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Belgian Minister Defends Zero Tolerance Clip as a Joke

Belgium’s migration minister sparked plenty of outrage when he mistook a parody for a pat on the back.

Belgium Asylum and Migration Minister Theo Francken attends a ministerial meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council (JAH) at the European Council in Brussels, on  December 5, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand        (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Belgium Asylum and Migration Minister Theo Francken attends a ministerial meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council (JAH) at the European Council in Brussels, on December 5, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Theo Francken, Belgium’s minister for migration and asylum, is getting a lot of heat for his sense of humor after he reposted a spoof clip depicting him arresting an undocumented migrant.

The GIF showed Francken, his face pasted over the body of a police officer, swooping in to put a suction cup on a black man, who then gets flown up into a helicopter. It’s followed by a “Zero Tolerance” tag line, modeled on Coke Zero branding.

Francken seemed to find it flattering, and posted it on Facebook with the comment, “Look what I found, zero tolerance, it’s funny, :-)” RTBF public radio reported.

Outcry on social media was swift. “You think this is funny, you make us vomit, Mr. Francken,” said Ahmed Laaouej, a member of parliament who is of Moroccan descent and represents the Socialist Party. 

Francken, a Flemish nationalist, is well known for his hard line views on immigration. Just last week he proposed tightening Belgium’s migration law, and said he plans to extend detention times for undocumented migrants. Last month he also waded into the burkini debate, expressing support for a ban on the covered-up beach attire. 

Francken initially defended the post with a comment: “So every video in which a non-white person is arrested is racist? Political correctness has no borders.” But he soon wiped the video off his social media accounts.

The creator of the GIF is Roberto Salvador, a graphic designer who goes under twitter handle @Design_Bastard. He told Foreign Policy he actually intended the clip as a satire and was surprised when Francken seemed to view it as a compliment.

Salvador said he was inspired to make the parody after he read an article Monday in Belgian weekly Le Vif about how Francken had deployed a huge show of force — 100 police officers, dozens of cars, and a helicopter — to detain 12 undocumented African immigrants in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels.

So Salvador decided to use the episode as creative fodder for his Tumblr“I wanted to express that with a caricature in the form of a GIF,” he said. “The original message took on a different significance. The media quickly called it a ‘racist video,’ but it is purely contextual.”

Photo credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Kavitha Surana is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy, where she produces breaking news and original reports with a particular focus on immigration, counterterrorism, and border security policy. Previously, Kavitha worked at New York magazine’s Bedford + Bowery blog, CNNMoney, The Associated Press in Italy, and Fareed Zakaria GPS and has freelanced from Italy and Germany for publications like Quartz, Al Jazeera America, OZY, and GlobalPost/PRI. In 2015, she was awarded a Fulbright trip to Germany, as well as a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation to report on migration and integration. She also reported from Rwanda and Senegal. Kavitha studied European history at Columbia University and holds a master’s degree in journalism and European studies from New York University. She has studied in Italy and Peru and speaks Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. @ksurana6

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