"Your turn, Cartoonist"

The journalist and Middle East-specialist, who has been an advocate for taking action for Syria since the very beginning, Anders Jerichow, said something very thought-provoking the other day:

- Have we lost our sense of empathy?

By "we" he meant the old democracies and not least the level of debate within Denmark itself. Are we feeling so safe that we have forgotten to take an interest in those, who are in trouble?

Empathy as the ability to transgress one's own mental boundaries, creating the possibility of a common ground for understanding. Previous generations have passed on the insight of worse times, ensuring a memory living on, even when not directly experienced. But the remembrance of it disappears when it is no longer felt necessary.

The family of my paternal grandfather firmly believed that every second generation would lose their lives on the battlefield forcing the next generation to start all over again. Only in turn to see their children lose their lives in the next war. They were French-Alsatians and lived in the European version of the Middle East-conflict.

It made a strong impact on me when my Uncle told me how my great-great-great-grandmother was among the women struggling across the battlefield after the French-German war in 1870/71 looking for their men, hoping in a way not to find them among the fallen. The women themselves were starving, looking for anything to eat, with the rotting horses right in front of them. Only that in itself posed a danger to them. Being allowed to eat horse-meat or refraining from it would expose immediately to the other women, which side they were on.

We would not wish this for anyone, but if being in a safe place has left us unable to take part even in mind on the situation of others, then we have lost, not gained. The Iranian exiled cartoonist Mana Neyestani has reflected this through the archetype of suffering. Anyone who has witnessed a loved and dear one fight for his or her life recognize the strength, the anger and the will to survive, and the ultimate pain of it not being possible:

Mana Neyestani: The Gospel According to Facebook,
March 17, 2014.

Each joint of his body is bent, making him a landscape of high-lights and shadow. The effect creates a body tense with existential pain. But just as we feel his pain upon us, the dramatic change of perspective with its greater force of the stark contrasts of black and white makes mere modulations of his own drawn lines. Looming behind him, but all the more dangerous when exposing him to the strongest light of being. 

It is a story told in shadow and light, making us feel his pain in the outburst as well as the silent pain that ensues. We share the revelatory light of the Seen with him as today's proof of existence. This is the dimension of the great poet, conveying understanding to us, changing us in the process.

This was the role assigned to Christ in 1000 years of art history. So time to let him take a break, while the cartoonist takes over. And by this not just making the latter the victim of the story. The cartoonist is the activist, dynamically taking his responsibility upon him, as the one who makes the human tale come alive.

Per Marquard Otzen, Nail-gazing, April 10, 2009.
- Your turn, Cartoonist

The artworks shown are courtesy of their artists and must not be reproduced without their permission.

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