Coincidence: On the one hand, Iran is a country whose policies on freedom of speech allow (not to mention outright encourage) citizens to demonize a host of diabolical enemies, with the “Great Satan” in the lead. Yet, on the other hand, Iran is a country where people are not free to take a stand on laws proposed by their own elected officials. Even mild attempts are not recommended.
Another coincidence: While Iran condemns the Charlie Hebdo magazine for displaying cartoons, which they claim to be offensive to Islam, they continue full force with cartoon competitions and cartoon exhibits which definitely offend other minorities or religions.
Take the case of Atena Farghadani. While 28-year-old Iranian artist Atena Farghadani was imprisoned and subsequently put on trial for drawing a cartoon protesting a draft law outlawing contraceptives, her country – “not exactly a bastion of free speech” – hosted a cartoon competition of its own (one in line with its own ideology, of course), aimed at vilifying ISIS.
Hundreds of participants (from some 40 countries, according to some reports) flocked to participate in this government-sanctioned celebration of free speech (with a cash prize to boot), each cartoonist trying to outdo the other in denigrating not just the terror group, but the “Western, Arab, and [Jewish] backers” Iran claims are behind it. Entries ranged from a cartoon featuring a bearded man with bloody hands being massaged by “Israeli” hands while lying on an American flag, to a bearded man in a suicide vest dancing with US President Barack Obama, to a ghoulish terrorist genie emerging from a Saudi oil lamp.
This is hardly the first cartoon competition to take place in Iran – you may, perhaps, remember the International Holocaust Cartoon Contest that followed the Charlie Hebdo massacre (and an earlier one in 2006). Of all the news outlets we surveyed, only Fox News and The Washington Post pointed out the irony in holding anti-Holocaust cartoon contests, then jailing cartoonists for expressing themselves; many more outlets drew parallels between the Holocaust and ISIS contests, with CNN pointing out that though this latest contest may seem benign to Western onlookers who see ISIS hatred as less controversial than Holocaust denial, it is still well in line with Iran’s policy of very limited, state-controlled (and sponsored) “free” speech. “Free speech”, apparently, is limited to demonizing the “enemy” or praising the Iranian regime.