Marco Werman talks to The World’s Carol Hills about this week’s cartoon slideshow: a look at the deteriorating situation in Syria. There’s two Syrian cartoonists featured. One is still inside Syria. The other is living in Egypt for the time being. And though there’s really nothing very funny about Syria these days, cartoonists are still finding lots to draw about.
The ‘will he or won’t he’ question about whether Bashar al-Assad will use chemical weapons, the tough talk by Barack Obama that hints at a possible military action if Assad dips into his stockpile; the “Oh, please!” rejoinder by Russia, effectively telling the US to butt out.
It’s all here, plus a squiggly figure with a mustache who’s made fun of by other squiggly figures … who don’t have a mustache.
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Marco Werman: The layers of ethnic tensions in Syria make it a difficult country to report on, especially since so few journalists are able to cover the conflict there up close. Those tensions come through though, in political cartoons which The World’s Carol Hills follows closely. Carol, what kind of issues are you seeing in cartoons about Syria in recent weeks?
Carol Hills: Well, there’s a lot of sort of desperate images, both of people fleeing Syria and also desperate images of Bashar al-Assad sort of hiding behind a podium while bullets fly above him, sort of lighting matches and throwing them on the ground. It’s kind of a reference to chemical weapons and the fear that he might use them. And then, you mentioned journalists and the inability for many journalists to cover the story. There’s a very dark cartoon this week by an Israeli cartoonist, Michel Kishka, and it shows Bashar al-Assad, he’s holding a rifle, and it looks like he’s sitting in his den, and above him, on the wall, instead of heads of animals that he’s killed, are the heads of journalists who’ve either been killed or died while covering Syria.
Hills: So it’s pretty grim.
Werman : Very dark, indeed. When the uprising began, it was part of the narrative of the Arab Spring. Have the themes evolved or changed over the course of the conflict in Syria?
Hills: They have. There’s been a lot of, in the beginning, and even still now there’s a lot of Bashar the bad guy. His slightly Hitleresque mustache doesn’t really help. But there’s a lot of him with, you know, the growing nose ’cause he’s lying, covered ears, he’s not listening, bullets flying, a lot of sort of bloodbath, the images of red on the Syrian flag representing blood, a lot of that. But as the months have dragged on, there’s also a lot of disparaging images about the UN, the UN’s failure to do anything, the failure of China and Russia to do anything, and also, the inability of the opposition to really organize and figure out who would replace Assad. So you’re seeing more and more of those kind of things.
Werman: Who are the cartoonists? Mostly from the Middle East or is it a grab bag, and are there any Syrians either in Syria doing this subversively or outside Syria?
Hills: Well, it’s interesting. There’s a handful of Europeans and North Americans and the occasional Australian, and then the most are from the Middle East, and in terms of Syria, there’s two or three. There’s the famous Ali Farzat, who was attacked last August and it’s hard to find current cartoons by him. He’s still healing. But there’s two great cartoonists in the stuff I’ve seen lately, which is Saad Hajo, who is still in Syria as far as I can tell, and another guy, Juan Zero. That’s his pen name. He lives in Egypt right now, and he does a lot of interesting kind of comic caricatures. So, it’s really exciting to still see the Syrian cartoonists doing their craft, whether they’re in or outside Syria.
Werman: Carol Hills, The World cartoon curator. Carol, thanks for chatting with us.
Hills: You’re welcome, Marco.
Werman: That cartoon of Assad as a hunter of journalists and the other cartoons we’ve been talking about are on our Web site. We have a slide show at theworld.org.
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