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Al-Jazeera editorial cartoonist responds to Denmark cartoon

There has been a varied response to the Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammad from across the world. Earlier today, I posted a link to an interview with Doug Marlette where he basically said, even religious symbols are fair game and there is no need to apologize for using them.

Here now is an interview with Shujaat Ali, editorial cartoonist for Al-Jazeera where he says it would be unprofessional for a cartoonist to use sacred religious images.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: As a cartoonist working for Al-Jazeera, how did you respond when you first saw the Danish caricatures of Muhammad?

Shujaat Ali: It is the responsibility of journalists to be ethical. Religion is a very sensitive issue, and I think no truly professional cartoonist in the world would ever try to pick on a religion like this. There’s an informal code of ethics among cartoonists in the media, and it includes two kinds of censorship: one is self-censorship; the other is professional censorship. Religion is one of the very important things that we should respect and not criticize. I grew up reading the cartoons of Herbert Herblock and they really impressed me. There are many cartoonists, in the US and Europe, who are really very professional. They would never treat a religion like this.

The interviewer was quick then to point out that Shujaat Ali hasn’t always showed the same level of sensitivity in his drawings depicting 9/11.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You say cartoonists should show sensitivity in their drawings, but the US State Department has accused you of lacking it in your own cartoons. After you drew a comic depicting dead US soldiers and another with gas tanks superimposed over the collapsing Twin Towers in New York, Washington complained and Al-Jazeera removed them from its Web site. Were you thinking about the sensitivities of an American audience when you drew those?

Shujaat Ali: My actual target in those particular cartoons was the US government and not the US people. I found the decision by my boss, our editor in chief, to be unacceptable — and he was highly criticized for it. Professionally, it was not the right step because a professional organization must protect its journalists. We were analyzing the feelings of the US people in those cartoons. That’s why the US government complained about that, but we didn’t hear any complaints from normal American people for running it.

There’s also an interesting exchange regarding how muslim cartoonists treat the Jews. All in all, it’s a good interview.

Community Comments

#1 Muslim Unity
@ 10:46 pm

We need to respect religion. Muslims can do anything to protect Islam.

#2 Muslim Unity
@ 4:46 pm

We need to respect religion. Muslims can do anything to protect Islam.

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