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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Friday, January 13, 2006

Freedom of expression

Michael Leunig is one of Australia's most successful cartoonists and not one to avoid controversy. His latest, see above, is typical of his provocative style. He claims that Ariel Sharon is a war criminal and would always take the opportunity to exterminate Israel's perceived "enemies."

In today's Age, Leunig explains his thinking:

"Two years ago I was invited to speak at the Melbourne Jewish Museum on the subject of cartooning. The forum was titled 'Cartoonists: cruel, clever or a nation's conscience?' and I eagerly agreed to speak. A month later, however, came another email from the museum cancelling my invitation because of 'my strong views about Israel'. I was dismayed and perplexed. What strong views about Israel were they referring to?

"Certainly my cartoons had expressed deep disturbance about Ariel Sharon's strategies but in no forum had I ever expressed my views about Israel - the nation. I had, like many commentators and cartoonists, been strongly critical of particular policies and deeds done, which is well within the democratic, intellectual, artistic and media tradition and which is what I am paid to do.

"There comes much vicious mail, much vitriol and great swathes of annihilating insults on those futile and frustrated hate blogs. When you're alone on the receiving end of such malice and loathing you get a privileged insight into what lies beneath the surface of our 'civilised society'. The Cronulla riots are only a small part of the sick mosaic."

Leunig's critics seem to be saying that he's virulently anti-Western, anti-Israel and anti-Australian (as if that's a crime in itself.) And since when is challenging accepted orthodoxies anti-anything? He's highly critical of the ways in which Western nations have conducted themselves since 9/11 and robustly challenges the "war on terror" paradigm. For this reason, he's a rare voice of dissent in the Australian media.

In relation to Israel - and I've never met Leunig and discussed his personal views - I share his position that Sharon represents a bigoted and racially exclusionary Israel. This kind of Jewish state will never prosper long-term and will, in fact, inevitably fail. Perhaps Zionists would care to think about this, rather than heaping vitriol on Leunig. But I'm not holding my breath.

7 Comments:

Blogger neoleftychick said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Friday, January 13, 2006 11:21:00 am  
Blogger leftvegdrunk said...

Neoleftychick, in your next year of study I suggest you look up "fallacies".

Friday, January 13, 2006 11:27:00 am  
Blogger Wombat said...

A close friend visitied Israel last year and said that any Jew who has travels to Israel learns early on what it feels like to be treated as a second calss citizen.

Multi-racial doesn't mean racial tolerance.

Friday, January 13, 2006 11:38:00 am  
Blogger leftvegdrunk said...

Having had a quick surf around the fringes of the "blogal sphere" (thanks, Armaniac!) I noted that the right don't like Leunig much. I think Blair called this cartoon "revolting" or something like that.

It's funny how any criticism of actors, writers, or other successful individuals is portrayed by the right as envy, or hatred. What I saw around the place today was exactly that - not to mention childish and spiteful, and often personal. And it wasn't from the "left".

My guess is that this hatred of Leunig stems from his pacifism, his melancholy outlook (no doubt labelled "doom and gloom"), his profound sense of understatement, and his ability to make a point without shouting anyone down. Not virtues of, or admired by, the 101st fighting keyboardists.

For mine, Leunig has his place, and often provides a valuable perspective. The fact that his cartoons arouse debate is even more important.

Friday, January 13, 2006 7:09:00 pm  
Blogger Aaron Lane said...

How does the cartoon display a "profound sense of understatement"? Even Bertie Wooster could grasp its meaning. The type of graffitti which racists spray on Asian businesses carries more depth.
And Anthony, how is there nothing wrong with being "anti-Western, anti-Israel, and "anti-Australian"?
Surely applying such a label to yourself is merely reductive, in that it limits your possibilities for appreciate complexity and nuance in situations. It is for this reason that, if for instance I announced I was anti-Muslim,you would denounce me. How, then, are Leunig's views, and your endorsement of them, any less vile?

Friday, January 13, 2006 11:10:00 pm  
Blogger leftvegdrunk said...

Aaron, when I remarked upon Leunig's capacity for understatement I had the actual appearance of his art in mind. You know, big empty space, small character in the middle, maybe a duck. In the cartoon posted here, the little insignificant characters have a little conversation - no shouting, no movement. The message is clear, yes, but it is made gently. Unless you have a knee-jerk reaction to anything your mates say is repugnant. ;-)

As for being "anti-" anything, this is called freedom of expression. It is your right to denounce Leunig's views if you so wish.

Saturday, January 14, 2006 3:01:00 pm  
Blogger pandaobscura said...

I'm a big Leunig fan, and though I'm reticent to criticise Sharon too much of late (the move away from Likud was, Machiavellian or not, a move towards peace) the cartoon makes a good point.

And even if you don't agree with it, who really cares. Art is all about those matters that people will disagree on and presenting an informed point of view - which is exactly what Leunig does.

Friday, January 20, 2006 4:21:00 am  

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