With the Michael Leunig cartoon hoax now all over the media, it was highly prescient of Gerard Henderson to bring Leunig into his column in yesterday’s SMH on the Prophet Muhammad cartoons, which he must have written before the story broke. (The relevant passage is excerpted in today’s Australian.) Unfortunately, Henderson has completely missed the point of the comparison.
According to Henderson, Leunig “depicted the images of the prophet as
‘taunts’. This is the same Leunig who previously taunted Jews by
equating the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in 1942 with democratic
Israel in 2002. And this is the same cartoonist who has offended
Christians by caricaturing Christ on the cross.”
But Leunig’s point was that the Muhammad cartoons were published purely
in order to offend. The Auschwitz/Israel cartoon, on the other hand,
was making a serious political point. One may agree or disagree with
it, but it is obviously in a different category – except for a few
fanatical Zionists, who think any criticism of Israel can only be
motivated by anti-Semitism.
Respect for the cultures or beliefs of others doesn’t demand that we refrain from anything that might offend; The Age was simply suggesting that people should refrain from gratuitous offence.
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For Leunig’s cartoon to be republished in an Iranian newspaper, however,
in the context of Iran’s obsessive campaign against Israel, was
gratuitously offensive – which is why he objected to it. Some of
Henderson’s ideological bedfellows, on the other hand, have gleefully
reprinted the Muhammad cartoons – not as news, but as deliberate
provocation. Does Henderson not see the difference?