Making readers think – and hopefully remember
It’s easy to forget after 50 years of relative peace between Christians and Jews that things have not always been so calm.
It only takes a few generations, maybe three, maybe four, before we start to think of the greatest mass genocide ever as “history,” and grow a little bothered each time someone brings it up.
A few decades of constant, low-level warfare is enough to make anyone numb to the passions and principles behind the weekly slaughter of Israelis and Palestinians.
It’s all so easy to forget, but forget we must not.
Over the last several weeks, ever since The Aspen Times published a political cartoon showing the blind, wheelchair-bound Sheik Ahmed Yassin crucified like Jesus with Israeli missiles, we and our readers have had almost daily reminders of the Jewish plight, mostly from local residents offended by what they see as an anti-Semitic statement.
The cartoon, drawn by a Latin American, was inspired by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to blow Yassin, one of the most feared terrorist leaders in the Palestinian movement, to pieces as he left a Mosque in the Gaza strip.
The image was startling, at the very least, for many. It was downright offensive, for many others.
But no matter the emotional response, the cartoon made people think, and on a number of different levels.
How is it that one of the most humble-looking men in the world, made so by his disability, could prompt Israel to dispatch a heavily armed helicopter to kill him?
Because, from the Israelis’ perspective, he’s a killer. Hundreds of Jews have had their lives cut short as a direct result of the sheik and his followers in Hamas, the militant Palestinian organization he built. This was a man who refused to do anything with Israelis but kill them.
How then is it that a cartoonist from Latin America, a center of Catholicism, could imagine depicting Yassin in Christ’s final pose?
Maybe the cartoonist is warning Israel and the rest of the world that there may be a reaction that can’t possibly be fathomed – much as those who crucified Jesus could not have anticipated the rise of Christianity.
And how is it that Christians, especially fundamentalist Christians who are Israel’s most ardent supporters in the United States, haven’t risen up with the same indignation that Jews have? After all, the cartoon depicts a known terrorist in the Savior’s final pose.
The point of publishing the cartoon was to make people think. It made me think. It made everyone I’ve talked with about it think. It most certainly made many people think enough to write a letter, promise to “spread the word” about our supposed anti-Semitism, threaten to pull their advertising.
The Yassin cartoon presented an opinion, a way of looking at the world that is at once startling, thought-provoking and even offensive. It succeeded on that very basic mission of a newspaper’s opinion section – to present different points of view about our community and world. In the weeks since, we have published other points of view about Israel’s action against Hamas, about the cartoon and about our decision to publish it.
Just because we published it, doesn’t mean it represents the official opinion of The Aspen Times. The fact is we have no official opinion on Israel’s decision to kill Yassin. If we ever do share an opinion, it will appear as an editorial, not a cartoon. Editorials are the only place this newspaper expresses its opinion.
I asked Jewish leaders to find someone from their community who would write a column to run today. One person I spoke with didn’t call back with an answer, as promised; another said he didn’t know if it was a good idea, and told me he would talk about it with me in a few days; a third didn’t return my message.
I urge them to reconsider their collective silence. Attacks and indignation in the letters to the editor section are not particularly effective in communicating Jewish fears about Yassin and offense over one particular point of view about what his death may mean.
History is just around the corner. If it gets much farther away, we will be doomed to forget. And repeat.
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