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US satirist Art Spiegelman tackles Danish cartoons

Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, May 17: Controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad have been reprinted in a US magazine with commentary by leading US cartoonist Art Spiegelman, who offers what he calls a ''fatwa bomb meter'' to rate their offensiveness.

Harper's Magazine published the article by Spiegelman in its June edition available on newsstands from Tuesday, joining only a handful of U.S. outlets which have printed the cartoons which provoked furious protests that killed 50 people.

Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper published the 12 cartoons last year. Other newspapers around the world, mainly in Europe, later reprinted the cartoons.

A number of Muslim clerics have condemned the cartoons and a small minority have called for a violent response. A fatwa is a religious edict in Islam, sometimes equated with a death threat since Iran's late ruler, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, ordered Muslims in 1989 to kill British novelist Salman Rushdie.

In an article headlined ''Drawing Blood: Outrageous cartoons and the art of outrage,'' Spiegelman, an elder statesman of political satire famous for his New Yorker cartoons, said the cartoons needed to be seen to be understood.

''As a secular Jewish cartoonist living in New York City, I start out with four strikes against me, but I really don't want any irate Muslims declaring holy war on me,'' Spiegelman wrote in the article, describing himself as ''a devout coward.'' ''It's not intended to add fuel to any fire,'' Spiegelman told Reuters by telephone.

''I think that the tone is the tone of a secular wise-guy cartoonist rather than a scholar, but I wanted to show ... what couldn't be described,'' he said, adding that he was surprised that most of his friends had not seen the cartoons.

'BANAL AND INOFFENSIVE'

Spiegelman noted that the cartoons appear ''banal and inoffensive'' to secular eyes, revealing a gulf in understanding.

''To my secular eyes it seems like the real insult has been things like Abu Ghraib,'' he said, referring to abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

In the article Spiegelman analyzes each of the 12 cartoons for artistic merit and offensiveness, using a rating system of one to four bombs in the ''fatwa bomb meter.'' A cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb in his turban, generally cited as the most offensive, received three bombs from Spiegelman, who described it as a ''hackneyed'' expression of an idea.

His most offensive rating of four bombs went only to a stylized cartoon said to depict five women's head scarves in a line-drawing made up of Islamic symbols such as the crescent.

He said it had ''no redeeming features'' and in terms of craftsmanship it ''might almost be worth a fatwa.'' ''I don't really even quite understand what it's a cartoon of, except 'We don't like Muslims,''' he told Reuters.

The article criticized all sides in the controversy.

''The Jyllands-Posten -- a newspaper with a history of anti-immigrant bias -- seemed somewhat disingenuous when it wrapped itself in the mantle of free speech to invite cartoonists to throw pies at the face of Mohammad,'' Spiegelman wrote. He said many newspapers reprinted the cartoons to reinforce ''their own anti-immigrant or Islamophobic biases.'' But he criticized U.S. news outlets for not showing the cartoons out of what he called ''political correctness that smelled of hypocrisy and fear.'' Drawing historical parallels with cartoonists jailed in the past, he said, ''I do believe in the right to insult.''

REUTERS

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