of that.

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Yes icon

Tom Toles, 26 January 2009

I was perusing around a while back and saw that the Political Cartoon Gallery (run by the Political Cartoon Society) are currently hosting an exhibition of Obama-related cartoons. I won’t make it to London before 13 June, sadly, but it should be an intriguing exhibition.

On a closely related note, back in March I gave a paper here at UCD discussing satire and regime change in France in 1848 and in America in 2008/9. With a bit of editing, it may turn up here at some stage.

PS The above cartoon is by Tom Toles and appeared in the Washington Post on 26 January 2009.

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