The Pen is Mightier than the Sword: Syrian Cartoonist’s Fight against al-Assad

Art can be a very effective means of expressing personal beliefs and ideologies, and sometimes that art tells a very interesting story. Political cartoons, in a way, are a perfect example of a story told over a long periods of time. In a sense, political cartoons are generally aspect-to-aspect graphic novels of current events. When we dip into the archive of political cartoons, it can act an illustrated version of a history book. However, art is subject to interpretation and bias. Political cartoons are told from the perspective of an individual, and while that perspective is often shared by the masses, there will always be someone who disagrees with an artist’s statement. Sure, any critic can be harsh and potentially degrading to one’s self-confidence, but at least their words are  only in print: black and white, with no physical impact on the artist. This was not the case for the beloved Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzart who was kidnapped, physically assaulted, and dumped on the streets of Damascus. For years Farzart has been know for publishing political cartoons that spark controversy. His art exposes the hypocrisy and corruption within the government and wealthy elite.

Farzat is no stranger to violence either. In 1989, after showcasing his art at the Institut du Monde Arabe in France, Farzat received death threats from m Hussein. This has never stopped Farzat before, so as Bashar al-Assad’s grew so did Farzat’s artwork, and he aimed his pen right for the president. While Farzat created many political cartoons that commented on al-Assad himself, or his politics, one cartoon in particular lead to the violent outlast towards Farzat. This cartoon of al-Assad hitching a ride with Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya lead to extremist kidnapping Farzat on August 25, 2011.

It was reported that the men suspected were part of a pro-regime militia, and the injuries Farzat received were focused on his hands. His beaten body was dumped on a  street near the airport and bystander found his and took his to the hospital. The extent of the damage can be seen in this image.  Farzat claims the violence was only suppose to serve as a warning, but it proved his artwork had been considered significant enough to caused a stir. Farzat stated, “Every day the revolution inches a step forward. I am very optimistic. Do you see anyone turning back?”

Turning back is the last thing Farzat wishes to do. In fact, his assault did not go unnoticed. Time magazine awarded Ali Farzat as one of the 100 Most Influential People. He has gone back to cartooning and spreading his beliefs for the Middle East. Farzat was so unscathed by the attacks against him he released a cartoon he helped co-create with other artists. Here is his response to his kidnappers:


  3 comments for “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword: Syrian Cartoonist’s Fight against al-Assad

  1. phantommiria6
    February 14, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Reading this was actually inspiring. It’s encouraging to see someone stand up for what they believe in, especially despite the threats of torture and death. It’s also noteworthy I think, that Farzat chose comics as his medium for rebellion, though I suppose I can understand why. Writings are very likely to be censored and unless you have your own broadcasting studio, radio commentary and visual performances are likely to be censored as well. There’s something to be said for drawings though, and that definitely plays into interpretation. I suppose if you’re clever enough to hide your “plain” meaning well enough, then the people you’re openly mocking might not know until after the piece has become widespread. What the dictators/military regimes might not interpret right away could be commonplace to the everyday citizen and before you know it, the multitudes have the message. Though honestly I can’t say based on the examples you’ve given that is the case here. Farzat’s more than a little obvious in his depictions. I think, in this instance this is a “freedom writer” who simply won’t be suppressed and his courage and perseverance really is admirable. Thanks for sharing this. On a side note, where does he usually publish his work? Does he have a magazine, newspaper, or website that is supporting him?

    • dlederle
      February 19, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      Political cartoons are fascinating, and while slightly outside of graphic novels, I think we can apply some of the interpretive tools we’ve learned to them.

      That being said, as the commentor above noted, political cartoons are frequently not subtle. The point is to clearly and unambiguously communicate.

      I think the “safety” of the political cartoon lies in the juvenile reputation of the comic medium. It is easy for those in power to dismiss. However, as the case of Farzat demonstrates, when done well a political cartoon can be just as dangerous to the status quo as any revolutionary pamphlet.

  2. Tara
    February 20, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    For the first comment, here are two sites with Farzat’s work. The first is his site and completely in Arabic. The second is run through Creative Syria and in English.

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