SACCO: My initial reaction was, "What a bunch of idiots those Danes were for printing those things." Did they not think that there was going to be some sort of backlash? Cartoons like that are simply meant as a provocation... frankly, I'd say it's enough to just describe them. Putting the cartoon itself out--what's the value of it?I couldn't agree with Spiegelman more. Several of the Danish cartoons, far from being patently offensive, make fun not of Muhammad, but of the tough situation the artist is in; some clearly do not depict Muhammad at all. One has the author sheepishly holding a stick figure drawn on a piece of paper, an image that asks if even this minimal gesture will earn opprobrium--which, astonishingly, it has, to the level of death threats and a fatwa.
Are these editorial cartoonists going to rush to the defense of anti-Semitic cartoons? I doubt it, frankly.
SPIEGELMAN: This notion that the images can just be described leaves me firmly on the side of showing images. The banal quality of the cartoons that gave insult is hard to believe until they are seen. We live in a culture where images rule ...
The public has been infantilized by the press... The answer to speech, in my religion, is more speech, a lot of yakking--and a lot of drawing. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, very often it requires 2,000 words more to talk about the picture, but you can't replace that thousand words with another thousand words.
Where I've had to do my soul-searching is articulating how I feel about the anti-Semitic cartoons that keep coming out of government-supported newspapers in Syria and beyond. And, basically, I am insulted. But so what? These visual insults are the symptom of the problem rather than the cause.
Another depicts an artist nervously and fearfully hunched over his drafting board, sketching out a picture but looking over his shoulder. If these aren't legitimate intellectual statements, I don't know what is.
Images of Muhammad have not been consistently forbidden across the Islamic world, and in the past it has been far from clear that images of Muhammad are offensive for their mere existence, rather than forbidden for Muslims as an issue of correct focus of worship. Similarly, in Judaism, worship of idols and graven images has generally been distinguished from depiction of prophets and even divinely guided events. There are numerous examples of images of Muhammad in Muslim art over the last millennium. Muhammad standing in the desert leading a camel, as depicted in one of the Danish drawings, might not have drawn ire at all if the image had been presented in a different context; thus it is the implications of the comics for the veto authority of fundamentalist Muslims that is the core of the matter, more than the actual content of the comics.
Regardless, if artistic and political commentary is an issue of life and death, then bringing this fact to light, at personal risk is at least in part a noble action--whether or not it's smart or kind on balance. Sacco should know this better than most. He's been called "provocative", in the positive sense, in more than one location (1, 2), but I imagine there are plenty of Zionists who would dismiss Sacco's excellent graphic novel Palestine by arguing the equivalent of "cartoons like that are simply meant as a provocation." Provocation is part of the value of the Danish cartoons, just like it's part of the value of Palestine.
And by the way, it's high time the European Union got rid of all these ridiculous anti-Nazi laws. A neo-Nazi must feel far more important meeting in a secret location with his cell than he would marching in the street with old ladies spitting at him.