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Freedom of expression in multicultural societies: Political cartooning in Europe in the modern and postmodern eras

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At the intersection of modern cultural and political history, security studies and debates about freedom of expression and international human-rights law, this article aims to contribute to a better understanding of political cartooning and its implications in multicultural societies of Europe, which have shifted in a geographical, cultural, normative, communicational, political and many other respects through the last two centuries. Through comparison of the Serbian cartoons from late nineteenth-century Croatia and the recent Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, the article reveals that both modern and postmodern European cartoons have been centred around equally discriminatory narratives: a 'clash of civilizations' and 'racialization of religion'. Since open racial stereotyping in cartoons became illegal in the postmodern international regulations, traditional discriminatory practices of cartooning have shifted towards subtle, 'liquid' racism. This decodes some of the twelve Danish cartoons as ambiguous strategies of racialization of Muslim immigrants in Europe (as 'terrorists' and 'others') but also as hate speech which is illegal in the European Union, and member states of the Council of Europe. The author concludes that the most current European and international regulations of hate speech, whether concerning offline media or online media, actually protect free speech. While a truly clear-cut regulation of liquid racism might remain problematic in Europe (and the world) due to the lack of a universally accepted definition of hate speech, neither strict legal regulations nor different definitions of hate speech could diminish the role of political cartooning as a viable free speech platform in the multicultural landscape of Europe. Ultimately, what diminishes its viability is the enduring lack of diversity in the creation of visual satire, which could and should reflect the multicultural reality of communities, politics and societies in Europe.
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Keywords: ethically responsible political cartooning; freedom of expression; liquid racism; online hate speech regulations; the 'Muhammad cartoon crisis'; the 'clash of civilization' concept

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 000000010632678X Amsterdam University College, University of Pittsburg and Webster Leiden Campus | Webster University - USA

Publication date: November 1, 2019

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  • Empedocles aims to provide a publication and discussion platform for those working at the interface of philosophy and the study of communication, in all its aspects. This Journal is published in cooperation with the Section for the Philosophy of Communication of ECREA, the European Communication Reserach and Education Association.
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