Aislin: Swastika for Freedom in the Montreal Gazette
I was invited to sign a petition. I did. And I shared the petition with my Facebook friends. Only after one of them asked to see the actual Aislin cartoon “in print” did I begin to explore what turned out to be an interesting topic. Let me tell you what I found. And let me state at the outset that if I could remove my name from the petition, I would. Let that be a lesson to me in knee-jerk reactions.
Sarah Cohen began a petition on change.org after she saw this cartoon by Aislin, whose real name is Terry Mosher. I do not know if she saw it on the Montreal Gazette website or on Twitter, but this is the cartoon she is protesting and the wording of her petition (copied toward the end of this article) shows she sees this as antisemitic and she warns about the growing antisemitism in Quebec:
After the image drew consternation and complaints, Mosher modified it. He prefaced the tweet in which he showed the modified cartoon with the statement: “Welcome to my world of cartooning.”
Welcome to my world of cartooning. The Gazette felt that I had gone too far in an initial cartoon suggesting a swastika for Trump’s coat-of-arms. Therefore, here is a new, subtler offering. Trump would probably even like this. pic.twitter.com/D3ObPz0Wro
— Terry Mosher (@TerryMosher1) April 8, 2020
Only the modified version of Asilin’s cartoon can be found today on the Montreal Gazette website. Interestingly, neither version is on Mosher’s Facebook page, a page that opens a small window into the life of the person behind Aislin in addition to showcasing some of his cartoons.
One Tweet that protested his original cartoon remarked that he should be fired for having gone overboard. Konikoff asks: “Do you see gas chambers, people lined up and shot dead, human skin being made into soap bars? I could go on. Give your head a smack.”
You should be fired for this one. Overboard comparing your dislike of Trump to Nazis. Do you see gas chambers, people lined up and shot dead, human skin being made into soap bars? I could go on. Give your head a smack.
— Howard Konikoff (@KoniHowie) April 11, 2020
Of course, not everyone agreed with Konikoff; The Dutchman actually thinks it is “spot on”.
Man I can’t believe you’re putting this in the paper.
What makes it all the worse though is that it’s spot on.
— The Dutchman (@Dutchman_666) April 8, 2020
Under my Facebook post about the petition protesting the Aislin cartoon, among the many one-word expressions of horror, one FB friend wrote: “Absolutely stupid to depict any western leader with that symbol.” and another: “This cartoon is so … Quebec.” And another wrote: “Do not joke about anything that has to do with the Holocaust. Period.”
Is Nothing Sacred to Aislin?
This is actually the title of a film about Mosher and another Quebec political cartoonist, Serge Capleau. You can watch Nothing Sacred for free online. I found some parts of the film quite relevant to our discussion here.
Senator Joan Fraser is interviewed in the film. She remarks:
Some of the stuff he did in the 70s was terribly funny but really vicious, really vicious. and that quality diminished to some extent as he achieved a greater equilibrium in his own life.
I am not sure that I necessarily agree with that, not about his greater equilibrium, because I have no way of knowing about that, but if he has stopped being vicious. Mosher does admit that:
“There is stuff now that I don’t know that I’m all that pleased about.”
We just do not know what “stuff” he is referring to here as he did not provide any examples of which Aislin cartoons he means. Perhaps he is referring to cartoons in which he held back, if there are such. I do not know. But given the context, it seems he means the kind of cartoons Senator Fraser called “vicious”.
Mosher certainly enjoys this profession in which he feels free to express himself:
We work for people who know nothing about cartooning…. So we’re a bit of a mystery to them and they tend to leave us alone, which is perhaps a good thing.
Senator Fraser goes on: “He was absolutely famous for pulling fast ones on editors. Sneaking cunning little touches into his cartoons that the editors wouldn’t spot.” Here is one little detail the editor apparently missed (and that is impossible to unsee):
In another instance, Mosher put together a cartoon about an extremely homophobic church group from the USA that was going to hold a candle-lit march through Montreal to Notre Dame Cathedral:
Michael Goldbloom, lawyer and publisher said:
I was horrified, and we never published it, and I was never sure whether Terry was serious about getting it into the paper or just trying to see how far he could push.
(So one swastika does not make it through the editorial filter and another does. What does this mean?)
It was a game that you played with people, you tried to get their goat, if you will, and I still might do it occasionally. I’m not going to tell you the how and why of it.
He responded to the terrible tragedy in Luxor in 1997 during which 58 tourists and 4 Egyptians were slaughtered and a 5-year-old girl beheaded. “As a father this made me angry,” he said:
and I was deliberately going to strike out as best I could with a cartoon. Hell, we gotta have the freedom to criticize this stuff.
And this is the cartoon he produced:
A small note at the bottom left on behalf of Aislin reads: “With our apologies to dogs everywhere.”
Brian Kappler, Page Editor at the Montreal Gazette doubts that they would accept such a cartoon today. He said:
We’re a family newspaper, we’re a commercial enterprise. There are certain things that just wouldn’t be appropriate in the newspaper. After all these years, Terry understands that.
I wonder if he does. And I also wonder why, if this would not be appropriate today, and if a swastika-on-a-church cartoon was not appropriate years ago, why the editor thought that the swastika-Trump cartoon was appropriate enough to go online just ten days ago.
The other cartoonist featured in the film, Serge Chapleau, has known controversy as well. For example, he made a cartoon of Youppi!, the larger-than-adult-sized Expos team mascot. The Expos were not doing well, to put it mildly. Chapleau’s cartoon had Youppi! kill himself, saying he could not bear it anymore.
