TEHRAN, February 14, 2006 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – An Iranian newspaper launched on Monday, February 13, a Holocaust cartoons contest reportedly to test the freedom of expression in the West after the publication of Danish caricatures lampooning Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
The first entry was from renowned Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig, according to the Web site organizing the competition with Iran's biggest selling newspaper Hamshahri, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"As a show of solidarity with the Muslim world, and an exercise in free speech, I would like to submit a cartoon to you on the theme of the Holocaust," Leunig was quoted as saying in a statement posted on the site.
The first of Leunig's two cartoons shows a poor man with a Star of David on his back walking towards the Auschwitz death camp in 1945 with the words "Work Brings Freedom" over the entrance.
The second shows the same scene but depicting "Israel 2002" with the slogan "War Brings Peace" over entrance and the same man walking towards it bearing a rifle.
The newspaper said the contest was open until May 5. It did not announce what the prize would be but said each cartoonist would receive a book of the cartoons submitted.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has already prompted international anger by dismissing the Holocaust as a "myth" used to justify the creation of Israel.
Ahmadinejad asserted on Saturday, February 11, that the Palestinians and Iraqis were suffering a "real Holocaust."
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Holocaust refers to the "systematic state-sponsored killing of Jewish men, women, and children and others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II."
The commonly used figure for the number of Jewish victims is six million.
However, the figure has been questioned by some historians and intellectuals, chiefly French Muslim author Roger Garaudy.
The Danish cartoons have enflamed Muslims worldwide. (Reuters).
The Melbourne-based Leunig said that he wanted to reveal the "West's hypocrisy" when it comes to free speech.
"I have had some difficulty getting this work published in my own country, and I believe it would help highlight the hypocrisy of the West's attitude to free speech if you were to publish it," he told the Iranian contest organizers.
Hamshahri launched the contest with the title "What is the limit on freedom of expression in the West?"
Its graphics editor Farid Mortazavi said earlier this month that the aim was to turn the tables on the assertion that newspapers can print offensive material in the name of freedom of expression.
"Freedom of expression has always been a pretext for Westerners... to insult the beliefs of Muslims," the Iranian daily charged in its advertisement for the contest.
"This assault is taking place while criticizing many issues such as the crimes of the United States and Israel as well as historical events like the Holocaust are seen as an unforgivable crime all over the West."
Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Danish mass-circulation Jyllands Posten, published 12 cartoons mocking Prophet Muhammad in September after he had invited 40 cartoonists to depict the prophet under the free speech mantra.
The offensive cartoons have enflamed the Muslim world especially after they had been reprinted by several European dailies in solidarity with the paper's freedom of expression excuse.
Rose was sent on an indefinite leave last week only one day after he told CNN he would consider publishing the Holocaust cartoons.
Three years ago, Jyllands-Posten refused to publish cartoon of Jesus Christ because of being "offensive" to Christians.
No to Retaliation
The Iranian paper, however, was urged by Muslim leaders and organizations to refrain from publishing the Holocaust cartoons.
"We view both the printing and reprinting of the hateful cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad and the recent initiative to print hateful cartoons about the Holocaust as utterly unacceptable," the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) said in a statement sent to IslamOnline.net.
"As Canadian Muslims, we stand firmly without reservation against all hateful or malicious representations of any ethnic, racial or religious group, and we denounce all acts and statements of racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia."
Ali El-Samman, the head of the Egypt-based Al-Azhar's Interfaith Dialogue Committee, has also condemned the Iranian paper's decision.
"It is a very bad move. You cannot correct one wrong with another wrong," he told AFP in an interview.
"I believe there are things in the history of men and humanity that should never be taken lightly, including the Nazi concentration camps."