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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Charlie Hebdo: ... s'est reparti

Charlie Hebdo has recently published a cartoon 'satirizing' the refugee crisis and recent accusations of sexual abuse in Germany, depicting Aylan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian who died in the sea in September on the way to Europe, as a 'pig-faced' adult chasing 'white' women with the caption "What would have little Aylan grown up to be? An ass groper in Germany". 

The cartoon, drawn by Laurent Sourisseau, current director of the magazine, who was in the Charlie Hebdo offices last January when his colleagues were shot dead by terrorists.was an attempt at mocking accusations that many assailants of sexual abuse in Cologne, Germany, on New Year's Eve were refugees, including Syrians.
  
Leaving aside that the provocative style of the magazine that is supposed to promote a healthy critical attitude verges towards wanton sensationalism, it has to be stressed that the potential misreading of the cartoons was not only predictable but also likely desired as controversy of this sort would almost immediately boost sales. But there is more ... 



I was arguing this time last year in an exchange with my colleague Umut Özkırımlı in openDemocracy, the editorial team of Charlie Hebdo may have been thinking they were engaging in legitimate critique of Islam and Muslim communities but they were at best effectively decoupling their work from the social historical context in which it was produced and consumed. I was suggesting back then that Charlie Hebdo had to reflect on its humour (the tropes it utilized were devoid of any sensitivity and were wantonly borrwing racist and orientalist themes) and its repercussions in a society where the extreme Right was making considerable inroads into the public debate and the preferences of the electorate and where its Muslim populations saw in its critique (see attacks) against their religion an attack against themselves as a racialized group. 

Having said that, my comment here does in no way affect my condemnation of terrorism in the name of Islam but urgently invites reflection on the way we in the West hastily generalize (we share Charlie Hebdo's tendency to extrapolate from isolated instances) and conveniently externalize the problem of the so-called Muslim 'radicalization'.

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