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AnimatorsCartoon Culture

Syrian Cartoonist Ali Ferzat Savagely Beaten

This just might be every cartoonist’s worst nightmare: Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat was kidnapped and later found bleeding on the side of a road with his hands broken. Unsurprisingly, the attack is being blamed on the security forces of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Ferzat, according to the Guardian, is “one of Syria’s most famous cultural figures,” and he has “long criticised the bureaucracy and corruption of the regime and since March has turned to depicting the uprising.” His work has also served as inspiration for animated projects in Syria.

A few weeks ago, the Syrian regime killed the singer Ibrahim al-Qashoush, the composer of a popular anti-regime song, and dumped his body in a river with his vocal chords ripped out of his throat. These desperate attempts to shut down the voices of the country’s most creative people is disheartening, but it also speaks to how much power artists wield throughout society and how much fear they can instill into governments. Even in the United States, cartoonists have been responsible for bringing down corrupt politicians with nothing but their pens. Ferzat’s story is something that every cartoonist and animator should remember the next time they make a drawing: cartoons have the power to create positive change, and there are cartoonists around the world risking their lives to do just that.

The Facebook page We Are all Ali Ferzat has been set up in his support. We applaud Ferzat’s bravery and wish him a speedy recovery.

According to a tweet, this is the last cartoon Ferzat drew before he was beaten and here’s a selection of more cartoons by him:

  • Wow… the power of comics, eh?

  • Very powerful cartoons. I found the image of the woman’s head composed of locks to be quite startling.

    Get well soon, Mr. Ferzat.


    very good CB post ! animators should stand up more frequently for these serious matters…

  • tgentry

    Amazing cartoonist. I was struck by how clever, simple, and powerful some of his images are. Hope he recovers quikly and keeps on drawing (safely).

  • Wow, hope he recovers very soon. Very sad to hear.
    We live in a sick world. :/

  • tommy

    I haven’t seen any political cartoons this good over here lately.

  • Chris Webb

    Breaking a cartoonist’s hands? Will he be able to work? I wonder if some money could be raised to help him if he needs some help.

  • Chris Webb

    I see I should have read the entire post. I’ll check out the facebook page.

  • Matt Sullivan

    This is what happens in dictatorships. They kill free thinkers, artists, anyone with media power…sucks. Poor man.

  • dbenson

    Something to think about when American artists/commentators of any political stripe claim they’re being censored because they’re not on the top of bestseller lists/TV ratings, or proclaim themselves “courageous” because they spout abuse at targets that, at worst, will whine about them on a rival talk show.

    Yes, some suffer career damage when offended interests mobilize lawyers and media consultants. A few have to worry about an increased number of armed nut jobs. But getting audited or being charged with a fairly light rap is pretty much the worst a critic can expect from our feds. That’s hardly in the same class with government-sanctioned torturers and assassins.

    • yes, thankfully american government sanctioned torturers and assassins only kill and torture people who DESERVE it!

  • Yikes! My biggest fear, something happening to my hands! What a terrible story. It’s pretty ballsy to continue to work under those conditions, he certainly was brave. Let’s hope he gets well, gets out of Syria, and comes back with a vengeance.

  • 2011 Adult

    I know we learned about foreign behavior in high school, but news like this still shocks me, as if it’s the first time I ever heard of it! Oh! Cartoonist criticizing the bureauracy? BEAT HIM UP! London policemen trying to control a crowd? START A RIOT ACROSS THE COUNTRY! Greece fed up with their debt? Reasonably–FIGHT AND KILL EVERYONE IN THE STREETS!!! I THOUGHT WE WERE OVER WITH THIS!!!!!!

    • Your post reminds me of a song from that foreign TV show Sesame Street. One of these things is NOT like the others…

      (seriously WHAT?! ‘foreign behavior’?!!!!???)

    • MarkT

      Ha ha “foreign behavior”!
      ‘You better stop this foreign behavior right now, young man, or…’

    • yes, 2011 adult, let’s all use this unfortunate event to engage in some healthy racism, as well as anti-populist ranting.

  • Toonio

    For the hard core party members out there: Stop taking politics as a boxing or baseball match. Vote and demand for politics that promote and defend DEMOCRACY.

    If you think having the same party ruling “per secula seculorum” is the best can happen, look at Ali the look your hands.

    “Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often and for the same reason.”
    — Mark Twain

    • James Ciambor

      Generally speaking opinions being silenced is quite common in a country without democratic rule. Toonio it isn’t just the politicians there, is generally a society that has values and sentiments that are so backwards that they stretch back to the middle-ages. Chauvenism, prejudice reside there and they don’t value peoples qualities.

