Illustrate freedom of speech, not stereotypes

On Sunday, more than 3 million French citizens rallied in a show of continued support for freedom of press and of speech after last week’s deadly terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine.

In response to the killing of 12 employees at the magazine, cartoonists all over the world have used their pens to illustrate that they do not fear terrorists. For instance, in one viral cartoon, Australian artist David Pope illustrated a figure clad in all black holding a gun, having shot a cartoonist and proclaiming that “(the cartoonist) drew first.” 

The shootings, which took place on Jan. 7, came in response to cartoons the magazine published which featured the prophet of Islam, Muhammad. On some occasions, Muhammad was depicted in the magazine alongside other religious figures, while some cartoons were deliberate pokes made at Muslims, who specifically prefer not to have Muhammad illustrated, as it risks making the figure an idol. 

Hearing about the attack is horrific, and it is just as unsettling to know those employees were murdered for simply creating pictures. There is no reason to draw fire against someone who draws for print. 

Yet, in the aftermath of such devastation, those reacting with pen should also realize the inherent responsibility that comes with protest and should not fall back on the same old image of Islamic extremists. 

Though these response cartoons show resilience to the goals of terrorists and remind the population what it means to have a voice, it should not be forgotten that images depicting the archetypal bearded and turbaned terrorist stand on shaky territory in caricaturing Islamic extremists and risk representing Middle Eastern people as terrorists.

For instance, The Columbus Dispatch’s Nate Beeler has a cartoon depicting an Islamic extremist, shown as a bearded, dark-skinned man in a turban, wielding a scimitar over a cartoonist. Another example making rounds on the Internet is the image of a beheaded man sticking a tongue out to yet another Islamic terrorist figure, as drawn by Dutch cartoonist Joep Bertrams.

Perhaps, instead of portraying images of terrorists or generic Middle Eastern villains, the focus should be put on using freedom of speech responsibly and insightfully instead of going back to the same recycled stereotype. For instance, Chilean political cartoonist Francisco J. Olea created an image that read, “To arms, companions!” with pencils, sharpeners and other drawing tools underneath.

In using freedom of speech as a tool, people can unite against a minority rather than risk creating a target for hate and discrimination in anyone of Middle Eastern heritage. Instead, these drawings should speak against the act of terrorism and not a specific group of people, the majority of whom are not dangerous extremists.

Adam Mathieu is a junior majoring in studio art.