Charlie Hebdo is at it again. How the French magazine has angered people with its Turkey earthquake cartoon


Monday’s powerful earthquake and its subsequent aftershocks have flattened Turkey and Syria, killing now at least 15,383 people and injuring countless others. In Turkey, the death toll has surged by more than 3,000 on Thursday, taking the total to 12,391. In war-ravaged Syria, the total deaths has now climbed to 2,992.

Rescuers continue to dig under the debris to pull out survivors in a race against time, where the weather is worsening the situation. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also receiving flak for his government’s response to the disaster, prompting him to acknowledge that the state initially “had some problems”, but insisting that the situation was “now under control”.

As the countries try to pick up the pieces, a new storm is brewing their way — the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has sparked a row with their new cartoon, which appears to be mocking the victims of the quake.

Anger over cartoon

On 6 February, the satirical magazine — which has courted many a controversies — published a cartoon by artist Pierrick Juin showing teetering buildings amid heaps of rubble with the caption: “No need to send tanks.”

The now under fire cartoon was posted on Twitter under the heading “cartoon of the day” and it’s not surprising that it caused outrage and anger among the public. Many stated that the art was mocking the countless victims of the powerful quake, with others calling it vile, racist, and immensely insensitive.

American Muslim scholar and civil rights leader Omar Suleiman, from the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, commenting on the cartoon tweeted that it “dehumanises” Muslims as victims in “every way”.

Many Turks calling out the publication, said that when its headquarters had been attacked in 2015, they had staged marches in support of the “Je Suis Charlie”, only to be repaid this way.

Political analyst Öznur Küçüker Sirene addressed the magazine in a tweet. “Even the Turks were ‘Charlie Hebdo’ to share your grief and today you dare mock the suffering of an entire people. One must really have some nerve to do this while there are still babies waiting to be rescued underneath the rubble,” she said.

The cartoon even drew condemnation from the Turkish presidential spokesperson; Ibrahim Kalin tweeted, “Modern barbarians! Suffocate in your hatred and grudges.”

Some angry Twitter users reacting to the post, published their own cartoon — an image of Charlie Hebdo written on a roll of toilet paper.

In an opinion piece published in the Turkish daily Daily Sabah, Klaus Jurgens wrote, “The cartoon in question cannot be defended with freedom of expression. It cannot be regarded as freedom of speech. It is not simply bad taste. It does indeed incite hatred within society at home in France and everywhere else.

Je Suis Controversy

The latest Turkey cartoon by the French satirical magazine joins the long list of controversies it has stirred up.

Earlier in January, it angered Iran when it published caricatures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader. The sketch had been made in support of Iran’s unprecedented women-led protests which started last September after the death of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old, who was detained for wearing the hijab “incorrectly”.

The magazine has been dubbed provocative and inflammatory; many call it Islamaphobic. In 2006, it chose to publish cartoons portraying the face of Prophet Muhammad. That decision of theirs turned deadly when terrorists stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and killed 12 people and injured at least 11 in 2015.

Also read: Charlie Hebdo attack: Why the massacre may not be mere revenge killings

In 2011, it published an issue “guest-edited” by the Prophet Muhammad. The cover was a cartoon of the prophet threatening readers with “a hundred lashes if you don’t die laughing”. The website was hacked and Paris offices firebombed.

The French magazine has also taken on world leaders and celebrities. In 2020, a cartoon depicted Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan looking up a woman’s skirt while drinking beer in his underpants. It was headlined, “Erdogan: He’s very funny in private.” The art was featured days after the Turkish president had called for a boycott of French products for promoting a drive against Islamic extremism.

The magazine also took on the racism row at Buckingham Palace. After Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, the magazine published a cartoon showed Queen Elizabeth kneeling on the Duchess of Sussex’s neck with the headline “Why Meghan left Buckingham Palace”…. with a speech bubble “Because I couldn’t breathe”.

The French magazine has been around since 1970 (although it had a long hiatus between 1981 and 1992). Charlie Hebdo is part of a long tradition of political satire in France. The name roughly translates to “Charlie weekly.” There are two competing stories about how the name came to be. The first is that a predecessor publication was forced out of business for making fun of French President Charles de Gaulle’s death and it was a shot at him. The second is that it is a Charlie Brown reference.

Charlie Hebdo is not broadly popular: its weekly circulation is around 50,000, and it has often struggled financially.

And its popularity isn’t going to get any better while it continues to provoke and anger people with its ‘insensitive’ artworks.

With inputs from agencies

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Charlie Hebdo is at it again. How the French magazine has angered people with its Turkey earthquake cartoon
Charlie Hebdo is at it again. How the French magazine has angered people with its Turkey earthquake cartoon
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