Skip to main content

Credit: Photo Credit: picture alliance / dpa

In Paradise

On 25 September 2016, Nahed Hattar had a court hearing. On the wide stone steps leading up to the Palace of Justice in Jordan’s capital Amman, a bearded man walked up to him and drew out a pistol. With three shots, he brought the country’s popular caricaturist to the ground. He died where he fell, while the perpetrator was arrested by the police officers stationed in front of th

The interrogation of the former Sunni imam revealed that his motive for the murderous attack was the same reason for which Nahed Hattar had been about to appear in court. It concerned a caricature aimed at the terror organisation IS, which he had published on his Facebook page. It bore the title “In paradise” and showed an IS fighter lying in bed with two virgins, just as the organisation promises Islamist martyrs.

God, recognisable from his white beard and golden crown, peers into the tent and asks if the IS fighter would like anything else.

He asks for wine and cashew nuts to be brought by the Archangel Gabriel. In addition, he asks cheekily if the visitor – i.e. Allah – might take the trouble to knock first in future. The Jordanian state prosecution judged the controversial work to be “insulting Islam and inciting sectarian strife”, so arrested Hattar in mid-August and charged him. The armed attacker used this appointment, however, to pass his own judgement on the caricaturist.

In comparison to many Arab states in the region, Jordan is relatively peaceful.

Political murders are a rarity here, but Hattar must nevertheless have been on guard.

He had received several public death threats from the Islamist milieu, which hated him for more than just his definitive stance against IS. He came from a Christian family but saw himself as an atheist, and was known within Jordan for his fight for freedom of opinion and left-wing ideas. Yet he was also a supporter of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, which also meant he was distrusted by moderate opponents of the despot. Nevertheless, Hattar had not seen the need to put himself in the care of personal bodyguards, and he didn’t shy away from the controversy – on the contrary: his last caricature was undoubtedly one of the least respectful he had ever drawn. The fact that a man with a Christian family background and good relations with Alawite Assad was making fun of Allah may have been hard for devout Muslims to swallow, as indeed the charge from the state prosecution demonstrates. One can therefore consider the murder in itself to be part of the religious wars over power and influence in the Middle East, which are hard for observers from the West to comprehend.

Ultimately though, this was the murder of a man who stood up for freedom of opinion in his journalistic work. The incident followed on from the murders of staff members at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo just a few months previously, but while they triggered global outrage, the attack on Nahed Hattar was barely known about in Europe. Yet aren’t these murderous attacks on the freedom of opinion and the press equally serious and worthy of condemnation wherever and whenever they happen? Either way, the Jordanian justice system has avenged the murder. The perpetrator was convicted and executed in March 2017.

  • Nahed Hattar

    Nahed Hattar was a Jordan journalist, writer, caricaturist and political activist. He came from a catholic family, however, he himself was not religious. Over the course of time he became known as a keen Islam-critic, who had to stand trial several times. Like he did on his death day: on his way to a hearing, an extremist killed the 56-year-old with pistol bullets from short distance. The murder shocked the nation, because Jordan is usually known as one of the safest countries of the Middle East.