The journalist, Alain Dubuc, said in the film:
It’s true that we have a suicide crisis in Quebec. There’s no joking about suicide, or trying to de-dramatize suicide. This is because of political correctness. This is one of the principle enemies of caricaturists everywhere.
Chapleau responded that the greatest outcry against his cartoon was from the youth suicide prevention groups.
I support them but drawing Youppi! committing suicide won’t encourage anyone to commit suicide unless he has a Youppi! costume at home.
Perhaps this sarcastic comment is typical of cartoonists? I do not know.
So while depressed teens may not be inspired to commit suicide if they do not own a Youppi! costume, can we same the same about antisemites? I will explain that cryptic comment in the next section. In any case, a few days later, after the Expos won some games, Chapleau brought Youppi! back to life like they resuscitate characters in animated cartoons for kids, and he said:
I didn’t do it to apologize. I did it to make fun of them.
Earlier in the film, Senator Fraser said:
As long as you could go on laughing then the world hasn’t actually ended.
“To make fun of them” Hmmmm. “As long as you are laughing the world has not ended.” Hmmmm.
Is Mosher antisemitic?
While some Aislin cartoons can perhaps be thought of as antisemitic, does this mean the man is? The cartoon in which he had Prime Minister Harper’s face covered with the Israeli flag was criticized in an article in the Canadian Jewish News as “com[ing] close to employing age-old stereotypes of Jews who have the power to silence critics.”
This was Mosher’s response to the accusation:
… the cartoon wasn’t meant to suggest Harper was being muzzled. It was drawn to compare the prime minister to a sports fan, the kind who draw a blue maple leaf on their faces to show their support for the local hockey team.
I painted the flag to indicate he’s a fan of Israel … It was just a simple thought that given Canada’s more balanced policy in the past, he’s gone overboard.
I can actually see where Mosher is coming from regarding this particular cartoon. As a Jew, I can see it egocentrically and take offence, but Mosher does not have the same sensitivity to our Jewish symbols. I accept his explanation and that has neutralized this cartoon for me. But what I do have difficulty with is the fact that the antisemites paradoxically share our sensitivity to our symbols, in inverse fashion, and THEY might twist the meaning of this cartoon to fit their own vicious purposes. Does Mosher have any responsibility for that? Does his editor?
Other Controversial Aislin Cartoons
I was unable to find the context within which this cartoon was created.
Nor for this one:
But I cannot image that Moslems were very happy with them. I did not see debate about them online.
This following cartoon was published during the Second Intifada. Just the month before this cartoon went up, the Dolphinarium attack was carried out, in which 21 Israelis, 16 of them teens, were killed. That was only one in the long series of car bombs and suicide bombing attacks against civilians. The missiles represent the Israeli retaliations against those responsible for the attacks. Had this cartoon been produced today, the missiles could be either those from Hamas or those from Israel. And it would have been quite an intelligent and ambiguous statement, open to interpretation and likely generating vigorous debate. But it was not. It was created when only Israel was using missiles. Therefore, I see it as a cynical statement against Israel alone. While I might not like, and I do not, it is legitimate.
And some of his stuff related to the Israel-Arab conflict is just plain funny:
Aislin’s Swastika-Trump Cartoon Again
Now that we have browsed through some of Aislin’s relevant cartoons, let us return to the original petition filed in protest against the one featuring Trump and a swastika-coat-of-arms. The petition, in part, says:
Hitler would be proud of Quebec!
For a few years now, we are living through a terrifying rise in antisemitism, every month we see and hear of horrific acts of violence and hatred towards Jews, here in Quebec; swastikas keyed on cars and spray painted on houses and synagogues, violent attacks and beatings on innocent Jews, synagogues vandalized, violence and discrimination in CEGEPS and Universities, BDS infesting every impressionable young mind they can get their claws into, just to mention a few..and now swastikas proudly posted and promoted by Quebec Mainstream Media.
Satirical cartoons have always been somewhat humorous, so am I to believe that Quebec has cheapened the horrors of the holocaust so much over time that a swastika is now considered funny?
A worldwide war crime symbol is a humorous in Quebec?
Hitler printed the swastika in his newspapers.
Quebec is testing the waters.
Today it’s social media, tomorrow on the front page.
Quebec laws seem to depend on the religion of the victim.
Carte blanche to promote hatred for Jews?
This was maliciously timed.
The majority of the province is in isolation, social media having access to a much larger audiance, whom now has an incredible amount of time now to spend online.
At a time when people are at their most vulnerable, out of work, insecure and scared…
We are a tiny percentage in the Quebec population and it seems we’ve overstayed our welcome. Our lives are in danger.
Now you, dear reader, tell me if the publication of this Aislin cartoon is an example of antisemitism or not? I do not. In fact, I find this petition a bit of overkill. But you do not have to agree with me.
Even if it is not antisemitic, could it be used by antisemites maliciously? Perhaps, except that it is about Trump and not about the Jews.
Do you think it appropriate, in any case, to use the Nazi symbol when criticizing Trump or any other world leader? I think there would have to be strong evidence that that leader actually did what the Nazis did. I have not seen anyone come close to that. Therefore, use of the swastika to label anyone who does not come close to behaving like a Nazi cheapens the symbol and threatens to neutralize it and make it meaningless. Hmmm. Perhaps that is what some people want.
But Mosher? I think not. He was using it as a symbol of totalitarianism. In which case, when he modified it, he could have use the hammer-and-sickle rather than the “TT” that I looked up and could find no meaning for. “Trump Towers”? Naw. So the TT is largely nonsensical. But the hammer-and-sickle? That would make sense. Why did he not use that one? It would actually even correspond to what some people accused Trump of regarding his having won the elections. And some might even have found it funny.