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Mr Curly scared and lost in the real world

CARTOONIST Michael Leunig is the artist of choice of Australia's naive and obsessively self-absorbed set, and now of the mad mullahs who run Iran's media.

A master of the whimsical, his naive drawings of his principal character, Mr Curly, and Mr Curly's friend and philosophical guide, Vasco Pyjama, adorn the calendars, T-shirts and refrigerator doors of the naive readers of the Fairfax press and the self-absorbed Friends of the ABC, and will probably soon find new admirers across the Islamic world wherever hardliners gather.

There's an admirable simplicity in his little drawings, a simplicity which matches the minds of his fans. As his official biography notes, this childlike 60 year old "was a political cartoonist (in 1969) but lost his passion for drawing the outer-self of his characters instead of his passion, the inner-self. That day forth (in 1969) Michael commenced drawing, his now famous, cartoons about the human spirit which often included a man, a duck and a teapot".

And in 2002, though the bio doesn't mention it, this National Trust designated National Treasure expanded his repertoire of amusing characters to more notoriously include Jews, the Auschwitz death camp, and Palestinians, though, reasonably, the dying The Age newspaper's most recent revolving door editor Michael Gawenda drew the line at those depictions and exercised his editorial prerogative to substitute another cartoon.

It almost goes without saying the politically correct National Museum in Canberra hastened to purchase the cartoon for its collection.

Leunig's pitiful attempt to depict a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and the protective barrier the Israelis constructed to block Palestinian suicide bombers from murdering innocent civilians was not the last cartoon rejected by Gawenda on taste grounds.

The following year, the ABC's Media Watch host David Marr, who exhibited the rejected Auschwitz cartoon on air and published it on the taxpayer-funded program's website, treated his tiny audience to another of Leunig's dumped drawings and similarly lodged it on the ABC site, while attempting to make Gawenda look like a censorious opponent of free speech.

For some peculiar reason, a search through the files of Media Watch under its serial hosts would indicate that the ABC's spotlight on the media has never looked at the mountains of anti-Western, anti-Semitic material distributed through Islamic outlets in Australia.

Media Watch's latest host, Monica Attard, indicated the program might have published the Danish cartoons which triggered the series of extraordinarily well-orchestrated riots in which more than 10 Muslims died in Islamic countries far removed from the tang of either herring or Danish blue, but "ABC managing director Russell Balding says that we can't".

That's the same Mr Balding whose respect for free speech is such that he refused to front a Senate estimate's committee last year and who is now cutting short his contract with the ABC to pick up a more lucrative gig running Sydney airport.

Leunig has told the press from his bushland hideaway that he is devastated to find that his drawing had been entered into an anti-Semitic competition run by the Iranian newspaper, Hamshahri.

In an opinion piece, Leunig says has "had more than a gutful of hostility and hate mail in the past three years, all because I have resisted the rise of fascism - the idea of war."

But the cartoon was sent to Tehran by a writer from the puerile ABC program, The Chaser, and although that individual has apologised to the cartoonist, whether he will still have the police pursue this "malicious", "dark" and "sinister" perpetrator is to be seen. You see, The Chaser is not usually lumped in with the fascist conspiracy that obsesses The Age, its stellar cartoonist and its readers.

Curiously, the most obvious fascism around, Islamofascism, does not appear to have made an impression on Leunig nor do the suicide bombers who target the innocent. Maybe the cartoonist, like the Organisation of Islamic Countries which has for the past nine years refused to let the UN define terrorism, doesn't know a terrorist when he sees one.

As for his cartooning, he told an ABC audience in Perth earlier this week that he would never do a cartoon about the prophet Mohammed and neither would he do a cartoon about a deceased Aboriginal because it was offensive to indigenous people, nor cartoons which depicted racial stereotypes, for fear of causing offence.

As for lampooning Jesus, however, he enthusiastically said he would, because it was important to do so.

The young Leunig was one of my colleagues and friends on Victoria's now-defunct Newsday newspaper and I still have a couple of caricatures he drew of me which bring back fond memories of those heady days.

His selective sensitivities now leave me cold. That his cartoons could slot so easily into an anti-holocaust

competition run by a newspaper under the control of a regime headed by a lunatic who has pledged to wipe Israel off the map and who dismisses the deaths of some six million people as a "myth" is something he should be really concerned about, not whether his drawing was sent off without his permission.

The bottom line is that a cartoon he drew for publication was published on a website without his blessing.

Is the drawing any better for being published on the ABC's website? Not really. Is it less insensitive? No. So, what's your real beef, Michael?

Has your Mr Curly has strayed into the real world and found that Vasco Pyjama's anodyne thoughts are no substitute for common sense?

Might I suggest you stick to T-shirts and tea towels, patchouli oil and soothing lamplight. Your new-found Islamic publishers are not noted for their sense of humour and you might be safer drawing ducks.

Free speech exists in those nations you and your admirers like to mock as fascist, in the countries where fascism is a feature of daily life, they place fatwahs on cartoonists who mock their religion.

The Daily Telegraph


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