Thursday, September 14, 2006

Cartoons Mocking Holocaust Prove a Flop with Iranians

Angus McDowall, The Independent:
An exhibition of cartoons about the Holocaust, some suggesting it was fabricated or exaggerated, has been a flop in Tehran. It drew audiences of fewer than 300 a day in its first week and now, three weeks after sparking international furore when it opened, attracts just 50 people a day.

Most of those approached in central Tehran said they had not heard of the exhibition and insisted the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis was a historical fact. "I'm sure the Holocaust was true - I've heard all about it from newspapers and television," said a housewife from a religious family. "I don't know why some say it didn't happen." READ MORE

Shahram Rezaei, an Iranian cartoonist, drew Nazi soldiers laying a paper chain in a mass grave, implying that they were faking the deaths of Jews.

Some depictions drew heavily upon anti-Semitic stereotypes. Others accep-ted the Holocaust happened, but said it was being used to justify Western brutality in the Middle East. An entry byAlessandro Gatto, an Italian, showed an Arab looking forlornly from behind prison bars, which morphed into the stripes of a concentration camp jacket. Others focused on the suffering of Palestinians.

Thousands of foreigners have visited the exhibition's website at, some of them engaging in angry debate. A conference on the Holocaust is planned in Tehran for October. It is also likely to garner more attention outside Iran than in the country.

The exhibition followed a Holocaust cartoon competition designed to show Western double standards in freedom of speech. The angry response of Westerners to President Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial this spring caught many Iranians off guard, while Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohamed provoked outrage in the Muslim world.

A Moroccan entry by Hossein Abed showed Death riding a skeletal horse, clutching a pencil and sporting a Nazi armband. His cloak was made of the Danish flag. Another drawing showed an orthodox Jew pressing the face of another man into a lake labelled "freedom of expression". The Jew held a placard saying "Mohamed cartoon" and the drowning man held a sign saying "Holocaust". Iran's Jewish community had a mixed reaction. "Iranian Jews didn't pay much attention," said Haroun Yashayaie, the former head of Tehran's Jewish community. "Iranians as a whole are not very sensitive to the issue of the Holocaust."

But a Jewish student said: "This regime is crazy. Everybody knows the Holocaust happened. Over the past year things have become more difficult and this exhibition shows they do not care what we think."

The cartoons included US, European, Brazilian, Korean and Chinese entries. However, the US cartoonist David Baldinger said that his drawing "in no way ridiculed the Holocaust".

The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, condemned the exhibition when he visited Iran at the beginning of the month. He said the Holocaust was "undeniable". Iranian newspapers responded by playing on his supposed friendship with an Israeli cartoonist.

Officials said that the exhibition championed freedom of speech, but yesterday they closed Iran's most popular reformist newspaper. One alleged offence was its publication of a cartoon which appeared to show President Ahmadinejad as a donkey.