In hindsight, the death of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian refugee who washed up on a Turkish shore after the boat he was in sank, 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 the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has attempted to marry the two moments, with an image that suggests that if Alan had survived his journey to Europe, he would have become a "groper in Germany."
The cartoon can be seen here.
The image was drawn by Laurent Sourisseau, also known as "Riss," a longtime contributor to the newspaper and its current publishing director. Sourisseau was present when Islamist extremists attacked the publication's offices in January. That attack left 12 people dead; Sourisseau was shot in the shoulder.
Although some recent comments from Sourisseau suggest that he is pushing a less combative agenda for Charlie Hebdo — moving away from images of the prophet Muhammad, for example — the new cartoon shows that the publication is not afraid to cause furor. Unsurprisingly, many have been outraged by the latest image.
This isn't the first time that Charlie Hebdo has used the now-iconic image of the drowned Alan 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. Even back then, The Washington Post's Comic Riffs wondered whether those cartoons had crossed a line of decency. Michael Cavna spoke to a number of cartoonists about it, and the responses were mixed.
But now the pendulum of public support for refugees in Europe has swung back the other way. There is widespread anger that a coverup may have occurred in the aftermath of the New Year's Eve assaults. In the German city of Cologne, refugees and migrants have suffered what appears to be reprisal attacks. Polls suggest that foreigners in Europe are increasingly being viewed with 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 by grown men.
Even if that's true, however, the satire misses the mark for many.
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