Saturday, July 01, 2006

The New Cartoon Jihad

Via Frontpage

We all know that cartoonists can get into big trouble for drawing the Prophet Muhammad, but cartoonists around the world regularly get in big trouble for drawing all kinds of things. One cartoonist in Iran is in prison for drawing a cockroach.

Mana Neyestani drew a child talking to a cockroach; in the cartoon, a boy says the word "cockroach" in different ways, and the cockroach replies, "What?" in the Azeri language of Northern Iran. Mana has a lot of Azeri friends and colleagues, a minority group that constitutes about 25 percent of Iran's population and which is often the butt of local ethnic jokes.

It would seem that the Azeris have thin skins; when they saw Mana's cartoon, they rioted. Thousands of Azeris filled the streets to protest the cartoon; they set fire to a newspaper office then pelted government buildings and police with stones, injuring several policemen. Dozens of rioters were arrested. Mana and his editor were abruptly fired from their jobs at "Iran Friday," the weekend edition of one of Iran's largest newspapers, which ran a front-page apology for three days following the riots.

Iranian officials blamed America and Israel for the riots fueled by the cartoon, but threw Mana and his editor into Tehran's notorious Evin Prison where they face trial on charges of "insulting the Azeri minority." Mana's cockroach cartoon was published on May 12; the newspaper was closed down on May 23 and is awaiting a court decision on whether it may resume operations.
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