This week, the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was criticised for publishing a shocking cartoon about migrants and rape culture.
It features a depiction of the terrible image of drowned three year-old Aylan Kurdi alongside what appear to be some dirty old men, chasing women Benny Hill style.
The caption reads:
Que serait devenu le petit Aylan s’il avait grandi? Tripoteur, de fesses en Allemagne.
This translates as: What would have become of little Aylan, had he grown up? Molester of buttocks in Germany.
On the face of it, this seems to imply that even drowned child migrants are (or were) potential gropers of the kind seen in Cologne recently. Such a suggestion would obviously be deeply offensive, to refugees and to the memory of Aylan Kurdi
However, my reading of the cartoon is that it is not making that (racist) point. Rather, it is satirising those who claim that all the migrants coming to Europe are sex pests and rapists. In a rather shocking manner, the cartoonist reminds us that the migrants are not all young single men, bringing single-man style crime and social problems to their place of sanctuary. There are also children and families among the refugees. A restrictive, knee-jerk policy based on the events of Cologne will mean disaster for vulnerable segments of the refugee population.
The cartoonist is Laurent ‘Riss’ Sourisseau, who was shot during the infamous shootings at the Charlie Hebdo offices last year, and hospitalised. He is now editorial director of the magazine, and has used the image of Aylan Kurdi before, satirising Europe’s confused attitudes to migrants. So I am confident that it was the second, satirical meaning of the cartoon that was intended, and not the more simplistic interpretation that some people have assumed.
This cartoon is, I think, a good example of why it is essential that there be no curbs on images or words that disturb and offends. Sometimes, it is only the art that offend that can break through the political blather. It is not simply that offensive art needs to be tolerated. Sometimes it also needs to be encouraged.