Did Charlie Hebdo cartoon on Cologne sexual assaults go too far?

French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo shows a cartoon of a grown-up Aylan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian toddler, chasing after women in Germany.

Thibault Camus/AP Photo
A man carries a placard reading "Duty of Remembrance" in front of an illuminated mural which reads "Fluctuat Nec Mergitur," Paris' latin motto signifying "Tossed but not Sunk" after a commemoration ceremony to mark the one-year anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher supermarket terror attacks, in Paris, January, 2016.

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has once again made international news Thursday, after it published a cartoon depicting drowned Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi. 

The cartoon was drawn by Charlie Hebdo editor and cartoonist Laurent Sourisseau. It depicts a grown-up Aylan Kurdi chasing women. Had Aylan grown up in Europe, the cartoon says, he might have become a "groper in Germany." 

This cartoon is an obvious response to the New Year's attacks in Cologne, Germany, where more than 100 women were reportedly sexually assaulted by men of "Arab or North African origin." Yet despite Europe's outraged response to the Cologne attacks, people worldwide are now questioning whether the reflects a shift in European attitudes toward Syrian refugees, or just plain racist.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported, Germany had a sexual assault problem long before immigrants were blamed in Cologne.

Kurdi's family fled from Syria's civil war, in search of a better life in Europe. The boat that was carrying the family from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos capsized, killing 3-year-old Aylan, his five-year-old brother, and his mother. Photographer Nilufer Demir's heartbreaking image of Aylan's drowned body inspired feelings of shame worldwide as leaders such as British Prime Minister David Cameron and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls pledged more aid for Syrian refugees. 

The wave of sympathetic feelings prompted by Ms. Demir's photograph has ebbed in recent months. The Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris sparked fears, not just in Europe, but overseas as well, that groups like ISIS were using Syrian refugees as a smokescreen to smuggle their own operatives into Europe. The New Year's eve attacks in Cologne prompted similar fears, and resulted in widespread protests

In June, Mr. Sourisseau announced that he would take a step back from offensive renderings of the Prophet Muhammad. Mr. Sourisseau said,  "We have drawn Muhammad to defend the principle that one can draw whatever they want." Although Charlie Hebdo would always stand by the principle of free expression, the magazine's editors and cartoonists expressed a desire not to become too focused on its critiques of Islam. 

Sourisseau, popularly known by the nickname "Riss," was wounded in the shoulder during the attacks in Paris last January. The first issue produced after the attacks featured a weeping Muhammad with the words "all is forgiven" in French. Charlie Hebdo has never shrunk from controversial topics, however, and the question of immigration has been a major question in the minds of Europeans for months.

This is not the first time that Charlie Hebdo has used Aylan's image in its cartoons. In September, Charlie Hebdo published several cartoons that employed variations of Ms. Demir's image to satirize the inconsistency of Europe's responses to refugees. Critics of the cartoons felt that they had crossed an unspoken line of decency.

Did Sourisseau go too far? Or was the publication of this cartoon reflect the shift in the European dialogue on immigration?

Popular outcry on social media sites such as Twitter suggests that the cartoon has resurfaced sympathy for the plight of Syrian migrants. 

Many were horrified by the cartoon, calling it "sick" and "disgusting." Twitter user Zamrah called the image "tasteless." 

Others saw the image not as racist, but rather a critique of racism. 

Opinions on the appropriateness of the cartoon differ. Whether or not viewers see the cartoon as indecent, it has once again opened debate on European racism towards Syrian refugees. 

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