At the begining of the 1990s, Plantu, journalist and cartoonists for the French newspapers Le Monde and L’Express, succeeded in making Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Shimon Peres, the Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs, sign the same cartoon. He then realized that « the language of drawings was not just a means of drawing people together but could also provide an opportunity for saying things that were otherwise taboo ». It is therefore by questioning the editorial cartoonist’s role that Plantu imagined the project of Cartooning for Peace, and brought it to the then UN secretary-general and Nobel Prize in 2001, Kofi Annan.
In 2005, after the bloody reactions to the publication of the Mohamed cartoons in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, on September 30, it becomes crucial to think about the journalistic role of cartoonists, that is to say their responsibility towards their readers.
On October 16, 2006, Kofi Annan and Plantu set up a founding meeting at the UN headquarters in New York, for a seminar on “Unlearning Intolerance – drawing peace”, gathering twelve international cartoonists.
The twelve cartoonists: Ann Telnaes (USA), Baha Boukhari (Palestine), Carsten Graabaek (Denmark), Cinthia Bolio (Mexico), Gado (Kenya), Jean Plantu (France), Jeff Danziger (USA), Liza Donnelly (USA), Michel Kichka (Israel), Mike Luckovich (USA), No-Rio (Japan), Ranan Lurie (USA).
This encounter will lead to the creation of the association Cartooning for Peace the same year.
Extract from the speech of Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general (1997-2006) and Nobel Prix (2001):
“I have always thought that cartoons are one of the most important elements in the press. They have a special role in forming public opinion – because an image generally has a stronger, more direct impact on the brain than a sentence does, and because many more people will look at a cartoon than read an article.
If you are flicking through a newspaper you have to make a conscious decision to stop and read an article, but it is hardly possible to stop yourself from looking at a cartoon.
That means that cartoonists have a big influence on the way different groups of people look at each other.
They can encourage us to look critically at ourselves, and increase our empathy for the sufferings and frustrations of others. But they can also do the opposite. They have, in short, a big responsibility.
Cartoons make us laugh. Without them, our lives would be much sadder. But they are no laughing matter: they have the power to inform, and also to offend. Short of physical pain, few things can hurt you more directly than a caricature of yourself, of a group you belong to, or—perhaps worst – of a person you deeply respect.
Cartoons, in other words, can both express and encourage intolerance, and also provoke it. And the sad truth is that they often do all three.
So, if we are going to “unclean”, as the title of this series of seminars proposes, we need to engage cartoonists in the discussion.
They can help us to think more clearly about their work, and how to react to it.”