PANEL DISCUSSION | ‘Cartoons and taboo: Dancing in a visual minefield’

Some people have demanded that lines should be drawn with respect to “acceptable” and “unacceptable” forms of provocation. Is there such a thing as “acceptable” or “unacceptable” satire? This question is heavily influenced by political and cultural values and principles. For Europeans, political satire, comics, and cartoons have been integral part of culture since the Enlightenment. Satirical cartoons are an inherent part of culture in France and elsewhere in the world – a tradition at the heart of the legitimate exercise of free speech.

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris against Charlie Hebdo and the controversy ten years ago related to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons raise some fundamental questions. Does an offensive or disrespectful portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed in a satirical cartoon realize or betray European values of pluralism and multiculturalism? Some media in the US and in Islamic countries refrained from reprinting the international signature cartoon “Je suis Charlie” after the terror attacks. Is this self-censorship a benchmark for an inclusive society or a characteristic lack of freedom of expression?

How do we defend the freedom of secular-artistic expression against other peoples’ religiously-motivated fundamental rejection of such satire? How do we show respect towards those individuals who do not necessarily take part in or support the secular culture of their own country? Finally, how can we successfully integrate two fundamental pillars of transatlantic societies - respect for religious belief/practice and free expression of ideas - to create the open and pluralistic communities towards which we as Europeans and Americans have been striving for centuries? 

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