Germany says Europe should design a plan with clarity
To handle all the refugees with love and Christian charity
But Hungary and others are responding with hysteria
To proposals that they settle folks who can’t survive in Syria.

          The great migration from Syria, the Middle East and North Africa is not, on the face of it, a suitable subject for satire. It seems obscene to mock a migration totaling many hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, crowded into small, sometimes fatally unseaworthy boats; pushing desperately against barbed wired fences and police cordons, some to escape the ravages of war, others fleeing hopelessly incompetent societies. All of it starkly, inescapably, thrust before us on television and social media.

          So surely this is no subject matter for comedians. Yet satirical humor is often biting and uncomfortable. It may aim at making us wince, even as we laugh. And this relentless, tragic story of mass migration has provoked a considerable amount of that uncomfortable kind of satire.     

          For one thing, online memes have included a bumper crop of cruel, jeering jokes at the refugees and their supporters. A standard theme was the prospect that ISIS was using the migration to smuggle in members of its  terrorist squads: “Fleeing Syria: Ready for War”. Another featured an athlete saying: “I heard we can get free steroids in England” followed by “Please help feed and house this poor, defenseless refugee,”

          Then, too, satire feeds on irony; and the online Epic Times enjoyed the historical irony that “ families of non-Aryan Syrian origin are eager, in fact desperate to make their way INTO Germany”

          But the difficulty of making a satirical point in such a painful context was illustrated by Charlie Hebdo’s efforts to weigh in on the subject. They ran cartoons mocking Europe’s response to the crisis. One riffed on the theme of the young boy whose downed body had been featured throughout the world on social media. The cartoon offered proof that Europe’s Christian heritage is compassionate; a priest intones: “Christians walk on water”, juxtaposed to the disappearing body of a child saying “Muslim children drown.” Yet On Twitter thousands accused Charlie Hebdo of making fun of the dead toddler, though the message, insisted the magazine’s editor, was directed at the cruel complacency of much of Europe.

          Satire, it seems, is a dangerous business. It can bite the satirist.


Posted on Tuesday, September 22, 2015 (Archive on Monday, June 18, 2018)



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