Charlie Hebdo earthquake cartoon triggers angry reaction

10 Feb

Satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo is under fire yet again on social media, this time for a cartoon that appears to scorn the devastating earthquake that killed thousands of people in Turkey and Syria.


Tweeted on Monday, the cartoon by artist Pierrick Juin is captioned "Earthquake in Turkey," and shows heaps of rubble and collapsing buildings, along with a second caption: "Don't even need to send tanks."

Many users reacted with anger, saying the cartoon makes light of the tragedy that has killed at least 17,500 people, leaving many more homeless. Omar Suleiman, a US Muslim scholar, wrote on Twitter that mocking the death of thousands of Muslims is the "peak of how France has dehumanized us in every way."

Reactions on Twitter, in Turkish, French and some in English, ranged from decrying what is perceived as "hate speech," "stupid" and "racist" to calling the magazine a "disgrace to humanity" for publishing the cartoon. A Turkish presidential spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, also reacted to the drawing: "Modern barbarians!" he tweeted. "Suffocate in your hatred and grudges."

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A comment on Erdogan's military operations and Europe's weapons exports

The cartoon can be interpreted as a snide comment on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's attacks against Kurdish militias in northern Syria, a region that corresponds to the areas affected by the earthquake.

It also indirectly refers to Europe's weapons exports. Germany's long hesitation to send tanks to Ukraine has been a topic of international discussion, but in the 1990s the country provided hundreds of Leopard tanks to Turkey, a NATO ally, with the only condition being that it did not sell or give them to any third party. Turkey later used those tanks in a 2018 military operation against Kurds in northern Syria.

Renowned for its provocative cartoons

With its provocative illustrations, Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy. Following a publication of a caricature of Muhammad on its cover, the strongly secularist magazine was added to al-Qaeda's most wanted list in 2013. The offices of the publication were the target of a terrorist attack in 2015, which killed 12 people and injured 11 others. The world rallied for freedom of speech in the ensuing "Je suis Charlie" campaign.

Earthquakes in Europe have equally inspired the Charlie Hebdo illustrators in the past. In 2016, a cartoon with the heading "Earthquake Italian style" lampooned the victims of a massive earthquake in Italy. The cartoon depicted blood-streaked victims as various pasta dishes. Critics attacked the magazine, saying "This is not satire," while one of the cartoonists defended the cartoon as black humor. 


Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier

Author Dagmar Breitenbach

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