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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.


Blogger onegiantpanda 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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