A cartoonist's code of conduct

24 March 2010
Only in en
Varlik reads cartoons; Esprit determines the state of Sarkozy; Blätter sounds the alarm over plans for a high-tech fortress Europe; Reset warns of equating Italian identity with Catholicism; New Humanist sees gender equality flushed down the loo; Akadeemia disputes the possibility of a universal definition of religion; Kulturos barai finds its way out of the labyrinth of history; and Merkur advocates the nonchalance of civilizations.

Varlik 3/2010

The March issue of Turkish literary magazine Varlik opens, like every month, with the “Cartoonist’s comment” by Semih Poroy. This time, Poroy’s drawing is more integral than ever to the main topic: comic magazines, and the critical and literary potential of humour. In a simple, black ink drawing, a fountain pen opens its jaws in a sharp-toothed grin that leaves no room for doubt – this pen can bite.

There are no words accompanying Poroy’s drawing, yet it is a brilliant comment on the critical pungency of cartoons, saying more than most thousand-word op-eds about the infamous Mohammed drawings by Swedish artist Lars Vilks. However, in an essay on “Comic magazines and literature”, Altay Öktem points to the fact that the pioneers of comic magazines, which have a very strong position in Turkey, were men of letters, of literature. Today, this fruitful and “historic admixture of word and image” is under constant threat by a culture that prefers short, consumable texts.

A cartoonist’s code of conduct: In interview, the poet, cartoonist and magazine publisher Metin Üstündag notes that “Being a humorist in Turkey sometimes resembles walking around with a live grenade. That grenade may detonate in your hand, or wherever you throw it. This is why humour requires attention, perseverance, hard work and a conscience.” Dissenting and remaining independent go hand in hand. “Comic magazines are a channel that advertisers drool over”, says Üstündag. “Yet, they carry no advertisements – for fear of losing authenticity.”

In the magazines in which Üstündag is involved, there is an “unwritten code of conduct”: “‘Don’t mess with anyone’s privacy, disability or sense of the sacred.’ This isn’t censorship, it’s a discourse. As long as you stay within these boundaries, you can draw anyone and anything.”

Female humour? “Taking the path of the cartoonist is difficult in itself. I never considered it to be even harder for women”, says cartoonist Semra Can. She does not distinguish between “male cursing” and “female cursing”. “If a curse can heal my wound, I use it as an ointment. I’m not seeking to create a women’s language, I’m merely trying to create my own. […] Cursing is a mode of communication and comic magazines allow this mode. So I use it.”

The full table of contents of Varlik 3/2010

Esprit 3-4/2010

Midway through the term of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Esprit takes stock of a figure who has shaken up the political establishment. For Socialist politician Lucile Schmid, the question is whether Sarkozy’s tenure has permanently changed the nature of the presidency. While his precursors held themselves aloof from everyday political battles, presenting themselves as grand statesmen concerned only with vision, Sarkozy has flung himself into every political conflict available.

The result has been to remove the mystique of his office. Even if much of France considers this an aberration peculiar to Sarkozy, there is no doubt that he has expanded the bounds of what is conceivable for a French president. Meanwhile, Sarkozy has shown enthusiasm not just for diminishing the scope of the state, but also for removing any institution that could potentially oppose him. This, writes Schmid, may have awakened in France a desire to recreate a balance of power.

Corporate presidency: The civil servant and the management consultant, writes Marc-Olivier Padis, are the twin faces of Sarkozy’s administration. This juxtaposition of centralization and privatization is incongruous, but not contradictory. It enables the state to intervene where it chooses, while subcontracting or abandoning areas that no longer interest it. Despite Sarkozy’s appeal to small business, his administrative style is that of corporate management. Officials are held to account with short-term objectives and ad-hoc mandates – something that extends to the top of government (cf. the Minister for Economic Recovery). However it avoids building new institutions, and so prevents the development of centres of potential opposition.

Justice: Tanguy Le Goff examines Sarkozy’s vision of policing, where “punishment is the best form of prevention”. As interior minister and then as President, he has established minimum sentences, increased surveillance and police powers, and punished the parents of young offenders. He has dismantled community policing by reducing the contact between police and citizens to little more than identity checks, and introduced targets for police performance with rewards for officers meeting them. These policies may improve crime statistics, but they have strained the relationship between citizens and the police.

The full table of contents of Esprit 3-4/2010

Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 3/2010

The Stockholm Programme, the latest in a series of agreements on EU security policy, was endorsed by interior and justice ministers in December 2009. A fact that went largely unnoticed, comments Christine Wicht.

