“My line on religion is that when a religious group starts asking for special favors from the state — whether it’s tax privileges for their schools or exemptions from regulations everyone else must abide by — or acting in ways that affect others: abusing kids, cutting off apostates’ heads — they become part of the political process, and should be treated as the political players they are,” added Wilkinson, who — alongside Pulitzer-winning Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes — will appear Saturday afternoon at the Newseum for an Inside Media talk titled, “Charlie Hebdo: One Year Later.”
And now, one year later, Wilkinson, a longtime Philadelphia Daily News cartoonist, remains unwavering in her belief over such editorial “red lines.”
“We haven’t learned much, except that we have given jihadist Muslims the right to choose how and whether, here in America, the image of their prophet can be used in cartoons or anywhere else,” Wilkinson says now. “This is a right [that] cartoonists, newspapers and social critics on all platforms do not extend to prophets or symbols of other faiths.
“Equality will come when we treat all prophets of all faiths equally,” she tells Comic Riffs. “If the devout do awful things in the name of their prophets, they shouldn’t be surprised to see their prophets in cartoons, and we shouldn’t be afraid to put them there.”
Last year, I asked more than a dozen of the nation’s top cartoonists about their work in the wake of the attack. This week, amid the anniversary, I asked them what has changed, or hadn’t changed, in editorial cartooning in the past year, related to the event’s aftershocks. Here is what they say:
NICK ANDERSON (Houston Chronicle):
We make a very big deal out of Islamic terrorism, and it is a big deal. But we need to keep the threat in perspective. Statistically, I have a far greater chance of being shot by an American with a gun than a Muslim radical with a gun.
PAT BAGLEY (Salt Lake Tribune):
In October, I went to France and was introduced to cartoonists [who] were leading lives more precarious than what we American cartoonists do. There were survivors of the Hebdo massacre, shadowed by bodyguards, and I met a couple of my peers who were in exile from their homes in the Middle East. With no prospect of going home any time soon, they were also at loose ends in their asylum nation.
A number of cartoonists from all over Europe suffer from job insecurity — something we Americans can relate to — but we’ve been spared the kind of violent trauma that is much more of an immediate concern for them. The Paris shootings were a reminder of this.
A year on from the Hebdo killings, and I am much less likely to whine about how tough I think I have it. I do wonder a bit about all the guns out there, and the psychedelic Kool-Aid acid trip that the GOP seems to be on, but I don’t worry much about my personal safety, especially when our armed religious loonies tend to sequester themselves in bird refuges in the middle of nowhere.
NATE BEELER (Columbus Dispatch):
I don’t think editorial cartooning in the United States has changed much in the year since the Charlie Hebdo attack; I would say the public perception of editorial cartoonists may have changed a little. In recent years, it seemed like people were increasingly choosing to view us as jokesters slinging one-liners straight out of a late-night show — in other words, we weren’t to be taken too seriously. The tragedy of Charlie Hebdo allowed them to see us in a different light. They now realize it sometimes takes real courage to draw a cartoon.
In some other countries, that’s certainly the case. Luckily, here in the U.S., we usually aren’t legitimately threatened with violence or death.
There seems to be a new respect for what we do, which is refreshing. But I wish cartoonists didn’t have to die for this to happen.
DARRIN BELL (Washington Post Writers Group):
It’s a year later. Cartoonists are still attacking Islamic terrorists, and the terrorists who attacked cartoonists are still dead. All the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists proved is that they could exercise their freedom of speech by ridiculing a man who’s been dead for a very long time. And all the terrorists proved is [that] their religious faith is so fragile that they just can’t stand such insults. Mankind is very good at futility.
What terrorists don’t realize, though, is cartoonists are not ancient ruins in the desert and can’t be bulldozed into nothingness. Western culture just can’t be silenced like that. There may be tens of thousands of psychopaths who can pick up a gun or strap on a bomb, but there are tens of millions of kids who can pick up a pencil and draw funny pictures about their teachers. Any of them, if p—ed off enough by terrorist atrocities, can grow up and draw Muhammad in a compromising position. Or better yet, if they’re responsible, they’ll draw cartoons about terrorists of all faiths and their fanaticism. Cartoonists are a renewable resource. Always have been, always will be.
MATT BORS (Universal Uclick and The Nib):
I think given the massive attacks across Paris in November, we can look back and see [that] the Hebdo murders were part of an escalating ISIS strategy of asymmetric warfare.
Blasphemy makes cartoonists an easy target, and most cartoonists would rather die than give that up. So some more of us likely will.
MIKE LUCKOVICH (Atlanta Journal Constitution):
We become numb to terror, and for those of us not directly impacted, it becomes something of an abstraction. [The massacre of] fellow cartoonists personalized it. That said, nothing has changed for me except for feeling an even stronger obligation, in this political climate of fearmongering, to advocate for tolerance.
