Ali Ferzat: Disciplining a Cartoonist

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"The hand of the people is over their hands" (Drawing: Nidal al-Khairy)

By: Muhammad Shalabi

Published Saturday, August 27, 2011

Damascus — Prominent Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat is recovering in hospital after masked men kidnapped and tortured him last Thursday. Ferzat, born in 1946 in Hama, was heading home when he was attacked while driving through the Umayyad Square in the center of Damascus. After assaulting him, the men threw him out in a distant area on the Airport Road. His head was bleeding, his face was bruised, and his body covered in cigarette burns. Shortly after, he was brought to al-Razi Hospital where he received treatment. His car was later found destroyed, but still contained his mobile phone and prescription glasses.

Ferzat’s assault stoked fears among Syrian intellectual circles that the shabbiha (the regime’s paramilitary thugs) would now attack prominent members of the Syrian opposition. Fears escalated further when the glass front of novelist Nabil Sulayman’s home was smashed in the village of al-Bodi, near Latakia. The street sign pointing to house of renowned poet Adonis in the village of al-Qasabin was also destroyed.

As soon as news of the attack spread, activists on Facebook began to post pictures of the famous cartoonist in his hospital bed. The bruises were clear to see on his face and hands. Pages were set in his support, one titled “We are all Ali Ferzat.”

Anwar al-Bunni, director of the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research, denounced the authorities’ methods of “assaulting intellectuals and those who voice their opinions, which have become well known to all.”

Ferzat published many of his cartoons on his personal blog, which was blocked by authorities yesterday. In these cartoons, he denounced the suppression of peaceful protests and satirized prominent authorities. He also appeared on a number of Arab satellite channels making fiery statements against the tyrannical regime and its repression of freedom. Ferzat’s own newspaper, al-Domari, was banned a decade ago because of its focus on the malignancy of corruption in Syria.

An alleged self-portrait of Ali Farzat carrying his signature. Update: al-Akhbar has confirmed that it was drawn by a close friend of his.An alleged self-portrait of Ali Farzat carrying his signature. Update: al-Akhbar has confirmed that it was drawn by a close friend of his.

A number of Syrian intellectuals issued a statement denouncung the attack on Ferzat as “a crime against one of the symbols of modern Syrian culture and one of the most talented and critical cartoonists.” They placed all responsibility on “Syrian security forces” and called it “a barbaric message [meant] to spread fear among intellectuals in an attempt to curb their solidarity with the freedom movement spreading in Syrian cities and villages.” The group called on “all Arab and international intellectuals and artists to denounce this heinous crime and to stand in solidarity with our people, our intellectuals, and our artists.”

Among those who signed the statement are Sadeq Jalal al-Azm, Riyad Sayf, Burhan Ghalioun, Yusuf Abdlaki, Michel Kilo, Faris al-Helo, Hayer Hayer, Tayyeb Tazini, Abd al-Aziz al-Khayr, Manzir al-Masri, Usama Ghanam, Munir al-Sharani, Nasser Hussein, Ghazwan Zarakli, Basma Qudumani, Salam Kawakibi, Aisha Arnaout, Samar Yazbik, Fadi Yaziji, Zuhayr Dabbagh, Ibrahim Samuel, Rula Rikbi, Maher Sharaf al-Din, Baylakan Riyad, Usama Muhammad, Maram al-Masri, Darina al-Jundi, Hassan Abbas, Ali Atasi, Bayan Safadi, Edward Shahda, Yasser Safi, Hala Al-Abdullah, Rasha Umran, Nabil Sulayman, and Manzir Halloum.

[The text of the statement in Arabic]


"An alleged self-portrait of Ali Farzat. While it carries his signature, some have reported it to be a fake."

That couldn't be an "alleged self portrait", and certainly neither
a 'fake'.
If the pictures of the artist in hospital with his smashed hands are true indeed, it is obvious that Ali Ferzat cannot be the author of the drawing, and that the real (and talented) drawer put the tortured Ferzat's well known signature as an homage to him. It is rather a meta-linguistic use of an icon. In the same way that, i.e, MonaLisa's image in a soda advertisement doesn't imply that somebody is pretending to have painted the iconic portrait...the author of the drawing is not trying to "imitate" or "copy" or pretend that he is Ferzat!

On the other hand, I find the tone of the Akhbar report quite detached and cold. Does the reporter have doubts about the identity of the attackers?

This is really just a huge bummer.

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