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Gregory Fortuin: Cartoons – 5 Lessons To Draw

Cartoons – 5 Lessons To Draw

By Gregory Fortuin, former race relations conciliator.

There is no such thing as an unbiased view. Our opinions are mostly formed by our values, our experiences and our exposures. I am unashamed of my faith in God and my often stumbling desire to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. This belief system informs my opinion.

I stood in silent and non-violent protest outside Te Papa to express solidarity with fellow believers and to convey that the “virgin in a condom” exhibition was offensive. At a personal level I believe that my God is big enough to deal with offensive and blasphemous behaviour and more importantly Jesus Christ remained dignified in the face of severe mockery. Further I totally support the right of others to question, scrutinize and even satirise my beliefs because ultimately if it is the real deal it will stand the test of time. (Lesson 1 – We all have our biases)

The initial decision by the Danish Jyllands-Posten 5 months ago “to arrest the slippery slope of self-censorship” by printing the cartoons of the Prophet might have been well intended as far as “defending the principle of Freedom of Speech”. It was however totally naïve in appreciating not just the offence it would cause, but the degree of reaction it would invite in a very volatile world where what’s happening in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, etc is being interpreted by Muslims as an attack on all of Islam and their way of life. On this score I agree with the sentiment “Cartoons that set out to give offence for no redeeming purposes leaves a nasty taste”. (Lesson 2 - If you are going to pick a principle to draw a line in the sand with, it better be one worth dying for)

There can however be no excuse for some of the extremist responses in burning down Scandinavian embassies and calling for “massacre and killings”. As Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Desmond Tutu reminded ANC leaders who were arguing that ANC atrocities were in response to the oppressive apartheid regime and therefore less severe that “there is no such thing as a justified atrocity”. It was thus pleasing to hear Danish Imam Abu Laban who led the call for international protest against the cartoons, strongly condemn violence. I should however point out that Danish authorities have accused the cleric of hypocrisy “by weeping crocodile tears, condemning the boycott of Danish goods and the other consequences of his actions. Yet, interviewed by al Jazeera, the imam has said just the opposite, praising the outrage of the Muslim world at his adoptive country”. (Lesson 3 – Beware of Hypocrisy)

It is in this context that some New Zealand Media have reported and reproduced the cartoons of what has become the global news story of the year. Let me add that those who decided not to reproduce the cartoons but directed readers to website links have taken the parasite-freeride-approach – happy to dine out on the blood of others.

The New Zealand response has been totally understandable. The defenders of Freedom of Speech talked themselves into a no-win situation. Once you invoke freedom of speech there is little room for backing down. I preferred the ABC journalist’s frank response when I quizzed him about his “good-citizen” responsibility at a conference in Sydney 5 years ago. “My only responsibility is to my shareholders who demand that I accurately report the news, hopefully in a way that results in sustainable circulation and professional credibility. You people are paid to worry about education and race relations, not me”. That’s pretty clear.

The government response has been swift and understandable. They are charged with protecting New Zealand interest at home and abroad. (Let me urge caution – there is no need for the SIS to issue an Ahmed Zaoui like security risk certificate)

The response from those who have millions of trade dollars at risk has been loud and like the ABC journo focussed on their responsibility to the shareholders. This reminds me of the likes of the mining companies and business leaders who were silent about gross human rights violations in South Africa until sanctions started to hurt not their hearts but their pockets and then they all made the trip to Lusaka to go and talk to the ANC leadership in exile. Of course we want to have the trade and the jobs and the fiscal benefits, the only question is at what price? (Lesson 4 – We all have Agendas)

I wish to acknowledge community leaders like Federation of Islamic Associations president Javed Khan and others for the dignified and disciplined way they have led the expression of their protest against one of the biggest offences you can cause followers of the Islamic Faith.

It will however be remiss of me not to also acknowledge the editors of the Dominion Post and The Press for not just having the courage of their convictions in pursuit of reporting the news, but for their ability to recognise that rights are not absolute and must be balanced with responsibility to the greater good and their capacity to apologise for offences caused and more importantly not to perpetuate the offence.

All of us were created equal – not in a materialistic sense or as far as our talents are concerned, but in terms of our humanity. (Lesson 5 - Human beings all over the world irrespective of race, colour, religion or creed are saying we are tired of being denigrated and trampled on. No longer do we wish to be merely tolerated like a bad headache, we wish to be respected)

I pray for the day when equal to washing my face and getting a cup of tea I will respect the dignity of others the way I wish to be respected and realise that we are all members of the same human race, inextricably linked.


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