Mac in the Mail

A little like this image

or this

a recent cartoon by Mac, depicting refugees crossing a border point as rats swarm around their ankles, has divided viewers.

The main point of contention seems to be the relationship between the rats and the humans – is it just the rats who are the interlopers or are the humans also rendered suspect?  It’s clear how those invoking this Nazi image have answered that question.

Dave Brown, writing in the Independent, thinks this parallel is unfair.

As a cartoonist, I would argue that he doesn’t appear to be saying that all migrants are rats, simply that some rats are slipping through among the migrants – and I certainly don’t have a problem with him characterising Isis fighters as rats.

It’s a plausible reading – but there are also some problems. The refugees are all in silhouette – apart from the woman who is wearing a niqab. They are not looking at us, and it has been suggested that racial stereotypes are being played to.  This perhaps becomes clearer if we look at some more humanised depictions of refugees.

The pressure of those familiar images from the 1930s combined with the unengaging presentation of the refugees, makes Mac’s image dubious.  There’s some plausible deniability for those like Dave Brown (who, as I was reminded, has caused similar controversy with his own cartoons) who want to deny  any connection between the ISIS rats and innocents caught up in war. But there’s perhaps a dog whistle effect in play for those who are more hostile to the influx of refugees. This possibility is of course heightened by the fact that one refugee seems to be carrying a gun.