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Shahid Mahmood Headshot

A Shock of Peroxide-Blonde Hair

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Geert Wilders judges others based on ethnicity. He is well known for his anti-immigration politics and routinely refers to himself as a "Dutch freedom-fighter." As a Dutch politician and filmmaker, Mr. Wilders was cleared last week of inciting hatred against Muslims. This editorial, however, is not about the Mr. Wilders' acquittal nor is it about free speech. This article is about Geert Wilders the caricature -- the man who wears slim-cut, European styled-pinstriped suits beneath a shocking-mane of dyed, peroxide-blonde hair. Mr. Wilders is a walking contradiction. He is a man who ignores a genealogy that includes Jewish-Indonesian ancestors, persistently warns Europe of an oncoming "tsunami" of Muslim immigrants, and compares the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf.

As someone who has been drawing cartoons for the past twenty-five years, it doesn't get any better than Geert Wilders -- he is a godsend to cartoonists like myself. Caricatures exaggerate prominent facial characteristics. Exaggerating these facial characteristics make the subject easily recognizable in the drawing. Exaggerations are usually imbibed with an inherent character flaw -- providing additional insight to the illustration. My favorite? In the years leading up to Watergate, the artist Philip Guston created a series of caricatures of Richard Nixon -- a searing denunciation of a corrupt president with a nose rendered as a bloated, disreputably dubious and deceitful phallus. The drawings also depict his sidekick, Henry Kissinger, as a walking, talking pair of black-rimmed glasses -- viewing the world through thick, myopic bifocals.

Mr. Wilders' blonde mane symbolizes a wave of nationalism that is sweeping Europe today. His hair, a revanchist symbol, is no different from Hitler's mustache or Mullah Omar's beard. Nazis were obsessed with racial purity. An essential requirement for any German SS applicant, up until 1940, was proof of Aryan ancestry dating back several generations. Hitler, like Mr. Wilders, would have failed his own ethnic filtering machinations. Hitler's trimmed mustache, as Mr. Wilders' hair, was part of a public image -- a symbol of Aryan modernity impressed on a country that had no place for an old-world, Jewish orthodoxy that restricted the cutting of hair.

The Taliban leader-in-hiding, Mullah Omar is no different than Mr. Wilders and Hitler. The Taliban consider beards a religious obligation and demand unconditional acquiescence -- threatening punishment for non-compliance. The Prophet Muhammad is assumed to have had a beard and those who insist that devout Muslims grow beards contend that they are doing no more than asking the faithful to emulate the Prophet. It was only last week, the Hizbul-Islam militants in Somalia ordered all men in Mogadishu to grow beards and trim moustaches and have said, "Anyone found violating this law will face the consequences." The growing of the beard for many Muslim fundamentalists has become the imaginary first step in becoming Arab and erasing any memory of their collective ethnicity and culture. These hirsute symbols are symptomatic of a prevailing bigotry mirrored by such people.

The old nationalistic notions of a pure Christian Europe with that of a new, melting-pot continent are explosive combinations. Many Europeans think the only way forward is to look back at a bygone era. The situation is no different in Muslim-dominated countries. Muslim clerics routinely look to the past to inform present day decision-making. These clerics routinely condemn minority groups and Muslims who think differently. Recently, an Egyptian, but Christian, telecom mogul, Naguib Sawiris, angered Islamic hardliners by posting an online cartoon of Mickey Mouse sporting a beard. The Islamic hardliners feel the cartoon ridicules Islam. According to the Islamists, Muslims grow their beards long and trim their mustaches -- a style said to emulate the Prophet Muhammad. The Islamists are now threatening Mr. Sawiris that they will have "to cut out the tongue of any person who attacks our religion," and have filed multiple lawsuits accusing him of religious contempt.

If a person can be reduced to a singular exaggeration like Kissinger's glasses or Mr. Wilders' hair-mane it can be posited, with little subtlety, that the person's character can be summed up in the reactions of a few irrational individuals. When a person believes in the plurality of life it becomes harder, as a cartoonist, to draw them using a singular exaggeration. It is easier to draw Hitler then it is to draw Obama; it is easier to draw Mullah Omar then it is to draw Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Octavio Paz very eloquently once said:

What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions. Life is plurality, death is uniformity. By suppressing differences and peculiarities, by eliminating different civilizations and cultures, progress weakens life and favors death. The ideal of a single civilization for everyone, implicit in the cult of progress and technique, impoverishes and mutilates us. Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life.

Nationalism and religion target the ignorant, promising security in either a bygone era or an afterlife. The more one is educated, the more one understands that religion and state are intrinsically linked to life -- allowing us to live together having the freedom of choice and reflection.

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