      Get well soon, but again what hes done as far as I’m concerned sorry that I couldn’t break it more gently. The operate like a mafia over their when they silence you its not temporary its pretty much permanent.

      • woah, let’s not use this as an excuse to bash all of middle-eastern culture. sure, I’m not so happy about some of their foreign policy and views of women either, but let’s not be too quick to forget that the US has OFFICIALLY admitted to using the CIA to install dictators there in the past, and generally meddling with their political process.

      • DR

        James Ciambor, you’re coming off like a completely ethno-centric individual. Maybe you don’t mean to sound high and mighty, but you should remember that those cultures you’re writing off as inferior morally to your own, those societies are setup and imposed and aided by the likes of your own government. Your choice to live in ignorant bliss and look down on others as you indirectly benefit from their conditions you deplore is the epitome of a first world hypocrisy.

  • He’s lucky that all they did was beat him and break his hands.

    • Chris

      Steve, I’m sure your comment is reading differently than intended, but I don’t think it’s the right way to phrase it. Lucky just isn’t a word that seems to apply here…

      • No. Lucky is the word that exactly applies in this case. I’m sure they could have done much worse to him. This was a warning.

      • The Gee

        “Fortunate” could have been a better word than “lucky.”

        That said, I know what you meant to say. He’s alive and he’ll heal.

        And, I think you are correct in that the attack on him was a warning. Obviously, violent people aren’t known for having restraint and, like you mentioned, what happened to him could have been worse.


      • Chris

        Well in that case, I disagree. Any situation can be worse. I think this is the poorest possible way to perceive an enormous problem. Yes, they could have killed him… they could have killed his family… they could have killed everyone. When are they not lucky that it wasn’t worse?

      • amid

        Please keep the discussion focused on Ferzat and not on Steve’s attempt to draw attention to himself. It amazes me that even in situations like this, people will argue over semantics instead of focusing on the real issue.

  • Dino

    A poignant reminder that cartooning can be risky, powerful, and necessary. Daumier and Thomas Nast would be proud. Get well soon, Mr. Ferzat.

  • I was so sad about this news. Let’s hope that Ali Ferzat will be able to use his golden hands again.

    Good that you write about it, Amid. Sometimes it’s as if the animation world has nothing to do with the world outside. It’s lots of naval gazing or entertainment for kids.

  • Anonymous

    Such a sad story, and a reminder of the power of an artist’s work. I wish him a speedy recovery.

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    Boss Tweed in New York wasn’t worried about what the newspapers printed about him because of the widespread illiteracy among his constituents. But he feared the political cartoons of Thomas Nast and with good reason. Next time anyone talks glibly about the impending death of the political cartoon, let’s make sure Ali Ferzat’s name gets mentioned.

  • John A

    Just think, a couple days ago a few posters were bent out of shape because someone dared to draw a few cartoons that poked fun at John Lasseter. You see what happens in countries that have no tolerance for free expression.

    I can’t say that I understand what all the cartoons are referencing, but anybody that can make his opponents this angry should be protected and supported.


      well, it’s not tomorrow we’ll see daring animators or any other sorts of artists working for PIXAR or DISNEY supporting theme park employees who struggle to keep their healthcare (ref.)
      sorry for the twist but we are priviliged to work in the animation business and we produce animated film to a very large scale of people from all over the world.
      ( food and health is a priority to all of us not cartoons except the one’s from Ali Ferzat…)so we sincerely owe to people and especially the poor.
      ref. to prior posts:
      time magazine-25 all time best animated features comments:202
      this one:23 comments, a long way to go…
      hopefuly not, in a near future.

  • Frank

    Can anyone translate the written material in these great drawings? They are magnificent examples of the power of political cartooning.

  • Tim Hodge

    I have a friend who did time in a Cuban prison for some anti-Castro cartoons. While in solitary confinement, he made a papier maché chess set with toilet paper and water, dying the opposing pieces with blood. After he was released, he was eventually able to immigrate to the States.

    I think about him whenever I see a kid wearing a Che t-shirt.

    We often take our freedoms for granted, don’t we?

    • I hope bradley manning gets to immigrate somewhere nice after he’s released and tortured, then gets to whine about anyone he sees sporting an obama t-shirt.

      • amid

        Please keep the discussion focused on Ferzat and don’t bring up tangential names that will send the topic in random direction. Further off-topic comments will be deleted.

