Pen and sword vs. Is­lamic State

With its car­toon con­test, Iran is now us­ing both against the Sunni mil­i­tant group

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Ramin Mostaghim and Nabih Bu­los Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dents Mostaghim and Bu­los re­ported from Tehran and Beirut. Times staff writer Pa­trick J. McDon­nell in Beirut con­trib­uted to this report.

TEHRAN— Whether the pen is might­ier than the sword may be open for de­bate, but one coun­try is tak­ing no chances and us­ing both weapons in the fight against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

Iran, which has pro­vided mil­i­tary aid to the Iraqi and Syr­ian gov­ern­ments in their bat­tles against the Is­lamist ex­trem­ist fac­tion, hosted a just-com­pleted car­toon con­test with a very pointed goal: us­ing car­i­ca­ture to mock the mil­i­tants.

The win­ning en­tries were be­ing shown last week here in the Ira­nian cap­i­tal.

The event, dubbed the Daesh In­ter­na­tional Car­toon and Car­i­ca­ture Con­test (af­ter a pe­jo­ra­tive Ara­bic acro­nym for Is­lamic State), was de­signed to ex­pose the group’s “true na­ture,” ac­cord­ing to Ma­soud Sho­jaei Ta­batabaei, head of the House of Car­toon, an Ira­nian or­ga­ni­za­tion aligned with rul­ing hard-lin­ers that or­ga­nized the event.

“Daesh tries to as­so­ci­ate it­self with Is­lam, but in essence it has no idea about Is­lam,” Ta­batabaei said in an in­ter­view with Iran’s Press TV last week.

Since first an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary, or­ga­niz­ers say, the con­test has drawn more than 1,000 works by artists from more than 40 na­tions, the en­tries com­ing from as far as Brazil, Malaysia and Aus­tralia.

Judges pared the sub­mis­sions to 270 for ex­hi­bi­tion. Win­ners Aref Nazari and Ali Reza Pakdel each re­ceived a $1,500 cash prize.

The de­struc­tion of Is­lamic State, which has cut a bloody path of de­struc­tion across large por­tions of Iraq and Syria, is a rare for­eign pol­icy goal em­braced by both Tehran and Wash­ing­ton, although the ad­ver­saries ve­he­mently deny any co­op­er­a­tion in their re­spec­tive anti-mil­i­tant cam­paigns.

Is­lamic State is an ul­tra­fun­da­men­tal­ist Sunni Mus­lim move­ment that views Shi­ites as heretics and rou­tinely slaugh­ters Shi­ite cap­tives. Iran is a Shi­ite theoc­racy.

Some of the car­i­ca­tures on dis­play serve a dual pur­pose: ex­pos­ing the bar­bar­ity of Is­lamic State while serv­ing as a chore­ographed pro­pa­ganda tool against the United States, Is­rael, Saudi Ara­bia and other geopo­lit­i­cal ri­vals of Iran.

One car­toon echoes the grue­some ex­ploits of the masked Bri­tish mil­i­tant known as Ji­hadi John, who has ap­peared in Is­lamic State videos of the be­head­ings of cap­tives, in­clud­ing U.S. jour­nal­ists James Fo­ley and Steven Sot­loff. In the car­i­ca­ture, his knife is slash­ing through Nim­rud, the an­cient Assyr­ian city in north­ern Iraq that was bull­dozed by mil­i­tants this year. The group has de­stroyed his­toric sites it views as idol­a­trous, evok­ing global out­rage.

Another car­toon de­picts Is­lamic State leader Abu Bakr Bagh­dadi, his mouth set in a cruel gri­novera thick “beard” of blood-drenched sword blades. Im­printed on the blood-spat­tered wall be­hind him are Stars of David.

That car­toon, like oth­ers on dis­play, re­flects the oft­stated view of Ira­nian lead­ers that Is­lamic State is an in­sid­i­ous creation of Is­rael, the United States and its global part­ners, es­pe­cially Sunni-dom­i­nated Saudi Ara­bia, Iran’s chief re­gional an­tag­o­nist.

Of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton and al­lied cap­i­tals dis­miss the sug­ges­tion as delu­sional. Still, U.S. con­spir­acy the­o­ries, long a main stay of Ira­nian po­lit­i­cal dis­course, pro­vided a clear un­der­cur­rent for the car­i­ca­ture com­pe­ti­tion. In one car­toon, Pres­i­dent Obama is por­trayed en­gag­ing in a del­i­cate waltz with an en­rap­tured mil­i­tant.

A win­ning car­toon showed King Sal­man, Saudi Ara­bia’s new monarch, with the body of a rat­tlesnake.

“Daesh rep­re­sents Amer­i­can­ized Is­lam,” said Ta­batabaei of the House of Car­toon.

Atta Kenare AFP/Getty Im­ages

CAR­I­CA­TURES dis­played in Tehran are part of a con­test tar­get­ing Is­lamic State, but the U.S., Is­rael, Saudi Ara­bia and other na­tions also come un­der fire.

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