May 4, 2015 – Last month, Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau became the firstcartoonist to receive the prestigious George Polk career award. In his acceptance speech, Trudeau mused about his career and the state and role of satire in an increasingly dangerous world:
“I, and most of my colleagues, have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since the tragedy in Paris. As you know, the Muhammad cartoon controversy began [more than] eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against “self-censorship,” one editor’s call to arms against what he felt was a suffocating political correctness. The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or to enlighten or to challenge authority — his charge to the cartoonists was specifically to provoke, and in that they were exceedingly successful. Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores. No one could say toward what positive social end, yet free-speech absolutists were unchastened. Using judgment and common sense in expressing oneself were denounced as antithetical to freedom of speech.
And now we are adrift in an even wider sea of pain. Ironically, Charlie Hebdo — which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population — has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.
Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.”
The full speech which ran in the Washington Post received a measurable amount of criticism from some who felt the cartoonist was blaming the victims. Following the blowback, Trudeau sat down with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet The Press to clarify his sentiments. Trudeau said he was “not at all” blaming the victims and that he “should have made it a little clearer that I was as outraged as the rest of the world at the time. I mourn them deeply.” Trudeau said it’s “not really for us to decide,” whether or not the Prophet Muhammad can be satirized. “I mean, we, as societies, collectively decide what’s untouchable. But I don’t have the right to decide what is sacred and holy and profane for someone else. All societies come to a consensus about that.”
“I certainly wouldn’t draw pictures of the prophet [Muhammad]. However, I’ve done many cartoons satirizing in the specific: terrorists, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the P.L.O… and have never received any blow-back from the Muslim community. They understand that I’m separating out the two.