The ‘great defenders of free speech’, French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo are famous for their controversial, albeit thought provoking pieces. In January 2015, when gunmen attacked their Paris headquarters, murdering 12 employees, there was an outpour of support from all avenues.
We hashtagged ‘Je Suis Charlie’, stood in solidarity with their cause for free speech and in appreciation for the clever irony in their cartoons.
This time, however, Charlie Hebdo seems to have taken the insensitivity quotient out of the park. While the entire world is still reeling from the haunting image of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body washing up on the shores of a Turkish beach, the French magazine has gone ahead and published a set of insensitive illustrations featuring that very image.
Under a headline ‘Welcome to migrants’, the main text reads, ‘So Close To His Goal’, and then depicts a McDonald’s billboard in the background with the line, ‘Two Menus Of Children For The Price Of One’.
A second cartoon titled, “The Proof that Europe is Christian,” also features in the same issue. This one depicts Jesus standing on water, with the image of a drowned child next to him. The caption reads, “Christians walk on waters… Muslim kids sink.”
The fact that this cartoon is receiving a lot of flak on social media does not come as a surprise.
However, another interpretation for the illustrations that has been doing the rounds is that it is probably a mockery of the European attitude towards refugees rather than them explicitly mocking the child’s death, and that the intended irony may have been lost in translation.
While it is common knowledge that Charlie Hebdo’s content is replete with satire, and their style is to present shocking imagery laden with irony, doing so at the expense of the most hard-hitting incident that has emerged from the refugee crisis, is in poor taste.