As a cartoonist, Ali made a career out of making fun of people. But when he was pulled from his car in central Damascus and beaten for making fun of President Bashar al-Assad, he had to ask: yield, or keep drawing?
Syrian political cartoonists don’t enjoy the best job stability– but over the course of his career, Ali Farzat has managed to publish more than 15,000 caricatures of local and international political figures. At one point last year, he was even given the go-ahead to open his own gallery in Damascus– an apparent gesture by the sometimes-oppressive regime that they could tolerate a little humor.
But as the Syrian uprising grew, Farzat’s drawings grew sharper, capturing the fierce hypocrisy of the Syrian regime that refused to hear the voices of its people. Ali was not afraid to draw President Bashar al-Assad, despite the risks. On August 25, 2011, Farzat paid for his insubordination: he was pulled from his vehicle in central Damascus and in addition to being beaten, had both his hands broken. His unidentified attackers– almost certainly security officials– told him it was “just a warning” not to satirize Syria’s leaders.
Farzat thought about the sacrifices being made by others in the country and continued, though he now draws from exile in Kuwait. In Foreign Policy’s December issue, he was named one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers for the impact that his drawings– and sacrifice– had on the uprising. On December 8, he was named Journalist of the Year at the 2011 Press Freedom Prize awards ceremony in Paris– and on December 14 he became one of five Arab Spring thought leaders who were awarded the Sakharov prize, an recognition given by the European Union to those who combat intolerance, oppression, and fanaticism.
His cartoons are fierce, funny, sharp, poignant, and painful– you don’t even need to read Arabic to understand. One sketch shows a woman imprisoned by a ring of banners promoting male politicians. Another shows a computer with a keyboard of spikes, drops of blood dripping away from those who dared access Facebook. A third shows a CIA persona in the mold of FDR, holding a gun to a puppet of bin Ladin held on his left hand. In Hama, death erects a theater over the battlefield for the great delight of the generals. But perhaps the most poignant is the most simple: a small heart outweighing a large bomb.
• Seea record of Ali’s cartoons on his Facebook page.
• Read about Ali Farzat’s life and the attempt by security forces to silence him.
• Donate to The Committee to Protect Journalists, one of several organizations that fights to protect journalists.