  • Thanks for sharing this story. It’s beyond heartbreaking. I’m going to check out the facebook page and see how I can help. One way to help certainly is to spread the word. To people who think this problem is about “those” people and “their” ways, please for your own sake get a clue. Any rights anyone has are a result of people being critical of the status quo and suffering for it. Ali Ferzat is an excellent example of this, as are many who use their unique talents to try and make a difference. Our medium is an incredible medium for social change. This type of work is a much needed reminder of its value and I hope can serve as inspiration to protect it and for people to make conscious choices in how they use it.

  • Matt Sullivan

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Be considerate and respectful of others in the discussion. Defamatory, rude, or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

  • Colleen

    Wow… No government should try to take away the voice of the people. It is simply awful that ANYONE’s voice should be taken away. the US protects the voice of anyone, no matter how much we disagree with the message, provided that it doesn’t directly incite people to harm others.
    This is why I’m glad that the “Arab Spring” has been a (mostly) peaceful revolution of people wanting a fairer system for their countries.

    I am watching the video showing his cartoons and they are ones that need no subtitles. Some of the first ones (with arabic text in the frame) I wish had translations, but that makes them no less successful in conveying his messages.
    Also, at 0:50 in the video, notice that the slots between the man’s fingers are also keyholes? Extra creepy and extra poignant.

    I pray that Mr. Ferzat recovers fully and can continue drawing.

    • You’d have to ignore a lot of Homeland Security Policy, including the forceful FBI attention and intervention into groups that identify as ‘anti-war’ (can anyone explain to me why Mennonites, a pacifist religious quaker sect, need to be on the FBI watch list?), but I second your condolences.

  • He appears to have recovered enough to draw again, and his latest cartoon is a fitting response to the attack:


    • tonma

      the new cartoon he published after the beating is just beautiful, way to come back! I’m really relieved he is still strong at heart and can still draw so well.

    • tonma

      oops… it seems the drawing is not a self portrait, it was done by a supporter but having no direct relation to him, it’s better to stop the rumor now. http://graphicpolicy.com/2011/08/26/ali-ferzat-responds-to-his-beating-in-syria/

    • The update to that post reveals that it was not drawn by Ferzat, but by a supporter of his. The message is just as clear, though.

  • Wow, Amid, well done on posting this, but it seems a lot of people have taken this opportunity to outline how horrible the middle-east is at ‘democracy’, and to stress how lucky Americans are to live in a merely moderately oppressive system (not my opinion, ladies and gents, check the international US ranking when it comes to income disparity, journalistic freedoms and civil rights). There are people here ACTUALLY using this abuse of someone’s rights as an opportunity to bash US artists and activists who ‘whine’ for attention, when ‘people have it SO much worse somewhere else, so you better SHUT UP about our problems’. That’s a whole ‘nother argument, people, and please don’t muddy this deplorable issue with it. Let’s just wish Mr. Ferzat our best, and hope their struggle achieves some traction some time soon.

  • pspector

    Get well soon.

  • Abu

    Amazing cartoons, I haven’t seen anything as simple, touching, witty or powerful as them over here!

  • Doug

    Amid – Thanks for posting this, it has haunted me since I first read it. I hope that you’ll post an update to his condition when/if you get some news. I’m hoping this heartbreaking story will have a better ending. I admire his talents and his courage for speaking his mind – it is this sort of effort that will eventually topple this regime. Get well Mr. Ferzat!

  • Damon

    Forget the fact that it happened to a cartoonist, it happened to a human being, that should be first and foremost.

    • Funkybat

      It shouldn’t happen to any human being, but the fact that he was targeted because his art was used to speak out against oppression makes this case particularly terrible.

      When thinkers, artists, scholars, and others who have influence over public discourse and philosophy are targeted because what they say or do threatens someone, it is a crime against civilization. Calling someone’s words or drawings “garbage” or belittling them is one thing, physically harming them is quite another.

      The sad thing is, it sometimes takes martyrs and would-be martyrs like this to effect change in a society. Their refusal to back down takes courage. Let us hope things never get that bad in America, that artists have to fear for their safety. I hope that the regime’s actions keep backfiring, and more and more common people realize it is wrong to stifle dissent like this, and wrong to sit on the sidelines if you see it happening.

  • Great post on the brutal and, in the end, futile crime against Ferzat. He has become a symbol of the resistance now.

    On 1000Ferzats.tumblr.com we aim to collect 1,000 cartoons from all over the world, in reaction to the Syrian regime’s unacceptable crackdown on a dissident. Help us reach our goal, spread the word, and ultimately show despots everywhere that we draw the line here!