Charlie Hebdo's Alan Kurdi cartoon sparks racism row

Some of Charlie Hebdo's supporters claim the cartoon of a drowned toddler is satire but it has made many people uneasy. Photo / Supplied
Some of Charlie Hebdo's supporters claim the cartoon of a drowned toddler is satire but it has made many people uneasy. Photo / Supplied

In hindsight, the death of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian refugee who washed up on a Turkish shore after his family tried to escape to a new life, may mark the high point in European public sympathy for refugees.

The widespread reports that refugees and migrants were involved in mass sexual assaults in Cologne and other European cities on New Year's Eve could well be its nadir.

Now French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has attempted to combine the two moments, with an image that suggests if Kurdi had survived his journey to Europe he would have become an "groper in Germany."


The image was drawn by Laurent Sourisseau, also known as "Riss," a long-time contributor to the newspaper and its current publishing director. Sourisseau was present when the publication's offices were attacked by extremists in January. That attack left twelve people dead; Sourisseau himself was shot in the shoulder.

While some recent comments from Sourisseau suggest he is pushing a less combative agenda for the magazine - moving away from images of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, for example - the new image of Kurdi shows that Charlie Hebdo is not afraid to cause outrage. Unsurprisingly, many have been outraged by the latest image of Kurdi.

This isn't the first time Charlie Hebdo has used the now-iconic image of a drowned Kurdi on a beach for satire, however. In September, the publication ran a few images that appeared to riff on the power of the image and Europe's sudden display of sympathy for Syrian refugees.

Since Kurdi's death, the pendulum of public support for refugees in Europe has swung back the other way. There is widespread anger that a cover up may have occurred in the aftermath of the New Year's Eve assaults. In Cologne, refugees and migrants have suffered what appears to be reprisal attacks. Polls suggest that foreigners in Europe are viewed with more and more suspicion. Charlie Hebdo may well have been satirizing the fickleness of Europe's sympathy for refugees and migrants, or highlighting the absurdity of linking the many fearful refugee families to the alleged sexual assaults of grown men.

Even if that's true, however, the satire misses the mark for many, who wonder whether racist images can truly satirize racist images.

- Washington Post

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