Deadly doodles: Iran launches anti-Islamic State cartoon contest

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Tehran: Taking their battle to a whole new level, Iran has decided to take on the extremist militant outfit- Islamic State (ISIS) through caricatures. Iran has invited submissions from all over the world to mock the IS. According to the state-run IRNA news agency, artists were briefed by Iran’s House of Cartoon to focus on “the crimes committed by the Islamic State”. 

Executive secretary of the contest Mohammad Habibi said that 280 works had been selected from 800 submissions, including entries from over 40 countries including Brazil, Australia and Indonesia. He said that some foreign cartoonists were attending the contest, but that they have been forced to travel under pseudonyms due to security concerns. Selected works would be displayed at cultural centres across Tehran and the winner would be announced on May 31.

Observers have pointed to an inherent paradox in this exercise, since many people would characterise Iran itself as an extremist, Islamist state. That said, the Islamic State extreme creed characterises all Shia Muslims as heretics and its forces have done their best to not only wipe out Shias but also destroy Shia shrines and places of worship. This, of course, means that there is no love lost between the Shia state of Iran and the IS.

For some time now, Islamists have been fighting pitched theological battles using the somewhat-curious device of the cartoon.  First there were the Danish Jyllands-Posten cartoons in 2005 for breaking a taboo against portraying Prophet Mohammed. In 2010, the creators of the South Park TV show faced death threats and January brought the brutal attacks on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Earlier this month in the US state of Texas, two gunmen were shot dead after they opened fire at a cartoon contest at which participants were drawing caricatures of the prophet.

Clearly then, cartoons seem to rile people up, a lesson that Iran seems to have learnt well: it jailed a cartoonist just this week after she depicted the country’s leaders as animals. It seems ironical then that Iran has launched a cartoon competition of its own. 

Funded by the local government in Tehran, the House of Cartoon last held a competition on the theme of Holocaust denial following the depiction of the Prophet Muhammed in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo earlier this year. One of the contestants, artist Massoud Shoajaei Tabatabaii said that the contest was being held “to reveal the true nature of Daesh.” “Daesh tries to associate itself with Islam but in essence it has no idea about Islam” he said. 

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