Cartoon of dead Syrian toddler in controversial French newspaper draws outrage

By The Canadian Press
January 14, 2016 - 4:10pm

VANCOUVER — An inflammatory cartoon picturing a drowned Syrian toddler and predicting his future as a sex offender in Germany is “disgusting,” says the boy’s aunt.

Tima Kurdi said she was brought to tears when she saw the depiction of her two-year-old nephew Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body in the controversial French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

The cartoon asks in French what would have become of the boy had he grown up. It shows two men running after screaming women with their tongues hanging out and hands outstretched above a caption that reads, also in French, bum grabbers in Germany.

The drawing refers to a series of sex attacks allegedly committed by a large group of migrants in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve.

The toddler drowned, along with his mother and older brother, while crossing the Mediterranean en route to Europe last September.

A photo of the boy’s body lying face down on a Turkish beach made the front page of newspapers across the world and stoked global outrage over the Syrian refugee crisis.

“This is really painful, to use that innocent boy’s picture. It went too far,” Kurdi said in an interview from suburban Vancouver on Thursday.

“We’re trying to move on. Why do they want to bring the pain back to us?”

The boy has been widely reported as being three years old, but Kurdi clarified on Thursday that he was two when he died.

Kurdi has been an outspoken advocate for Syrian refugees since the death of her extended family members. She helped sponsor her other brother, Mohammad, and his family, who arrived in Canada late last year.

Long-time British Columbian political cartoonist Adrian Raeside said he believes the newspaper’s use of Alan’s image was unnecessary and denigrates the work of editorial cartoonists.

“To be honest, that’s way beyond what anyone should do. A dead kid? I mean, come on,” Raeside said, emphasizing this was his personal opinion.

“I hope that this doesn’t give editorial cartoonists a bad name.”

Raeside spoke about his own policy of showcasing only people who willingly enter the public domain, leaving out those connected unintentionally.

“I don’t draw cartoons about some politician’s wife. That’s not her fault that her husband’s in politics,” he said.

“Some politician’s kids? That’s not their fault that their father is the prime minister.”

The cartoon comes about a year after gunmen stormed Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris and killed 12 people over the newspaper’s incendiary depictions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

While the publication stirred controversy and sparked acrimony online, Micheal Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said that this anger is an unfortunate but natural result of the importance and protection our society places on freedom of expression.

“People will inevitably be offended,” Vonn said. “(But) just because they’re offended doesn’t mean that they don’t have a perfect right to be.”

Charlie Hebdo is exercising its legal right to expression, and at the same time those decrying the publication are exercising that same right, Vonn said.

Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association added that a society that values freedom of expression has to take the good with the bad.

“This cartoon is remarkably offensive on a whole number of levels — at a grand societal level and also at the very personal level for people actually involved in this tragedy,” she said, adding that there’s something in the drawing to offend almost everyone.

She predicted the cartoon would not qualify for sanction under Canada’s hate-crime laws, which she described as having a very high threshold.

Zwibel also observed the speed of social media today means counter-speech and contrary perspectives are able to mobilize quickly.

— Follow @gwomand on Twitter

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

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