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Charlie Hebdo blasted for migrant cartoon – again

Jacques Demarthon, AFP | A special commemorative edition of Charlie Hebdo hit newsstands in Paris on January 6, 2015, a year after the deadly attack on the weekly's headquarters.

Charlie Hebdo has once again caused outrage with a cartoon of Aylan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy whose drowned body washed up in September on a Turkish beach, in the latest indication that its caustic brand of humour is not to everyone’s taste.

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In the latest issue of the weekly, published on Wednesday, cartoonist and chief editor Laurent Sourisseau, known as Riss, sketched a pervert in pursuit of a woman under a banner that reads, "What would have become of little Aylan if he grew up?"

"Someone who gropes asses in Germany," Riss added, alluding to a rash of assaults targeting women at New Year's festivities in Cologne that has been blamed on migrants and has triggered xenophobic reactions across Europe.

The cartoon was intended as a critique of fickle media who mourn Aylan one day and then blast all migrants as perverts at the first opportunity.

Sure enough, few people got the message, let alone found it amusing.

"It's disgusting," Tima Kurdi, Aylan's aunt wrote in a Twitter message about the cartoon.

Kurdi, who recently helped her brother and his family to resettle in Canada, also told public broadcaster CBC: "I hope people respect our family's pain."

The drawing prompted sharp criticism on social networks and revived a debate about whether the cartoon is overtly racist.

The ABC’s Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill said on Twitter the cartoon was “outrageous”, but the Financial Times’ Christopher Thompson suggested it may be a satire on “sweeping stereotypes about migrants” and not racist at all.

The downside of global fame

Last year’s deadly assault on Charlie Hebdo’s Paris office, which killed eight staff members including some of the finest cartoonists in the trade, has brought the irreverent weekly far more readers and scrutiny than ever before.

Over the past 12 months, media outlets and readers around the world have rushed to check out and pass judgment on its latest cartoons at every major event.

Their reactions suggest Charlie Hebdo – a leftist, atheist and anti-racist publication – is struggling to cope with the challenge of reaching out beyond an audience of faithful readers fine-tuned to its particular brand of humour.

Riss, who was gravely injured in last year’s jihadist attack, had already caused controversy months ago by drawing the Syrian toddler lying dead on the beach under a McDonald's billboard.

At the time few people got the acerbic critique of consumerism and of sensationalist mass media; many more saw it as a gratuitous, racist slur aimed at desperate refugees.

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