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The municipal government in Tehran (Iran) has announced their third cartoon / caricature contest promoting Holocaust denial. The contest first ran in 2006, then again in April 2015. Last year’s competition was run on April Fool’s Day. The Director of Sarcheshmeh Cultural Complex, one of the organisers, said this was to emphasise that “the Holocaust is one big lie”. As typically occurs, the denial was phrased as Holocaust revisionism with the competitions advertised theme being, “We Don’t deny Holocaust,We are not Antisemite, But we have 3 important questions about Holocaust”. The questions contained misleading and inaccurate assertions and promote Holocaust denial and trivialisation.  Last year’s first prize was $12,000, but in 2016 the winner will receive $50,000 and runner ups will receive $12,000, $8,000 and $5,000.

Holocaust denial is a well-recognised form of antisemitism. This competition is promoting antisemitism at a time when hate and incitement is on the rise around the world. The government sponsored competition contributes to exacerbating tensions in society. Cartoons from the previous Iranian Holocaust denial cartoon competitions have gone on to have a second life on the Internet, being shared by social media and increasing the pool of racist content in circulation.

OHPI condemns this effort to promote racism, anti-Semitism and specifically, Holocaust denial. As an Australian charity combating online hate, we are particularly disappointed that an Australian cartoonist has been involved in the past two Holocaust denial competitions. Louis Postruzin, known as Pol, submitted an entry in the 2005 competition which depicted a Magen David (Star of David) which faded in from nothing and then faded away to nothing. He was also listed as a 2015 participant.

Explicit Holocaust denial cartoons would likely breach S 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work is exempt under S 18D of the Act but only if “done reasonably and in good faith”. It is difficult to see how deliberate creation of a cartoon to participate in an event whose purpose is to promote racism could be considered reasonable or done in good faith.

The original Holocaust denial cartoon competition was claimed to be a response to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed competition. It said said to be a test to see if the West would apply the same principles of freedom of speech, which were invoked in defence of the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, when it came to cartoons about the Holocaust.  In our “Je Suis Humain” report following the Charlie Hebdo attack we discuss the problems with this justification. As the report explains, the “Holocaust is a tragedy of human history in which a vast number of people lost their lives. Not only families, but entire communities were wiped out. The Holocaust is the event from which the very concepts of genocide, and of crimes against humanity, were created.”

The Je Suis Humain Report discussed the line on when cartoons of Mohammed should be permitted, and when they should be banned, notes that, “The Holocaust is not a ‘belief’, and mocking the Holocaust is not ‘blasphemy’, instead, it is a denial of historical fact and a form of incitement with very real and dangerous implications. The comparison between a cartoon of Mohammed and a Holocaust cartoon is a deeply flawed”. The report recommended that “a cartoon should not be considered hate speech merely because it depicts Mohammed”, but went on to argue that “cartoons portraying Muslims through negative stereotypes, using Mohammed to symbolise all Muslims, should be considered a form of hate speech”.

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