Dangerous humour – the silencing of cartoonists

Posted on August 31, 2011

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Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat has been badly beaten and had his hands broken after lampooning the Assad regime. Earlier this year his Libyan counterpart Kais al-Hilali was shot while caricaturing Qaddafi on a wall in Benghazi. Twenty-five years ago the Palestinian Naji al-Ali – creator of the character Handhala, child witness in the Palestinian refugee camps – was shot in the face in London and later died in hospital.

Cartooning and caricaturing entail a highly sophisticated merging of political commentary, journalism and art going back centuries and found around the world. It seems obvious to say the work of Ali Ferzat, Kais al-Hilali and Naji al-Ali entail the use of humour to ridicule and so subvert power which is why they are feared. But as Nicholas Holm argues cartoons are not inherently subversive or trivializing. In an interesting review of the three main theories of humour he points out we have yet to properly explore the ‘possibilities and pitfalls of humour as a site of power’ or how it relates to politics. Isn’t it time attention was turned to this form of political communication?

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