JIMMY MARGULIES (King Features):
Unless I have somehow been hiding under a rock, or walking around with blinders on, I honestly cannot see any substantial change — either personally or in the political cartoon field as a whole — since the Charlie Hebdo attack. And that to me is a very good thing. Some of the things we feared might happen — such as worry about the personal safety of those of us in this profession, or editors being even more nervous about publishing more provocative work — did not materialize.
Yes, I know that there was violence at the Draw Muhammad event in Texas last May, but I would rather not consider that related to editorial cartoonists practicing graphic opinion journalism. That was an anti-Muslim bigot using a “cartoon contest” to further [an] intolerant agenda.
So I basically see the situation in the past year as: No news is good news.
JACK OHMAN (Sacramento Bee):
A year after Charlie Hebdo, we still have to remember we are always in danger, whether from religious extremists or domestic terrorists. The Columbus AAEC convention [last September], with the attendant police and federal agent security, was an illustration of our new world. I still mourn the Hebdo artists and editors, as should we all. Rallying support for the right of free expression is what they sacrificed their lives for. To honor them, we must still hit as hard as we can, no matter what our philosophy.
ROB ROGERS (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; ToonSeum president):
In the wake of the horrific Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris one year ago, the concept of satire was seriously debated and reexamined. Some claimed that political cartooning and freedom of speech were under threat. Others argued that cartoonists needed to be more sensitive about drawing images that might offend certain religions and cultures.
As a political cartoonist and cartooning advocate, I became more strident and proactive about protecting our First Amendment rights and freedom of expression. This attack was personal. I mounted two exhibitions that dealt with freedom of expression in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Like many of my cartooning colleagues, I gave radio and TV interviews and participated in several public panels and talks on satire. My message was always the same: We must protect free speech at all costs — even the free speech we and others find offensive.
Not everyone shares my fervor. The sense I have of mainstream media, including my own paper, is that we must be more careful about what we print. One example: I have drawn Muhammad three times, including once after Charlie Hebdo. My editors and publisher were fine with the cartoons, which were directly related to free speech. But after the “Draw Muhammad” contest in Texas attracted jihadists, my newspaper got nervous, fearing for the safety of our own employees, and killed my cartoon depicting Muhammad. Though I managed to find other ways to address satire and free speech, I have not drawn another Muhammad cartoon since that time.
No, I was never a cartoonist in the style of Charlie Hebdo, nor will I ever be that extreme. But I am saddened that even one cartoon was killed because of fear. It feels like the terrorists are winning when that happens. But I also understand that the safety of my colleagues and fellow journalists is a serious concern. This is something we never had to worry about before. Now we do. One thing that the Charlie Hebdo massacre has proven: Whether you love them or hate them, political cartoons represent free speech at its most transformative and provocative. I believe we need to fight to keep it that way, now more than ever.
SCOTT STANTIS (Chicago Tribune):
What’s changed since the Charlie Hebdo attacks? Not a lot. We had hoped we would be braver, but editors are more skittish than ever. The attacks showed, in the starkest way possible, that cartoons are important and have a profound effect on readers. You would think editors and publishers would recognize this as a way to engage their audiences. You would think wrong.
JEN SORENSEN (Austin Chronicle et al.):
I know others have had to worry about security at certain events and such, but I can’t say I’ve noticed a huge change as a cartoonist. Speaking for myself, probably the biggest difference has been a spike in ugly Islamophobic comments and hate mail. After years of relative calm in my inbox, things are starting to feel more like the post-9/11 years. This is undoubtedly not only due to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, but [also] news throughout the year.
Just [this week], I was called a “disgusting human being” for my cartoon attempting to differentiate ISIS terrorists from ordinary Muslims. If anything, the past year felt like part of a larger continuum of increasing extremism, violence, bigotry and abject stupidity. Unfortunately, I don’t see any of this changing in 2016.
ADAM ZYGLIS (Buffalo News):
At the very least, [the attack has] made cartooning-related events more expensive to put on. Three events I was a part of this past year — including our national AAEC convention in Columbus — required a security presence of some sort, which may cause some groups to shy away from us. The flip side to that is the newfound boost in relevance editorial cartoons now have in some circles. After all, if people died for it, then it must be important, right?
Anther change is how threats against cartoonists are taken more seriously now. As cartoonists, we’ve grown thick skin, accustomed to vitriol and even the occasional threat of violence from a crazy reader. But these now carry an added weight. Maine Gov. LePage’s comment about shooting the Bangor [Daily News] cartoonist [George] Danby comes to mind.
Also, I think the recent Paris attacks [with their indiscriminate killings] take the focus off of cartoonists a bit. After the November massacre, every Westerner felt like a post-Charlie Hebdo cartoonist. Now we are all vulnerable.
In terms of my day-to-day work, nothing has changed much. I never intended to gratuitously draw Muhammad before, and I still don’t.