Charlie Hebdo has everyone up in arms with their latest cartoon. People have variously said they are enraged, that it is racist, that it is disgusting. For me it most definitely is not funny, but it encompasses such complicated contradictions in one image, in such a painful way, that I see it as masterful provocation.

The death of the toddler Alan Kurdi, and the photos of his body on the beach, rightly provoked outpourings of grief. The death of an innocent infant – and he was far from the only one to die making the tragic trip to Europe – are tragic, and he was rightfully mourned. His death helped change political opinion to be more pro-refugee in Europe in the autumn of 2015.

However a three year old can be little other than innocent. With adults it is more complex. And with more than 1 million asylum seekers having come to Europe in 2015 it was only a matter of time before some of them committed crimes. There is simply no way they would all be paragons of virtue.

To mourn Alan, but to point the finger at asylum seekers for the Köln New Year sexual assaults and – in particular – to take a harder line towards asylum seekers arriving in Europe as a result, is the essential contradiction from this Hebdo cartoon for me. You cannot screen out molesters before they arrive; your only option is to investigate, try and imprison those that behave that way, and – come what may – defend the right to asylum from those fleeing war.

Those on the receiving end of the cartoon are us, the Europeans who cannot see our own hypocrisy, and the cartoon nails that – in its harsh and perhaps tasteless way – better than anything else has so far. It is obviously not literally alleging Alan would have become a sex attacker, because that is clearly absurd.

So if you see Europe’s hypocrisy in the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, don’t get angry at the magazine, but direct your fury at Horst Seehofer proposing an arbitrary cap on refugee numbers for Germany, at Robert Fico using Köln as a justification for Slovakia to refuse to take any refugees, at Hungary for bringing a ECJ case against migrant quotas, and at the governments of France and the UK for refusing to act on the “jungle” refugee camp near Calais and choosing to bulldozer the place instead.


  1. @Oliver H – also, as a writer (and I can’t speak as a cartoonist as I am lousy at drawing) we cannot ever possibly accomodate every possible interpretation of what we write. If we thought of that we’d never get anything written. We all, as readers of text or viewers of cartoons, have a responsibility to try to put our shoes in the person who was doing the writing or drawing.

  2. @Oliver H – I don’t know if I am doing *enough* for refugees, but I am doing my bit – see this.

    Your argument also seems to be that if people are too thick to understand satire, the satire should not be produced in the first place. That’s not a decent outcome I think.

  3. Philippe A.

    I couldn’t agree more. I had exactly the same reflection when I saw the cartoon for the first time in an article that was plainly outlining a number of tweets by people who expressed disgust and did not (want to) see the brilliant message under the surface.

  4. Oliver H

    And what if you don’t share in the hypocrisy? What if you’re actually busy helping refugees as much as you can? Why are you prohibited from stating that if anything, “De mortuis nil nisi bene” should be valid for toddlers?

    You say “It is obviously not literally alleging Alan would have become a sex attacker, because that is clearly absurd.” but it is not at all absurd for PEGIDA and their supporters. It is, in fact, precisely the logic they follow. Instead of holding up the mirror to them, the cartoon is reinforcing their prejudice.

    It is rather irrelevant how Charlie Hebdo MEANT the cartoon. As any communication seminar will tell you, what you meant is not necessarily what you said, and what you said is not necessarily what the other side heard/read, and it’s within the responsibility of the speaker to consider what audience he is dealing with and adjust his message accordingly. And, again, I believe this is especially true when the subject is children – or even dead children, as here.

    You claim these cartoons show us our hypocrisy. I beg to differ. They may try to do so, but as an actual effect, they are reinforcing it.

  5. Thank you, you seem to be one of the very few people who got it (not that it was that complicated to begin with).
    Photo of a poor dead child? Crocodile tears, migrants welcome!
    As soon as some migrants cause trouble? To hell with them pigs!
    That’s public opinion, reacting on emotions only.
    These types of cartoons are not pleasant, because they show us our own hypocrisy. I guess it’s easier to just call them racist.

  6. No, actually, because it was actually incorrectly reported initially – see Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Alan_Kurdi So my spelling is correct, and Charlie Hebdo’s is wrong.

  7. Simon Taylor

    You might want to correct the spelling of AYLAN, Jon.

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