OPINION - I am not Charlie: Satire and dehumanization of Türkiye earthquake victims

Mocking victims of one of largest earthquakes in contemporary history reveals extent of dehumanization that seems to be acceptable in French society

Farid Hafez  | 11.02.2023 - Update : 11.02.2023
OPINION - I am not Charlie: Satire and dehumanization of Türkiye earthquake victims

The author is a distinguished visiting professor of international studies and senior researcher at Georgetown University’s The Bridge Initiative. He is also the coeditor of the annual European Islamophobia Report.


Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that has sparked major controversies over republishing cartoons insulting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad but has received huge waves of solidarity after becoming a victim of an attack that left 12 people dead, has posted a cartoon that has rightly received major critique.

In 2015, after its headquarters was attacked and 12 people killed, many in Europe and beyond rallied in defense of freedom of speech and chanted “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) in solidarity with the magazine. But the magazine has also a long history of racist content, including anti-Muslim racism.

Dehumanization of earthquake victims

On the first day of the earthquake in Syria and Türkiye, under the heading “Cartoon of the Day,” a Charlie Hebdo drawing showed buildings near collapse and lying in rubble, a flipped-over car, and piles of debris in the quakes’ aftermath. “Earthquake in Türkiye,” was written above the cartoon and the words “No need to even send tanks” at the bottom.

What the painter depicted as satirical has nothing to do with critique of power structures, the ultimate target of any satirical pen. Mocking victims of one of the largest earthquakes in contemporary history, some of whom are still pulled out from under the rubble, reveals the extent of dehumanization that seems to be acceptable in French society. While thousands of people have been killed by the Kahramanmaras earthquakes of magnitude 7.7 and 7.6, making fun of thousands of people who died in the quake as well as the victims of the years long war in Syria is everything but enlightened critique.

Humanitarian aid in shadow of racism

And indeed, while many European countries came to support the victims of the earthquakes, sent financial aid, military personnel, and equipment to help thousands of people who have no shelter and rescue those who are still under the rubble, this cartoon reflects the lack of a humane reaction for people from Muslim majority countries.

The depiction is not unique and stands not only in a continuity with Charlie Hebdo’s infamous racist history. It reflects on the one hand also the extent to which Muslims have been dehumanized by the French state, which has become one of the most aggressive countries cracking down on the Muslim civil society, closing their institutions and attacking the resistance of anti-racist nongovernmental organizations that want to defend their right to live as equal citizens.

On the other hand, this depiction goes hand in hand with those far-right politicians, who have criticized their government’s support for the earthquake victims. While the French government has offered help for them, some far-right politicians are calling for not sending any financial aid at all.

More than everything else, this cartoon shows the outcome of a long tradition, a manifestation of what happens with one’s own humanity after continuous dehumanization of the Muslims as the “other.” A lack of empathy, even during these hours of despair, loss of loved ones, parents and children, many displaced people, and victims of civil war who have been without a place called home for more than a decade.

If this cartoon shows anything, it is the loss of the illustrator’s own lack of humanness and empathy that have always been at the center of those who have walked the earth in arrogance and ignorance.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu.

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