Iran hosts an anti-ISIS cartoon contest. What could go wrong?

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Aaron Schachter: Let’s talk now about a contest that’s being held in Iran’s capital, Tehran. It’s a political cartooning contest, and if it’s allowed to happen in Tehran, you can bet it’s government-approved. So, we ask The World’s satire editor, Carol Hills, to find out what it’s all about.


Carol Hills: It’s called the International Daesh Cartoon and Character Contest. They’re using this pejorative term, Daesh, instead of ISIS. And the idea is that Iran cartoon group wants cartoonists around the world and caricaturists to submit their most humiliating images of ISIS, or Daesh. They say they’ve received 800 entries, they whittled it down to about 250, and they’re now on display in various places around Tehran.


Schachter: So, what do the cartoons look like?


Hills: Well, there’s like a caricature of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi--big beard and his whiskers are knives. There’s another one where it shows a peace dove with a knife in it, and it sort of implicates Israel and the US. There’s an ISIS guy sitting in a bathtub of blood. A lot of them imply that the presence of ISIS is actually a good thing for Israel because it gives them fodder for being tougher in the Middle East. There’s a whole bunch of them, but they’re kind of, of a piece. They were suggesting their caricatures be of Benjamin Netanyahu, or Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, David Cameron, Barack Obama. So, there’s definitely kind of themes suggested.


Schachter: So, this is great. The competition here hits kind of all Iran’s enemies at once.


Hills: It certainly does, and it comes on the heels of--just a month or so ago, they had their Second International Holocaust Cartoon exhibit, which they say is trying to sort of separate the Holocaust from Middle Eastern politics. They’ve also have a “Down With America” cartoon contest. And these are, by necessity, state-approved, because Iran is not a terribly safe place for cartoonists, a number have had to go into exile for drawing cartoons that they regime objected to. So, there’s a lot of “you’re kidding” kind of feeling among a lot of cartoonists about this contest.


Schachter: Although, I think many cartoonists around the world would certainly agree with subject matter this time around: anti-ISIS cartoon contest.


Hills: Yes, on it’s face, that’s true. But it’s unclear where censorship comes into this. It’s really unclear whether this means anything.


Schachter: Do we know who the others are? You said 800 submissions, right? Are they local people, internationals, anyone famous?


Hills: Organizers say they received submissions from cartoonists and caricaturists in about 40 countries, including Brazil, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia. I got in touch with the only British caricaturist who submitted, his name is Robert Edwards. He sent me a copy of the cartoon he submitted, and it’s a rather strident anti-Israel cartoon. It shows Benjamin Netanyahu thanking Saudi Arabia for ISIS because that violence bolsters Netanyahu’s views about what needs to happen in the Middle East, and the protection of Israel. I asked him why he was taking part, and he answered in an email: he said, “I’m taking part because I’m a caricaturist and I admire Iran. I’m opposed to the Zionist oppression of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.”


Schachter: Yeah, so this is pretty strong stuff. There’s another one I see here, which shows an American hand sort of plunking down ISIS fighters on the battlefield. So, this is kind of Iran, again, poking its finger in the eye of the West, in many ways.


Hills: Yes, very much in the eye of Israel and the West; Saudi Arabia. The usual suspects.


Schachter: So Carol, this is a competition, right? Who are the judges, and is there a prize?


Hills: There’s a prize in two categories: caricature and cartoon. I think $1,500 is the first prize money, and it goes down from there. They’re choosing the winners on May 31st, and I don’t know who the judges are, but I assume they’re officials of the Iran cartoon organization.


Schachter: The World’s Carol Hills. Thanks a lot.


Hills: Thanks Aaron.