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6 things I learnt from the cartoon saga

'Freedom of expression' in Malta is nothing more than double standards

A cartoon by Seb Tanti Burlo commenting about the Żurrieq double-decker bus tragedy in a very brutal manner opened the floodgates of popular opinion.

The whole thing fast descended into mass hysteria, as is the wont of many things that slightly challenge the status quo here.

The Burlo cartoon brings to mind the Charlie Hebdo cover.The Burlo cartoon brings to mind the Charlie Hebdo cover.

A shocking number of people didn't confine their reactions to dislike or disagreement with the cartoon, which would have been perfectly fine. No-one is obliged to like it. I myself had very mixed reactions to it.

But no, they wanted Burlo's head on a plate. Literally so, to read some of the online comments. Here are some of the things the whole story taught me.

1. It is impossible to stem the tidal wave of ignorance. If the people decide that you're making fun of two dead people, that is what they will continue to believe. The actual reality is irrelevant.

2. A number of Malta's opinionists will only stick their neck out as long as a particular issue fits the narrative they are pushing, or is led by one of their klikka. If it doesn't, it is denounced as a means to distract the people from the really important issues at hand.

We only liked Charlie Hebdo because the Muslims hated it

Because, even when it comes to a list of things things that are wrong in Malta, it is a question of 'us and them', of tribal divisiveness. If it's not the bandwagon I hitched a ride on, then I will publicly throw doubt on its purpose and integrity.

3. We only liked Charlie Hebdo because the Muslims hated it. The magazine famously ran a cartoon of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who had drowned on the shores of Turkey, on its cover some months after the magazine's offices were attacked.  

The words that accompanied the cartoon were along the lines of "Welcome to migrants." A clown character nearby proclaimed: "Promo! 2 kids menus for the price of one".

The cartoon did create controversy, as expected. But this was shortly after Charlie Hebdo was 'attacked by Muslims', so all the Maltese kept their JeSuisCharlie profile pictures regardless.

Hypocrites, the whole lot of you.

4. Freedom of expression is still confused with 'do I agree with/like this?' If the answer is yes, then freedom of expression applies. If the answer is no, it is not a question of freedom of expression but of good taste/respect/decency. #doublestandards

The discussion about Burlo's cartoon was fast sidetracked to whether the public agreed with/liked/was offended by the depiction. Flash news: your feelings about it are irrelevant. The problem here is not those who didn't like the cartoon and said so, but those who wanted to stop Burlo from doing it/wanted to see him prosecuted/reported him/threatened actual physical harm.

Please do take a minute to consider the implications of this statement. A large number of people still believe that the cartoonist should be forcefully stopped by the law courts and prosecuted criminally. Sure, and would you also like a slice of democracy, with that, or are you allergic?

5. Many still do not get the nature of satire or social commentary. They see a cartoon, their reaction is 'it must be funny'. Which is why pretty much everyone viewed Burlo's cartoon as the artist making fun of dead people. Burlo's cartoon was not funny at all and he didn't intend it to be. 

6. Our parochial nature is here to stay. I give up.

 

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