‘Zero tolerance’: Belgian migration minister slammed for taking ‘racist’ ad as compliment

© Roberto Salvador
The Belgian minister for migration and asylum, Theo Francken, has been slammed for reposting a satirical advertisement featuring himself arresting an undocumented migrant in, let’s just say, quite an unconventional way.

The caricature advertisement showed the minister’s face pasted over the body of a policeman who was swooping in on a chopper to arrest a migrant by putting a suction cup on a black man’s head. He is then brought into the helicopter afterwards. The video is concluded by a ‘Zero Tolerance’ tagline, apparently referring to diet Coke.

“Look what I found, zero tolerance, it’s amusing,” Francken posted, as quoted by Belgian media outlet RTBF.

The message, perhaps obviously, triggered online outrage of epic proportions, with local politicians speaking out against the ad as well as other Belgian residents.

“You think this is funny? You make us vomit, Mr. Francken,” Ahmed Laaouej, a member of parliament who is of Moroccan descent and represents the Belgian Socialist Party, posted on Twitter.

Another Belgian official, David Lallemand, posted, “The more it’s huge, disgusting and outrageous, the better it goes. Theo Francken, the usual…”

Other users also reposted screenshots of the gif, calling the tweet ‘racist’ and commenting “This says a lot!”

Following the backlash, Francken first defended his post with a statement, “So every video in which a non-white person is arrested is racist? Political correctness has no borders.”

However, soon the post was deleted from his Facebook account.

The creator of the .gif advertisement, graphic designer Roberto Salvador, told Foreign Policy that he meant the ad to be a satire, and was genuinely surprised after discovering that the minister regarded it as more of a compliment.

Salvador added that the inspiration for his ad became a news article published on Monday in Belgian weekly Le Vif about Francken having deployed 100 police officers, dozens of vehicles, and a chopper, to arrest 12 undocumented African migrants in the Molenbeek district of Brussels.

“I wanted to express that with a caricature in the form of a GIF. The original message took on a different significance. The media quickly called it a ‘racist video,’ but it is purely contextual,” Salvador emphasized.

Following the initial repost by the minister, he also tweeted, “Theo Francken has shared my gif, I’m dying.”

Francken is widely known as a Flemish nationalist, and has been lining up some hardline measures for migrants. Last week, he suggested that the country’s migration law should be tightened, adding that he plans to extend detention for undocumented migrants. In August, he backed the burqini ban.

Francken is by no means the only Belgian official with such hardline views: last year Interior Minister Jan Jambon was slammed for saying refugees should wear special badges so police could identify them more easily.