In August 2011, Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat was pulled from his car by a group of masked gunmen and brutally assaulted, the attack largely focused on his hands. The beating was prolonged, and ended with Ferzat being dumped in the street by his attackers, who told him that this was “just a warning”. He was taken to hospital by onlookers, where he was found to have broken hands and severe injuries. Strangely, the attackers also stole his briefcase, along with several art prints which were in the car.
Why? It’s now widely believed that the attack was carried out by members of the pro-regime militia in Syria, or possibly even security forces themselves. The attack was a political one, aimed at destroying the hands which pointed hypocrisy at the Syrian leaders. Ferzat’s merciless satirical style has never shied away from attacking the shadowy aspects of Syria’s Government, and had been reaching a larger and larger audience with each new piece. Following the attack, Ferzat went into hiding, while the attack was widely condemned.
Ferzat is an incredibly acclaimed cartoonist, admired by many, who has been awarded countless accolades during a sterling career. Originally a cartoonist with an political lean who nevertheless kept his work within the lines of Syria’s state-sanctioned media, the increasing brutality of Syria’s regime eventually reached such a point that Ferzat decided to directly challenge the men in charge. His cartoons became more open and critical, as he took advantage of the democracy movement in order to create works which pointed a finger at a number of prominent figures, including President Bashar Assad. Even as Ferzat was announced as winner of the Sakharov Award in Brussels, those very cartoons saw him targeted and beaten.
After recuperating, Ferzat went into hiding for several months. But while he was in hiding, his cartoons remained a potent reminder of his influence, and his international fame spread those cartoons to millions of people who hadn’t seen them before. The attackers realised that the one thing you don’t do is try to intimidate a satirist. Ferzat’s hands recovered and he went straight back into cartooning, incredibly, producing some of the fiercest and bravest works of his life. Not only did Ferzat carry on past the ‘warning’ he received – he was inspired by it, and incited by it. There’s an incredible strength in that. Today he finally picked up the award he was awarded a year ago, at a conference in Brussels, saying of his ordeal:
The Syrian regime fails to recognise freedom. God created humans’ yearning for freedom and no one can take that away from us. I’m very proud to receive this token of recognition.