You might think editoonist Jimmy Margulies went a little too far in his deployment of symbolic imagery in the cartoon below, but even if you agree with the Anti-Defamation Leagueâs Abraham Foxman that the cartoon trivializes the Holocaust, I think you must admit that giving Adolph Hitlerâs famous moustache the shape of the state of Arizona makes a powerful statement about the potentially fascist effect of the stateâs new immigration law.
With that law, as Michael Cavna observed at his Comic Riffs blog, “Arizona puts the AZ in nAZi.” Thatâs a pretty symbolic typographical maneuver itself.
What Margulies did in his cartoon makes telling use of the mediumâs capacity for conveying a message succinctly, and therefore dramatically with impact, by means of a visual metaphor. Nicely done.
Foxman has another point of view, expressed in a press release from ADL: “We are seeing these offensive and inappropriate Nazi and Holocaust comparisons come to the fore in the public debate once again. We saw it in the health care debate, and now we are seeing it with Arizona. It is disturbing that in speaking out against the bill a number of individuals have taken to using Nazi comparisons, in describing the legislation as being reminiscent of Nazi policies that required Jews and others to carry identity cards, or in comparing the governor and other Arizona officials as being like Hitler.”
Foxman said it might be “politically expedient” to invoke such symbols, but “no matter how odious, bigoted, biased and unconstitutional Arizona’s new law may be, let’s be clear that there is no comparison between the situation facing immigrants, legal or illegal, in Arizona and what happened in the Holocaust.” Then he referred specifically to Marguliesâ cartoon.
Itâs Foxmanâs job as director of the ADL to keep our feet to the fire on matters that pertain to irrational discrimination and groundless stereotyping and mindless racism, but I doubt the Holocaust can be trivialized, as he seems to fear. It can be denied by fabulists and other specialists in alternative realities, but it cannot be trivialized.
Cavna interviewed Margulies on April 29, and Margulies explainedâ”and reinforced”âthe Nazi analogy, “stating that it was appropriate to tap not only its potency, but also its literal memory”:
“As a Jew of Eastern European descent,” Margulies said, ” I am well aware of the unique horror of the Nazi era. It is all the more important that I, and others of good conscience who are able to reach an audience, do so in the face of abhorrent laws such as Arizona’s. I do not think it diminishes the memory of the Holocaust to point out that the law in Arizona is uncomfortably reminiscent of Germany’s in targeting one or more minorities. Before the concentration camps, there were smaller measures enacted which set the stage for greater acts. The Arizona law gives police too much power by casting as suspects anyone who looks to be Latino or foreign-born.”
One thing leads to another.
Some objectors to the Arizona law see it as specifically empowering police to ask for citizenship papers from anyone they think looks suspicious. While the law doesnât do that (cops can ask for papers only of those who seem to have committed some infraction of a law), it opens the door to such practices: it seems the thin edge of a wedge that could conceivably lead to practices much more invasiveâmuch more fascistic. One thing leads to another.
Hitler became chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, and he moved at once to begin consolidating his power. The concentration camp at Dachau opened on March 20, and by the end of the year, 49 other such camps were operating throughout German. Communists and Socialists, those in the political parties opposed to Hitlerâs National Socialists (Nazis), were among the first occupants of these camps. Jews, gypsies, the handicapped, homosexuals, Jehovahâs Witnesses and other political and religious dissidents soon joined the Communists and Socialists. By July all political parties other than Hitlerâs were outlawed.
On May 10âjust 100 days after Hitler assumed powerâhundreds of thousands of books were burned all over Germany as libraries and bookstores were “purged” of “un-German” writings. The bonfires were accompanied by torchlight parades and speeches that proclaimed the death of “Jewish intellectualism” and the consequent “purification” of German culture. The works of such Jewish intellectuals as Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud fueled the fires, as did the books of Heinrich Heine, a German poet of Jewish origin. A century earlier, Heine had written: “Where books are burned, in the end people will be burned.”
One thing leads to another.
And one of the beginnings was the appointment of Hitler as chancellor by the aged President Paul von Hindeburg, who thought Hitler, as the leader of Germanyâs largest political party, could restore order in the country ridden by social unrest, economic dislocation, and bitter resentment over the terms of Germanyâs surrender in World War I. Hitler did restore orderâthe order of dictatorship, absolute and unyielding.
“Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane has also compared Arizona’s actions to Hitler’s Germany, according to Reuters, cited by Cavna a couple days ago. During a Reuters tv interview, MacFarlane said the Arizona law was more shocking than his own irreverent, hot-button tv shows, “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show”(not to overlook the equally outrageous “Family Guy”).
“Itâs too much,” MacFarlane said. “Itâs kind of a slap in the face; it’s not the way to handle it [i.e., illegal immigration]. Nobody but the Nazis ever asked anybody for their papers.”
MacFarlane then perpetuated the erroneous interpretation of the law: “Walking down the street, a cop can come up to you and say, ‘May I see your papers?'”
But MacFarlane gave it a twist that gave his misconception a satiric bite: “I think they should be required to ask that question in German if the law sticks around.”
Name calling, however apt, and symbol mongering, however imaginative, are scarcely useful substitutes for rational political discourse and reasoned debate. But Marguliesâ cartoon is nonetheless a model of its medium, a remarkably effective example of the best uses of the resources of the cartoonistâs art.