Published February 13, 2006
TEHRAN, Iran – A prominent Iranian newspaper opened a competition Monday seeking cartoons about the Holocaust in what it called a test of whether the West would be as supportive of freedom of expression over Nazi genocide as it was with caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Hamshahri, one of Iran's top five newspapers, published the international call for cartoons in English and Farsi under the title: "What is the Limit of Western Freedom of Expression?" on its Web site. The announcement also appeared on page 31 of the print version of the paper.
"We don't intend retaliation over the drawings of the prophet. We just want to show that freedom is restricted in the West," said Davood Kazemi, who has been cartoon editor at the paper since 1992 and is executive manager of the contest.
The contest comes in the wake of widespread Muslim fury over the drawings of the Prophet Muhammad and a few months after hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provoked outrage in Europe for saying Israel should be "wiped off the map" and that the Holocaust was a "myth."
The drawings of Islam's most revered figure -- including one that depicts the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb -- first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September. They were recently reprinted in several publications in Europe, the United States and elsewhere in what publishers said was a show of solidarity for freedom of expression.
Islam widely holds that representations of the prophet are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.
"We expect those papers who published the cartoons (of Muhammad) to reproduce the cartoons which will be selected during our competition," Kazemi said. "Even Israeli cartoonists could send their works to the contest."
Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the Danish newspaper in which the prophet drawings first appeared in September, said earlier this month that his paper would run satirical cartoons about the Holocaust.
But Jyllands-Posten's editor in chief, Carsten Juste, later dismissed Rose's comment, saying "in no circumstances will publish Holocaust cartoons." Rose went on indefinite leave last week.
Kazemi noted that the Iranian paper would not accept any "insulting" cartoons. He did not elaborate.
The call for drawings said that in the West, it was "an unforgiven crime" to debate and review issues such as "looting and crimes perpetrated by the U.S. and Israel, as well as alleged historical events like the Holocaust."
It said the paper was soliciting contributions on the theme of the Holocaust and the limit of Western freedom of expression.
"In the wake of the publication of the profane cartoons in several European newspapers, Hamshahri is going to measure the sanctity of freedom of expression among the Westerners," the announcement said.
May 5 is the deadline for entries and each contestant can enter up to three submissions.
"Some weeks after the deadline we will announce the results of the completion," Kazemi said. "Select cartoons will be reproduced in a catalog and the works will go on public display."
Kazemi stressed that the government had nothing to do with the contest.
"Government authorities did not affect decision-making process for holding the contest. The idea was independently initiated by the paper," Kazemi said.
The contest was co-sponsored by the Caricature House, a Tehran exhibition center for cartoons.
Both the newspaper and the exhibition center are owned by the Tehran Municipality, which is dominated by allies of Ahmadinejad, who is well-known for his opposition to Israel.
Iran also plans a conference to examine what it terms the scientific evidence for the Holocaust.
Ahmadinejad has called the Muhammad drawings a Zionist conspiracy. A series of angry demonstrations at embassies of European countries in Tehran caused Denmark to temporarily withdraw its ambassador on Saturday.
Most protests across the Muslim world were peaceful, but some -- including Iran, Syria and Lebanon -- have turned into violent attacks against Western diplomatic missions. In Afghanistan, nearly a dozen people were killed in protests.