|Cartoons against extremism|
|In his new book, 'Cartoons from a Berber,' Dutch-Moroccan artist Abttoy wields a sharp pen at both Islamic and Dutch extremists. Should we expect a backlash as with the Danish cartoons? No, says Abttoy, "I don't attack Islam, only those who abuse it." By MOHAMMAD AL-AYOUBI
Menassat, Here's what's happening in Arab media.
In one of Abttoy's cartoons former Dutch Integration Minister Rita Verdonk is seen addressing the imam of the town of Tilburg who refuses to shake her hand.
"It's an honor to meet you, Imam, but now we should really get to work," the Minister says.
The Imam answers, "I apologize that my religion forbids me from shaking hands with you for fear of being aroused."
It is a typical example of how Abttoy's cartoons make fun of religious extremism.
Abttoy admits that he is first and foremost a plastic artist, a poet and a musician. He only decided to become a cartoonist after the terrorist attacks in New York City and especially those in the Madrid metro.
"I never considered publishing a book of cartoons until the March 11 attacks in Madrid," the artist said in an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide. "I was in the Spanish capital at the time, and I experienced firsthand how everyone with Moroccan traits was considered a terrorist."
The climate of fear was such that Moroccans in Madrid were afraid to leave their homes to go to work, and many were deported by the Spanish authorities.
"I was deeply affected by the Madrid attacks, so I decided to become a cartoonist so I could point my pen at the extremists," Abttoy said.
His pen targets all extremists, especially the radical Imams who come from the Middle East to preach to the European Muslims, and homegrown Muslim extremists such as Mohammad Bouyeri, who assassinated Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh in 2004. But Dutch extremists such as the leader of the Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, are in his sights too.
It is in this violent political debate, that has torn apart Dutch society in the past few years, that Abttoy finds his inspiration.
"I only fear God," Abttoy answers with a roaring laugh when asked if he fears the reactions of the extremists to his book.
"You should never be afraid; it will only make you an easier target", he said, adding, "I am ready for everything."
But he doesn't expect the kind of violent and angry reactions that spread across the Muslim world and Europe after the publication of the infamous Danish newspaper cartoons depicting the Prophet.
There is an essential difference between his cartoons and the Danish ones, he says.
"I don't attack Islam nor the Prophet as did the Danish cartoonists for the simple reason that my father and all of my family are Muslims. I consider Islam to be an integral part of my Amazigi [Berber] culture, which is by itself a strong barrier against all types of extremism. I think the Danish artists had very little information about Islam. They provoked Muslims with their cartoons."
Abttoy was born in 1963 in Morocco. He studied plastic arts at the Ibn AL-Haytham High School in Fez during the 1980s and went on to study plastic arts and arts history at the Université de Marseilles. He came to The Netherlands in 1992, and he has had many exhibitions in the country and abroad since then. His cartoons are published in the newspaper Kontrast, among others.
In his foreword, Jos Collignon of De Volkskrant newspaper, said that Abttoy's cartoons are aimed at the lack of religious compassion. "He protests the oppression of women and the double moral standards of the 'bearded ones' with an intensity that is the hallmark of someone who has come to awareness."
Abttoy himself says his cartoons are aimed at all extremists who abuse religion and politics for their own purposes; they are not against the Muslim religion.
A spokesperson for Abttoy's publishing house, Extra, added that "criticizing Islam doesn't mean that we are against Islam. This is freedom of expression, and Holland is known for its freedom."
Abttoy is currently working on a new book of cartoons treating a number of hot issues in Dutch society. One of his targets will be the so-called 'Meiden van Halal' (which translates roughly to 'Halal Babes'), three veiled Dutch-Moroccan sisters who have their own TV show.
This article was republished with permission from Radio Netherlands Worldwide.
Marseille,03 05 2008