Two French illustrators have been denounced on social networks in recent days for publishing editorial cartoons inspired by harrowing photographs of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian boy whose drowning in the waters off Greece this month prompted an outpouring of sympathy for migrants.
Most of the outrage has been directed at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French newspaper that was attacked in January by Islamist militants for cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. The latest edition of the weekly paper, devoted to mocking Europe’s response to the migrant crisis, features a series of cartoons riffing on the harrowing image of the young boy’s body as it was discovered, face down on a beach in Turkey.
As the French edition of Huffington Post reported, the cartoons caused barely a ripple of reaction in France, but the response was “particularly virulent among Internet users abroad.” Indeed, two of the cartoons that circulated online, divorced from their context — rejected covers drawn by a Charlie Hebdo editor, Laurent Sourisseau, who uses the pen name Riss — were described by angry commentators in England and elsewhere as images that mocked the dead boy.
Even as the outrage became the subject of reports in the international press, some observers, like the Egyptian artist Ganzeer, argued that the cartoons were not mocking the boy, but Europe.
And in a scathing editorial introducing the issue, Mr. Sourisseau made it clear that his intended target was what he called the hypocritical response to the crisis by European leaders and the public. After comparing indifference to the plight of the migrants in France to attitudes toward Jews in 1941, the cartoonist mocked statements by the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, who suggested that an influx of Muslims from the Middle East threatened efforts to “keep Europe Christian.” Mr. Sourisseau argued that this vision of Europe seemed to be based on a version of Christianity from which the ideal of Christian charity had been removed.
One of his cartoons, showing the young boy drowning alongside Jesus walking on water, illustrated this idea. “The Proof That Europe Is Christian,” the cartoon was headlined. “Christians walk on water,” the text read, “Muslim children sink.”
As the French journalist Gilles Klein noted on Twitter, this cartoon’s meaning seemed lost in translation by the time it crossed the channel and reached The Daily Mail, which reported on the outraged response to cartoons “mocking the death” of the boy from English observers, including Peter Herbert, a former vice chairman of London’s Metropolitan Police Authority.
In his written introduction, Mr. Sourisseau also suggested that the response to the photograph of the boy was itself inappropriate and self-congratulatory. “This image is spoken of as a relic endowed with enormous powers, an icon that will bring back our faith and open our hearts,” he wrote. “It must be so, Christian Europe. A Europe that still believes in miracles.”
The other cartoons depicting the boy — drawn by Mr. Sourisseau and other illustrators — played on French themes. One showed the xenophobic politician Jean-Marie Le Pen launching his new party and shouting about the fact that the boy’s clothes were the same colors as the French tricolor. Another cartoon showed tourists on the beach, apparently oblivious to the dead boy. A third included a friendly dinosaur from a French children’s television program.
A second rejected cover, published at the back of the issue, showed the drowned boy close to a billboard for McDonald’s.
Corinne Rey, who uses the pen name Coco, drew one of the cartoons and responded to criticism of the McDonald’s image on Twitter, writing that “we are not mocking the child. Instead we are criticizing the consumerist society that is being sold to them like a dream.”
Even as anger at the cartoons spread online, drawings and paintings of the dead boy clearly intended to pay tribute to him continued to appear on social networks and in the real world.
In France, there was more attention to the outraged reaction to the work of another cartoonist, Emmanuel Chaunu, who reportedly received death threats after publishing an image on Facebook of the dead boy wearing a school backpack to satirize the public’s obsession with the start of the new school year.
In an interview with Le Figaro, the conservative daily, Mr. Chaunu said that he was amazed by the angry reaction to what he considered a tribute to the dead boy. When the image was published at the start of September, the cartoonist explained, the French media were in the throes of a frenzy of reports about the stress of children going back to school and the anguish of parents. “Then, this photo unleashed an emotional tsunami and shook us,” he said.
Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting from Paris.
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(via NY Times)