Chopped By The Cleaver: One Cartoonist’s Contributions to Libyan Revolution

by Joe Izenman

Freedom of speech is easy to take for granted in the United States. For all the effort we must spend protecting expression in some areas, political cartooning and the ability to poke fun at our own government officials are an accepted fact of life.

So it is easy to forget that even these seemingly basic freedoms — such as the ability to draw a caricature or to create a mocking internet meme out of your head of state — can be a truly remarkable and powerful tool in a dictatorial state. In a recent profile Chris York wrote for Huffington Post UK, longtime Libyan exile and cartoonist Hasan Dhaimish — also known as Alsature, or The Cleavertalks about the life that led him to a career of political irreverence:

Dhaimish spent his early childhood in Libya, living a gilded lifestyle in the port-city of Tobruk, on the North-East coast. His father, Mahmoud, was an imam and spiritual adviser to Libya’s first and only monarch, King Idris I.“We lived a good life, in a big house. We were loyal to the King, he was like a god to us,” he says.

1959 saw the discovery of oil in the impoverished nation and the Imam, foreseeing the implications of the nation’s new found wealth, spoke up.

“My Dad was like me, couldn’t keep his mouth shut on issues,” he says.

“He mentioned during Friday prayers that not everybody was going to benefit from the new found oil wealth.

“He [The King] kicked us out. It was like being kicked out of heaven.”

Decades (and a few years of art school) later, Dhaimish, now exiled to London and well-established in the opposition to Gaddafi’s military regime, which overthrew Libya’s king in 1969, found himself wrapped up in a new revolution:

When the Arab Spring reached Libya in 2011, he headed to Doha, Qatar. He started working for an internet TV channel broadcasting his anti-Gaddafi material, fanning the flames of the revolution.”

The Cleaver published his images with one philosophy in mind: limiting Gaddafi’s power by making him an object of mockery instead of fear. “I degraded him and then people weren’t scared of him, they were laughing at him.”

Dhaimish remains in exile even though he could return to Libya. He is concerned about the lack of government oversight in post-revolutionary Libya and is also concerned that the individuals currently in charge may present as much danger as Gaddafi’s military dictatorship:

Until he returns, he continues his work for the opposition, mocking those in power through his art.

“I’m just doing the same thing I did before, I attack the new leaders. I’ve shown no respect to them ‘cause I know that some of them were in Gaddafi’s cabinet,” he says.

“I won’t go back at the moment. I want perfection. I want democracy.”

You can read the entire profile of Dhaimish and view some of his work here.

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Joe Izenman is a freelance writer and musician in Tacoma, Washington. He owns a lot of comics and he’s pretty sure someone, somewhere would be offended by more than a few of them.