Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ali Ferzat

It's been a rough decade or so for cartoonists. The Danish cartoon riots of 2005 led to the deaths of more than 300 people. Several of the cartoonists for Jyllands-Posten, the Danish paper that commissioned the satirical drawings of the Prophet, were attacked; all were forced underground. Then Molly Norris, a Seattle cartoonist, came up with "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" (May 20, 2010) then dissociated herself from it. Credible death threats forced her–on the advice of the FBI–to change her name and drop out of sight.

Intolerant religionists had seemingly cornered the market on threatening cartoonists. Now word has come that Ali Ferzat–Syrian cartoonist, Arab cultural luminary, increasingly direct critic of the Bashir Assad regime–was abducted in Damascus by four goons and beaten within an inch of his life. His assailants made a special effort to break his hands.

Ferzat's work has long been widely syndicated in the Arab press. Recently he composed a cartoon which compared Assad to Col Kaddafi, the recently deposed Libyan dictator. That, apparently, was a drawing of a bridge too far.

I've posted several of Ferzat's editorial cartoons here. Above, "Reform Operation", a medical procedure with grisly results. (Click for a better view.)

The incident reminds me of an unhappy event in the life of Tilman Reimenschneider (1460-1531) a breathtakingly talented German woodcarver who built a career producing religious altarpieces. He developed Lutheran sympathies in the overheated atmosphere of the early Reformation.

When Reimenschnieder became a burgher of his town late in his career–a place in contested territory–he cast a vote which angered the Catholic hierarchy. Just like Ferzat, he too was badly beaten; special malevolence was reserved for his hands and fingers.

Quick recovery wishes to Mr. Ferzat. May he and his countrymen prevail over the badly isolated, increasingly monstrous Assad regime.

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