"Rats!" as Schultz’ cartoon character Charlie Brown would say. Rats aren't welcome in cartoons, or anywhere else. So when Mac in the Daily Mail associates rats with vulnerable people fleeing war and persecution, he is in danger of joining that old game of 'blame the victim.'
Rats and disease and terror accompanying a human swarm: we get the picture. This is a revolting cartoon, but don’t get me wrong: I’m all for revolting cartoons. Any cartoonist has a right, indeed, a duty, to be revolting, to offend to outrage. It’s our job. It can be a dangerous job, as the murders at Charlie Hebdo showed us (and the murder of Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al Ali in 1987 and many others since). Thankfully this is very uncommon and the worst danger most of us face is not getting a laugh. Or in this case, getting a slagging off from another cartoonist.
I think the problem here is that of choosing one’s targets. The job of the satirist and cartoonists is indeed to offend and outrage, but who do we want to offend? For me, it is the powerful, the rich, those who make decisions that can ruin or end the lives of other ‘lesser’ beings. Attacking the poor and weak isn’t satire - it’s bullying.
Cartoons are an incredibly powerful medium. By using them, a message can be conveyed instantly and directly in a way that words alone cannot. This is something the Nazis understood and used with devastating impact: just look at the cruel hook-nosed anti-semitic cartoons of Der Sturmer if you need proof. Or the ridiculous racial caricatures in the old NF or BNP papers - echoed, sadly, in many mainstream publications of the time.
Cartoonists have a duty to offend, but they also have responsibilities. One of those is not to attack the victims of those in power. By drawing rats alongside fleeing refugees, in my view Mac is dehumanizing these desperate people and - let’s not beat about the bush - the rat is exactly the image the Nazis used to vilify and dehumanize the Jews.
This is very dangerous stuff because these are people; they are not rats and depicting them like this plays into the hands of the vile racists of FN in France, where Marine Le Pen is already calling for an absolute ban on accepting refugees from the Middle East, with her calls being echoed all over Europe.
No. Cartoonists should not be doing their job for them. We should be attacking those responsible for causing this horror in the first place: our politicians.
Tim Stanley draws the Independent’s daily pocket cartoon
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