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From King Louis to Khomeini
Absolute rulers fear cartoonists more than the hydrogen bomb


February 11, 2006

Long before there was a row over Prophet Muhammad caricatures published by Jyllands-Posten Publication there was a cartoonist in Iran by the name of Manouchehr Karimzadeh who was handed down a ten-year sentence by the Islamic Revolutionary Court in 1992.  His crime was depicting a character resembling the late Ayatollah Khomeini. 

The cartoon appeared in the science magazine Farad, showing a soccer player with his left leg either bent or missing, and his right hand blurred in the motion of the play, making it difficult to decipher whether one or both limbs were missing or amputated.  The player’s hair resembled a turban and his face was similar to that of the late Ayatollah Khomeini. 

The article that accompanied the cartoon was critical of the state of soccer in Iran.  Farad Magazine was banned and all copies of the magazine were removed from newsstands. 

It was apparent that the purpose of the cartoon was to criticize the Islamic Republic for the bad state of the sport in Iran. However the artist had left a lot of room for denial.  He could argue that the burden of proof was upon the prosecutor to prove without any doubt that the face was of the Ayatollah Khomeini.  But such arguments are only possible in free societies.

The Head of the Judiciary Ministry of Justice of Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi personally saw into it that the Islamic Revolutionary Court handled the case. Court cases are usually refereed to the Islamic Revolutionary Court when it appears that lower general courts might hand down a less severe sentence.  Naser Arabha, Farad’s editor-in-chief was sentenced to six months in prison. Karimzadeh received fifty lashes, one year in prison, and a 500,000 Rials fine. 

After Karimzadeh served his one-year sentence, the Islamic Supreme Court ruled that he had to be retried, and this time he was sentenced to ten years in prison.  Karimzadeh was eventually released in 1994.

One hundred seventy five years before Karimzadeh there was a cartoonist in France by the name of Charles Philipon who was charged with defaming King Louis Philippe.  Philipon had regressed King Louis image to a pear (La poire).  At that time in France calling a person a pear was roughly equal to now-a-days calling a person a fruit, mushy, wuss, buffoon, or a crown. 

A court case was brought up against Philipon in 1831 for defamation of King Louis. The case lasted several months.  His cartoon was published repeatedly in European countries and created a lot of ridicule for King Louis.  In court Philipon was successful in demonstrating that King Louis did indeed resembled a pear.

Philipon was eventually acquitted of all the charges, but the court also ruled that no more drawing of pears should appear in his magazine, La Caricature.  By then there was so much ridicule of the King that it became accepted by the ruling classes in Europe that it is better to accept the ridicule than to challenge it.

American columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Art Buchwad once wrote that dictators of the right and left fear the political cartoonists more than they do the atomic bomb.  That’s definitely true in the case of Stalin and Hitler.  In Stalin era Russia caricaturists had to produce propaganda caricatures for the benefit of the State or face demise and deportation to labor camps. 

The rise of fascism in Europe changed their fate eventually when they were asked to produce anti fascism caricatures, and begin to gain popularity, but they were never allowed to poke fun of Stalin himself.

In Nazi Germany on the other hand many caricaturists were forced to produce anti Semitic caricatures or face persecution.  On May 27, 1944, Hitler had a group of Polish caricaturists executed for anti Nazi drawings, and declared that the caricaturists were degenerate artists and supreme enemies of the State.

In today’s Iran it is an absolute blasphemy to portray the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei in a negative manner.  When politics and religion are combined in cartoons, Ayatollahs fear it more than hydrogen bomb. 

When cartoonists practice their craft many times they push the envelope too far, that’s their niche in life, they disturb the balance of humorous criticism and distastefulness.  In democratic societies through, peaceful dialogues and free exchange of ideas the hateful and ill intentioned acts are rejected and sense of decency prevails.

In the eyes of the Islamic Republic of Iran only a handful of Ayatollahs are all-knowledgeable, all-knowing, and only one of them rules supreme.  The rest of the people including catoonists are considered ignorant.         

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