Charlie Hebdo's controversial Down syndrome joke lost on readers

© Eric Gaillard
A caricature by Charlie Hebdo, where General de Gaulle is holding Republican MP Nadine Morano depicted as an infant that reads “Morano, De Gaulle’s secret daughter with Down’s syndrome” has prompted bewilderment and a public backlash.

The cover of the latest weekly satirical French magazine has caused shockwaves on social media with come taking to Twitter using the hashtag #jenesuispluscharlie (I am no longer Charlie) to express their views on the matter. The hashtag was used last month in a backlash against a Charlie Hebdo cartoon mocking the drowning of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi in a perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

The hashtag is a spin on #jesuischarlie (I am Charlie) that made rounds in January when Muslim extremists brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi stormed into the magazine’s headquarters and killed 12 people avenging cartoons mocking Prophet Mohammed.

Former French president General De Gaulle’s real life daughter, Anne, who died at the age of 20 from pneumonia, had Down’s syndrome. But he never hid her from the public, nor did he hide his affection for her.

President of the Jérome Lejeune Foundation which defends people with Down’s syndrome, Jean-Marie Le Méné, believes the joke missed its aim. Speaking to Le Figaro he said that “by likening Morano to Anne, they (Charlie Hebdo) are victimizing her instead of judging.”

It all started earlier this week when Morano, a right-wing to far-right politician, became the target of criticism for repeatedly calling France “a country of white race” during a TV panel show using a probable quote by General De Gaulle. Although there is no actual proof that he had actually said that.

READ MORE: No more Muhammad cartoons, Charlie Hebdo editor says

This explains the magazine’s cover and their attempt at mocking Morano for being a racist.

However the joke fired back. “For a long time people with Down’s syndrome were victims of racist prejudice,” Le Méné explained in Le Figaro.

Many parents of children with Down’s syndrome have expressed their indignation online. A mother to a baby girl with Down’s syndrome, Caroline Boudet, wrote an open letter to the magazine on her Facebook page condemning their latest cover.

“Intelligence is opening of the spirit and the acceptance of others; stupidity is racism, it’s intolerance, it’s Nadine Morano, but it is not Down’s Syndrome,” Boudet wrote.

“You have the right to be humorous, as you see it, but your cover hurts me, and furthermore, it’s not funny,” she concluded.

Some Twitter users however are defending exactly that - the satirical journal’s right to joke at whatever they wish.

User @dominikFoto writes: “The hypocrisy of #jenesuispluscharlie after a caricature. So there are many subjects that we can’t be ironic about, huh?”

READ MORE: JeSuisCharlie now? Social media outrage at cartoon mocking death of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi

But most found the cartoon appalling. Politician Philippe de Villiers used his Twitter to say: “The cover of Charlie Hebdo is a scandal. It’s easy to taunt people with Down’s syndrome: 98 percent are eliminated in their mother’s womb.”

According to the Jérome Lejeune Foundation in 96-98 percent of cases when there is a prenatal Down’s syndrome diagnosis, mothers undergo abortion.