Underlying the Programme is the principle of “availability”: the collection, processing and sharing of information between national authorities and other bodies in the areas of security and justice. It will involve the centralization of national databases, a move that has been heavily criticized by European civil rights campaigners, including the European Civil Liberties Network.

Immigration is one area identified as a major security issue. The Programme proposes expanding the European external border surveillance system Eurosur by using images obtained by satellites and cameras placed in drones and aeroplanes. Frontex, the agency specializing in border control in the Mediterranean region, would be extended, as would the European Gendarmerie Force, a paramilitary security outfit. The European Neighbourhood Policy would continue to provide a mechanism for tightening immigration controls, with trade and visa relaxations offered in return for reliable border policing and the honouring of agreements on the “readmission” of deportees.

“There is the strong suspicion”, writes Wicht, “that behind the Stockholm Programme are governments’ fears of their own unjust social policies and the danger of crisis-like escalations. Rising unemployment, continuing redistribution from the bottom up, and growing social disadvantage among the lower rungs of society could give rise to increased social tension and political protests in the EU states. If the Stockholm Programme is any indication, large-scale demonstrations will in the future be accompanied by enormous surveillance measures along with mass police and military presence.”

Haiti: While the earthquake in Haiti was a natural catastrophe, the systematic underdevelopment of the country is not. Jean Ziegler, long-term UN Special Correspondent on food and nutrition, demonstrates how the West historically implemented a system of colonialism and slavery that continues to have a deep impact on the Third World. His thesis: the West’s persisting economic injustices and broken promises are generating growing hatred.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 3/2010

Reset 117 (2010)

The new issue of Reset is dedicated to the fundamental changes in Italian society that are either obscured or not registered at all in a political discourse revolving around Berlusconi. Among these changes is Italy’s evolution into a multiethnic and multicultural community. This triggers diffuse fears about a supposed threat to national identity, one that more and more is equated with the Catholicism of the majority.

Taking as her starting point the Strasbourg ruling against the display of crucifixes in state schools, Susanna Mancini discusses how this equation of national and Catholic identity failed to lead to a debate over the relationship between Church and State. Instead it has fuelled the rhetoric of the “clash of civilizations”, which is used to lend weight to the “omnipotence of the majority”. It is the responsibility of a modern, democratic and secular state not to exclude “the Others”, and to prevent cultural and religious hierarchies from being established, writes Mancini.

Islam in public: The minaret ban proves that Swiss society has difficulty recognizing that Islamic immigrants have settled permanently, and that it denies them a place in public life, writes Nilüfer Göle. There is a broad reluctance among Swiss citizens to relinquish the monopoly on public space and to open it up for pluralism. The result is that public space risks losing its role as ideal expression of democracy.

Also: Fred Dallmayr presents Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush’s concept of freedom, which remains closely linked to reason and rationality. Nevertheless, Soroush thinks that seeing reason as a treasure trove of stable truths stops us from thinking about the origins of truth, and about how one gets to it. And the attempts of Gianfranco Fini, the co-founder of the Berlusconi party Popolo della libertá, to distinguish himself from his former boss lack a strategic concept, writes Domenico Fisichella.

The full table of contents of Reset 117 (2010)

New Humanist 2/2010

Ruth Turner is the Chief Executive of Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation, which aims to promote “interfaith understanding”. “To ignore the role of faith is to be blind to a dimension of the world that plays a part in the thinking and attitudes of billions of people”, she writes in New Humanist.

Turner admits that many of the evils of the twentieth century were carried out by people of faith, and that many see religious faith as far removed from the requirements of daily life. However, in many societies religious centres offer the possibility to reach those in need, for instance with medical help and education. Their leaders benefit from a high level of trust and the centres are therefore in a position to act as distribution points for various forms of aid.

“The Foundation attempts to bring people of different religions and none together to understand each other better, and to live peacefully and with respect, by providing opportunities to collaborate on practical projects that make a real difference to the challenges of modern life. That’s a mission I’d have thought anyone – religious or not – would be happy to support.”

Lavatorial politics: Public conveniences are the final battleground in the sex wars, the ultimate declaration of discrimination writes Sally Feldman. One of the main barriers to open discussion and campaigning on the issue is that people find the whole subject offensive. However, for women, the lack of decent public toilets is an emergency.

“All over the world, it tends to fall to women to clean, to get rid of waste, to work as toilet attendants: and it’s women who suffer most when lavatories are in poor supply. If you’re travelling anywhere in China or India, just forget about finding any form of toilet for women at all. The difference between a woman and a camel, goes the well-worn travellers’ joke, is that a camel can go all day without drinking, while a woman can drink all day without going.”

