Thursday January 14, 2016

Aunt of drowned Syrian toddler outraged by Charlie Hebdo cartoon

Tima Kurdi is the aunt of Alan Kurdi.

Tima Kurdi is the aunt of Alan Kurdi. (CBC)

Listen 6:36

After gunmen attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo last year, people around the world adopted the slogan, "Je suis Charlie." But a cartoon in the latest edition of the French satirical magazine has some reconsidering that sentiment. 

The drawing shows the well-known image of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi lying face down on a Turkish beach. The caption asks, "What would little Aylan have become if he had grown up? A bum groper in Germany."

"It brings our pain back." - Tima Kurdi

The cartoon refers to the public attacks on women that occurred in Cologne, Germany, on New Year's Eve.

Alan Kurdi's aunt, Tima, who lives in Port Coquitlam, B.C., is disgusted by the depiction of her nephew. Here's part of her conversation with As it Happens host Carol Off: 

Carol Off: How did you find out that Charlie Hebdo had published this cartoon?

Tima Kurdi: I was at work here in my salon and CTV in Vancouver came to me and they asked, "Did you read the news today?" I said, "No." I went on the news on my laptop and I was reading it and I was like, "This is really disgusting." I was in tears to be honest. It's our family's pain ... This is what it has come to? To dishonour a two-year-old innocent boy like this. It's really disgusting and hurtful. But, we just need to ignore it. And I wish the media would ignore it, but it was too late. 

CO: After the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, we saw world leaders joining arms and walking in solidarity in support for free speech ... Do you believe that support for Charlie Hebdo should continue?

TK: I cannot stop them from doing it. The majority of people worldwide are not like that and they don't support it. But, it's freedom of speech and I think freedom of speech is okay … But when they cross the line, that's when they need attention ...  I only wish from them as human beings to respect this innocent two-year-old boy. Everybody has their own job. Their own opinion. That's what they do. That's what their newspaper is about. I can't stop it. But if you ask me about using or dishonouring this little boy, it brings our pain back.

Charlie Hebdo Alan Kurdi

Charlie Hebdo suggested that Alan Kurdi, had he grown up, would have been like the sexual attackers in Cologne, Germany (Twitter)

CO: What effect does all the publicity around your nephew have on your family?

TK: They're not really involved too much in the media, except me … It's not an easy thing to do. It has made me feel stronger. But at the same time, it's overwhelming. But, I want to continue to end this [refugee] crisis. I'm not going to give up. We need to ... come up with a political solution and end the war in Syria so everybody will go home to rebuild their lives.

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Reaction to the cartoon has been mixed. On Twitter, many As It Happens listeners spoke out against the cartoon. That position is challenged by two Canadian civil liberties groups.

Michael Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association believes Charlie Hebdo has a legal right to expression. Similarly, she says those who are offended by the publication can exercise that same right.

"People will inevitably be offended," Vonn says. "(But) just because they're offended doesn't mean that they don't have a perfect right to be."

Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association echoes that sentiment.

"This cartoon is remarkably offensive on a whole number of levels — at a grand societal level and also at the very personal level for people actually involved in this tragedy," she said, adding that there's something in the drawing to offend almost everyone.

She tells the Canadian Press she doesn't think the cartoon would qualify for sanction under Canada's hate-crime laws. 


With files from the Canadian Press. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.