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Charlie Hebdo’s Dead Boy Cartoon Triggers Global Ire

Photo published for Charlie Hebdo Mocks The Death of Syrian Child Aylan Kurdi

Nilufer Demir/Reuters photo

By Casey Bukro

Charlie Hebdo, the French satire newspaper, published a cartoon of a drowned 3-year-old boy and showed why codes of ethics should warn against satirical cruelty.

Satire can be cruel, inspiring or infuriating. Maybe all at once. But are there limits to this form of freedom of expression?

Charlie Hebdo clearly touched a nerve by joking about the boy lying facedown in the surf of a Turkish beach, after drowning with his mother and a brother while attempting to flee war-torn Syria, becoming a stark symbol of Europe’s growing migrant crisis.

The cartoon was based on photos of the boy, first described as Aylan Kurdi and corrected later as Alan Kurdi.

“The haunting photograph of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach last week, has been inescapable; even if you’ve just seen it once, it’s an image you can’t forget,” wrote Carolyn O’Hara, managing editor of The Week magazine.

O’Hara compared it with other grim photos of the past that forced the world to confront some tragic realities, such as the the 1972 photo of a naked Vietnamese girl screaming in agony from napalm burns, the 1993 image of a vulture stalking a starving Sudanese toddler and the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner with outstretched arms.

It could be argued that these images served a greater purpose. Can the same be said about Charlie Hebdo?

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