If a face can launch a thousand ships, what can a cartoon do? In times past, the answer would have been – a thousand laughs. In Paris however, a cartoon is fatal. It caused several deaths and launched a colossal march of some 4 million people. At the same time, it brought together more than 50 world leaders to Paris. In Paris, it is a weapon of mass destruction.
What exactly is a cartoon? Wikipedia defines a cartoon as “a form of two-dimensional illustrated visual art. While the specific definition has changed over time, modern usage refers to a typically non-realistic or semi-realistic drawing or painting intended for satire, caricature, or humor, or to the artistic style of such works.”
By definition, a cartoon is for satire, caricature or humour. It’s raison detre is to evoke emotions and passions, else the cartoonist’s effort would have failed. Have the world become devoid of humour or satire that a cartoon fueled so much hatred that resulted in deaths of innocent people? A cartoon may depict truths or falsehood. But it can never claim to portray a truth. It is for readers to discern truth or just a humourous artistic expression in art. In addition, there is a fine line between finesse vs crudeness in artistic portrayals. But again, that should be left to the readers to judge. Readers have options to shun crude and profane cartoons. There is no compulsion for anyone to read or watch them. Paris has shown that this freedom to choose and decide is dead.
Paris is not alone in silencing cartoonists. In Singapore, a cartoonist, Leslie Chew was sued by the government for his cartoons in 2013. The Punggol.org Forum posted this article:
Singapore’s government on Thursday commenced legal proceedings against political cartoonist Leslie Chew for contempt of court.
This, said the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) in a single-page statement on Thursday, comes from four comics Chew produced and published between July 2011 and mid-June last year.
In the first comic, published on 20 July 2011, Chew featured four separate cases that appeared to accuse Singapore’s judiciary of unfairness — three of which portrayed the court as ruling unfairly in favour of foreigners or against Singaporeans, and the fourth appeared to allude to an instance where current Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling was believed to have posted on her Facebook page in violation of Cooling Off day regulations.
The second, published on 3 January last year, depicted two cases side by side — one showed a celebrity who was sentenced to probation for “beat(ing) someone up”, while the other showed the judge sentencing a national serviceman who went AWOL to five months’ jail. Chew also drew the phrase, “The Kangaroo Court of Singapore” on the wall behind where the judge was seated.
In the third, published two days later, Chew depicted what appeared to be the case of opposition politician Chee Soon Juan’s application to leave Singapore, which was subsequently denied. He also drew in other panels what looked to be the case of former Romanian diplomat Silviu Ionescu, who fled Singapore before finally being charged and sentenced in Romanian court, as well as another “ang mo” (literally translated as “red hair”, but the phrase typically refers to Caucasians) who was charged for an assault on a Singaporean, but was allowed out on $25,000 bail.
In Chew’s fourth comic in question, published on 16 June last year, he appeared to question the disparity in sentences meted out to people committing similar crimes.
After the High Court granted permission for the AGC to sue Chew on Tuesday, documents would have been served to him on Thursday afternoon. The case will be heard at the High Court on Monday, 12 August.
Earlier this year in April, Chew was arrested by police on charges of sedition over two comics he produced on his Facebook page, entitled “Demon-cratic Singapore”. At that time, the AGC said it would not commence further proceedings against him if he apologised publicly on his page and removed the cartoons, but Chew refused, saying his work was entirely fictional and not related to any real events or persons.
The Parisan cartoon resulted in death and violence. The Singapore cartoon invoked the wrath of the government. There was no violence. Instead, the legal institution came down hard on the cartoonist with threats of possible fines and imprisonment. There was no march of 4 million people because such protests are banned. There were no world leaders commenting on it. Nonetheless, both cartoons are potent weapons. It is a lesson for the civil world to note. Expressions of “free speech” are never free. They are for the brave and foolhardy. For most of us, simply confine humour and free speech to the bedroom or living room. Only in these places will you find freedom.
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.