how the stones that a debate leaves overturned come
to reveal little gems that illustrate perfectly
the point being made by at least some featuring
in the debate. I had not heard from John Kennedy
in quite some time. So when he got in touch after
having listened into a BBC Radio Talk Back
spot featuring myself and a Muslim professor discussing
the decision by the Blanket to reprint the
Danish cartoons I sensed immediately, given that
John is a cartoonist, his reason for the call was
to offer support for the decision. I was not to
enough the first time I met John was in St Mary's
College during the West Belfast festival a number
of years ago. The irony lies in my reason for having
been there. As part of my work with a Palestinian
human rights group, I had volunteered with many
others in to help out on the Palestine Day event
being staged as part of the Festival week's activities.
The Palestinian population is heavily Muslim, although
this was immaterial to my decision to support them.
Their human rights were being abused in the foulest
way imaginable by the murderous government of Israel.
I had no idea then that my belief in human rights
for all Muslims, whether in the face of Israeli
or Islamic assault, would lead to a situation whereby
some of those I had previously worked with over
the years would begin to infer that I was pursuing
a racist agenda against Muslims, even if out of
ignorance. The inference is deeply offensive. But
the right of people to express that opinion must
always trump my right not to be offended. Otherwise
RIP to the concept of free speech.
a break during the Palestine Day event I wandered
across St Mary's to look at other exhibitions. By
chance I found John Kennedy was staging his work.
Initially intending to do nothing more than have
a cursory glance, I found myself staying longer
than expected. The political cartoons on display
were of such a quality the experience was similar
to casually picking up a book in a shop and becoming
so enthralled by it that half of it is read through
before the realisation of schedules and promised
appointments being broken kicks in. Fortunately
the respect for each other's work was mutual. John
seemed to like the Blanket as much as I enjoyed
his cartoons. He did not profess to agree with anything
written on it, but with the free spirit of the creative
artist, he resented curbs on intellectual freedom.
that front little had changed when he contacted
the Blanket to endorse the Blanket's
decision to run with the publication of the Danish
cartoons in support of twelve writers who had signed
a manifesto protesting what they felt was Islamic
totalitarianism. Vehemently anti-racist, he felt
the issue was one of free speech and the public's
right to know what was at the centre of any dispute
before making a decision for themselves in relation
to its resolution.
also had his own story to tell in relation to cartoons
and their potential to unpick the narrative of those
with unaccountable power which they don't want challenged.
Daily Ireland had initially employed him
as a resident cartoonist. His brief was to offer
a sketched take on the prominent events in any week
which would then feature in the paper. A big news
story last year was the attendance by the McCartney
women at the Sinn Fein ard fheis. Too good an opportunity
to be missed, John Kennedy submitted a brace of
cartoons on the matter to the paper. One
showed Gerry Adams addressing the party faithful.
It was pitched to show just how faithful the party
members actually are, being told to applaud on cue.
The other addressed
the party's approach to policing, with Gerry Kelly
being depicted in a T-shirt which proclaimed: Disband
the PSNI 'for now.' Seemingly it was too much
for the political sensibilities of the paper's management
and backers. They were offended and felt the right
not to be offended gave them veto over the right
to offend. The cartoons never featured and John
was never contacted again.