The full table of contents of New Humanist 2/2010

Akadeemia 3/2010

There cannot be a universal definition of religion, writes Talal Asad in Akadeemia. Not only because its constituent elements are historically specific, but because a definition is in itself the historical product of discursive processes. The essence of religion should not be confused with the essence of politics – even if in many societies the two overlap.

Taking Clifford Geertz’ universalist definition of religion as his starting point, Asad argues that socially identifiable forms of what was seen as religion in the medieval Christian epoch were quite different from modern societies. Through identifying some of the historical shifts that have produced our concept of religion, Asad concludes that a transhistorical definition is not viable. Religion, he claims, is a distinctive space of human practice and belief that cannot be reduced to any other.

Being without body: It is characteristic of religious thinking that God is seen as a being possessing mental states and as capable of action, notes Uku Tooming. At the same time, God is imagined as bodiless. How can a non-physical entity have the ability to influence the material world through his deeds?

In this classical philosophical controversy, Tooming compares the stance of William Alston with those of John Mackie and Kai Nielsen. Siding with the latter two, he concludes that by relying on the distinctions between real and imagined, the attribution of actions to a bodiless presence can result only in doubt.

The full table of contents of Akadeemia 3/2010

Kulturos barai 2/2010

National identity is emerging as a self-defence mechanism against globalization, homogenization and cosmopolitanism writes Rita Repsiene in Kulturos barai. Nor is this a bad thing: today’s non-aggressive, individual forms of nationalism have little to do with Romantic, nineteenth-century definitions.

“By supporting the formation of nationalism as an important contemporary force, we can open up new vistas for identity. But by drowning in clichés of our own making, by losing ourselves in the dark labyrinths of history, we close ourselves to alternative opinions and stop searching for other truths.”

The ideals of ’89: Tomas Kavaliauskas quotes nineteenth century American philosopher William James in his Theory of Pragmatism that to limit oneself to a final explanation of political life is to take a “moral vacation”. Any universal agreement on political goals that seemingly assure perfect social harmony eliminates freedom itself, in other words the possibility to choose how and why to act. That is why 1989 was not the end of history, but the start of new and even more complicated problems.

“The shift from socialism to capitalism, from the one and only ‘truthful’ communist idea to ideological pluralism, created no conditions for us to live in truth. Havel believed that victory over the regime would bring uncorrupted freedom. […] The chaotic reality of post-communist states reveals that while the ideals of ’89 were lost sight of during the chaotic transition, they did not disappear entirely.”

Literary perspectives: A new generation of post-feminist writers in Croatia has emerged in the crossover between literature and journalism, writes Andrea Zlatar. Common to much new Croatian writing is the postwar experience, with authors using marginal characters to explore tensions between individual and society.

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 2/2010

Merkur 3/2010

“As long as the West equates its sphere of influence with the universalism of human rights, each and every problem in the world threatens to become a problem for the West,” writes Heinz Theisen in Merkur. “The common wisdom that everything is ‘somehow’ connected to everything else leads to mental and political over-exertion.”

“Politics, as the art of the possible, requires recognizing the borders of the possible,” writes Theisen. Rather than rebuilding democracy in Afghanistan, a more realistic goal would have been to build a better army, police force and legal system in the country and then leave the rest to the Afghans. The timetable for the Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan “is right and should have been in place from the beginning”.

“In theocratic cultures, the difference between believers and non-believers is more important than conflict between political ideas. Without an adequate understanding of the meaning of religion and culture, the West will not be able to find its way in the new multipolar and multicultural world order. This non-understanding begins with one’s own religion and culture.”

Theisen prefers cultural nonchalance over the clash civilizations, elective affinities over human rights messianism. “Close political cooperation with the Russian-Orthodox cultural sphere, which is proximate not only geographically, is more of an option than with China, where fundamentally different ideas about fairness and reciprocity predominate. […] With a far more incompatible culture such as the Islamic one, stronger delimitation is required in order to coexist peacefully.”

China: It is not China’s military or technological strength that Europe fears, writes Thomas E. Schmidt, but the prospect that in the future international politics will be based on the assertion of economic self-interest. Climate protection is Europe’s attempt to regain the high ground, a cipher, according to Schmidt, behind which Europe defends the legitimacy of its economic growth. “From this perspective, ethics is the strategy of a distant continent that has grown too weak to slow down its competitors, and that now wants to shift the battle onto the discursive field, where its inability is not yet apparent.”

The full table of contents of Merkur 3/2010

Published 24 March 2010

Original in English
First published in

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