Charlie Hebdo: not run by racists

Submitted by Matthew on 20 January, 2016 - 11:38 Author: Gemma Short

Once again outrage has been sparked by a cartoon in a special issue of French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

The magazine, published to mark the anniversary of a terrorist attack at its offices in which 12 died, prints a cartoon of Alan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy who tragically died trying to reach Europe with his family. The image of the toddler's dead body lying on a beach marked a shift in public attitudes to the refugee crisis. In the cartoon Alan Kurdi is depicted as an adult chasing two women — arms out-stretched. The text reads ″what would little Alan have grown to be?″, ″an ass groper in Germany″.

Many have accused Charlie Hebdo of making a literal racist point that all male Syrian refugees are destined to become sexual predators in European countries. Such an accusation is ridiculous. A little knowledge of Charlie Hebdo′s history, its political stance on the Front National, throws out that conclusion. In fact the cartoonist is trying to make the exact opposite point: that not all male Syrian refugees are future sexual abusers. It is trying to say that European governments, the press and the general public, are fickle — capable of immense sympathy when shown the photo of a little dead boy on a beach, but also whipping up a racist witchhunt, after the attacks in Cologne.

Most of those leading the witchhunt against Charlie Hebdo seem to be doing it on the basis that the cartoon, and the intentions of the cartoonist, are something that they are not. If the debate around the cartoon had centred on its taste, appropriateness or crassness I would have more sympathy.

There may well be a debate to be had about the appropriateness of Charlie Hebdo′s cartoons in general; I would be interested in having such a debate. Indeed I am disappointed that none of Charlie Hebdo′s critics are as concerned about the treatment of the issue of sexual assault in the cartoon, as they are about its treatment of refugees. Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian (Saturday 16 January) starts by accepting Charlie Hebdo was seeking to expose Europe′s hypocrisy on migrants, and takes up the question of taste. However he winds up conceding that it is wrong to publish anything that racists could take as their own. He defeats his own argument, however, by citing Ronald Reagan′s misappropriation of the chorus of Bruce Springsteen′s ‘Born in the USA’ as an example. Who on the left would want to ban Bruce Springsteen! Almost anything can be misappropriated by the right. The left should not take its cue on what we can say, draw or do, from what the right might do with it.