Is the weight of it on their shoulders?

Try a thought experiment. Suppose a newspaper publishes some satirical cartoons about neo-Nazism, the BNP, and other far-right nationalist and/or anti-Semitic groups. One cartoon has Hitler wearing a military cap in the shape of a crematorium labeled Auschwitz, with smoke rising out of it. Nothing much happens, then after a few months a couple of neo-Nazis travel around Europe with the cartoons plus three new ones, one of which is Hitler in drag being sodomized by a donkey – no, by a Jewish donkey. The neo-Nazis show this collection to other neo-Nazis, and with persistent effort get them worked up enough to go out into the streets and cause riots. Some people are killed in the riots. Death threats are made against the cartoonists. A group of neo-Nazis is arrested for plotting to murder the cartoonist who drew the Hitler cartoon; the cartoonist and his wife are forced to leave their home, then told to leave the hotel they move to; the cartoonist’s wife is told to stay away from her job at a kindergarten.

Would you say that the cartoonists put other people at risk by drawing the cartoons? Would you call the cartoons trivial exercises of the right to free speech? Would you say the deaths were predictable and that the cartoonists’ action led to the deaths and therefore they are accountable? Would you say it’s not precisely as if they had done that thing, but the weight of it is on their shoulders? Would you point out that the vast majority of people think neo-Nazis are violent people, that that’s just conventional wisdom, and that the cartoons just reinforce it, instead of saying something brave and new and eye-opening? Or would you think that we don’t want neo-Nazis telling us what we can and can’t draw, can and can’t publish, can and can’t laugh at? Would you think that the neo-Nazis who worked people up to rioting and the rioters themselves were to blame while the cartoonists were not, on the grounds that the cartoonists had in fact done nothing wrong? Would you cringe at the very idea of blaming the cartoonists?

14 Responses to “Is the weight of it on their shoulders?”