Once more on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Since it happened more than a week ago, various commentators have explored the issue of the magazine’s alleged Islamophobia. A quality that, if I might say so myself, is quite often in evidence. Nevertheless, the matter is more complex and opaque than a few unambiguously racist images lifted from their original context would suggest.
For starters, I’d recommend checking out the Olivier Cyran article from 2013, translated by Daphne Lawless, to get a sense of some of the internal dissent that existed within their editorial team since 2001. But I’ve done some looking around and learned that even this article probably isn’t definitive, since it’s pretty clear Cyran had a messy falling out with some of the staff at Charlie Hebdo. Still, I don’t think Cyran can be entirely discredited even if he did have an axe to grind with some of the staff.
And there’s also this, a riposte written by a Muslim woman who worked for Charlie Hebdo when Cyran’s article appeared. She points out that he omitted her name in discussing the various cartoonists at the magazine. Which she says is an understandable mistake, pouring salt on the wound, since her name is “difficult to remember,” signing it in full at the end: Zaynab bint Mohammad ibn al-Mâatî al-Rhazwî al-Harîzî. Either way, however, it seems beyond question that Philippe Val — the editor who took over after 2001 — is an ardent Zionist and neocon creep. His promotion to this position would seem in line with the magazine’s overall rightward drift, post-9/11.
Regardless, I’m reposting a slightly modified translation of the Zineb el-Rhazoui reply by Seth Ackerman below. It appears in a link toward the end of his most recent Jacobin piece, but since many may not have read it I thought I’d give it a broader platform. Like Kenan Malik, el-Rhazoui is a thorn in the side of “white knight” do-gooders from the Marxist camp, like Richard Seymour, who’d like to simplify matters and speak out on behalf of all the Muslim immigrants living in Europe. Maybe she’ll be tarred as just another Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a liberal interventionist and outspoken critic of Islam. Or maybe, just maybe, she’ll be read on her own terms.
[I will only add that the translation of Gruppe Soziale Kämpfe’s statement on the persecution of Muslims throughout the West is worth reading, and that it can be found on Comrade Seymour’s blog.]
Cercle des volontaires
December 22, 2013
On December 5th , I learned in the press that I have a terrible disease. The diagnosis, by Olivier Cyran on the website Article 11, is definitive: I am a racist. Being of French citizenship, I was anxious to identify which races were likely to activate my white-woman antibodies before the malady could advance any further. My suspicions naturally gravitated to the descendants of those exotic hordes who are said to be invading Old France to steal our bread, my bread. The Chinese? I’ve received no Asian complaint on this score. The blacks of Africa and elsewhere? That happens to be the color of the man I love. The drinkers of vodka? I just came back from a year’s exile in Slovenia and don’t especially remember being allergic to Slavic charms. Who then? “Whites”? I wouldn’t venture to think Olivier Cyran could adhere to the theory of “anti-white racism.” No. I didn’t have to make it far into the piece to be reassured that his diagnosis was more precise: my racism, thank God (that idiot), is only aimed at Muslims, and I contracted this dangerous syndrome from the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo. An occupational illness, then. Because Olivier Cyran is himself a veteran of the shop, though I never had the pleasure of meeting him — since he had the luck, and the balls, according to him, to get out before the infection could spread through the paper — I’ve decided to address him as tu, since we use tu among colleagues at Charlie.
Olivier, you start from the premise that the Muslims of Azerbaijan, of Bosnia, of Malaysia, Egypt or Burkina Faso, represent a single whole that can be designated as a “race.” Well, it so happens that that’s the one I belong to. The fact that I’m an atheist, and proud of it? It makes no difference, since you don’t ask us what we think; you talk about racism, and therefore race. I won’t keep beating around the bush, since I don’t doubt for a second that, like me, you perfectly understand the distinction between a religion and a race. If you make this lamentable conflation, it’s because you engage in a sociological fallacy whose origins lie in the demography of France: our Muslims are most often those we call “Arabs.” I’m sort of starting to understand why you speak of racism. But let’s try to be precise: we’re not talking about the Arabs of Lebanon, who are rarely encountered in the French projects, nor the persecuted Arab Ahwazi minority of Iran, whom nobody in France talks about, and certainly not the Arabs of Qatar who keep Louis Vuitton in business. No, you’re talking about the “Arabs” of North Africa. (And here again, it so happens to be the “race” from whence I sprang). Moreover, for your information, those “Arabs” aren’t always Arabs. The best-informed people in France know that they are Berbers, a word of Greek origin, “Bearded,” which refers to us Amazighes, Imazighen — Free Men, as we like to call ourselves. I am thus triply qualified to dispel the obvious confusion you manifest when you identify those you claim to be defending: the Muslim race.
A Muslim you will stay
Among the individuals that you assign to this racial category, there are militant atheists like me, obviously secularist [laïque]. There are atheists who have other fish to fry, they are secularists too. There are atheists who love Charlie Hebdo and support it; others less so or not at all. There are agnostics, skeptics, free-thinkers, deists; they are secularists as well. There are believers who are non-practicing but politically Islamist, practicing but secularist, or even those with “no opinion,” whose daily lives do not suffer because of Charlie Hebdo. There are converts to Christianity — and oh, are they secularist, for they’ve endured the terrors of theocracy in their countries of origin. And finally there are the fundamentalists [intégristes], the militant Islamists, the adherents of an identity defined above all by religion, and those are the ones you have chosen to defend. Those are the ones who, given the reality of French laïcité, have no other choice than to cry racism, a tear in their eye and a hand on their heart, on the pretext that their “religious feelings” have been mocked by a drawing in Charlie. Among them you will find many who stand for laïcité in France but vote Ennahda in Tunisia, who do their shopping at a Parisian halal butcher but would cry scandal if an eccentric decided to open a charcuterie in Jeddah. Who are outraged when a day care center fires a veiled employee but say nothing when someone they know forces his daughter to wear the veil. They are a minority. But they are the standard to which you have chosen to align the identity of all of us.
Enough generalities, which I didn’t think a man of the pen needed to be reminded of. If I’ve taken up mine to answer you, it is not solely to defend myself from racism, but above all because in my journalist’s memory I have rarely resented an opinion column as much as I did yours. If you will allow an Arab to address her own complaint, let me tell you that your rhetoric and arguments are the most sophisticated variety of racism that exists in France. Rare are those today who would risk shouting from the rooftops, “Ragheads Out!” The extremists who would do so would immediately be jeered by you, by me, and by a majority of the French people. First of all, you quote Bernard Maris, Catherine, Charb, Caroline Fourest. What about me, what about me! You preferred to omit my name, when it was my articles that you pointed to as dangerously “Islamophobic,” thus, according to you, necessarily racist. Frankly, I wondered why, and I see only two options:
- you didn’t want to let Charlie Hebdo’s detractors (who can only subscribe to your thinking if they never read the paper) know that the author of these racist ravings belongs precisely to the Muslim “race,” or
- you simply didn’t think that, as a person, I was worth naming, since in a fascist rag like Charlie I couldn’t be anything but the house Arab.
I must have been hired as an alibi, so that Charlie could hit its diversity quota, but you could never imagine that I could be brought on staff for the same reasons that you were. An Olivier, of course, is hired for his professional qualities; a Zineb is only hired by affirmative action. Or maybe you spared me because in my case you have no personal scores to settle, as you do with a fair number of your former colleagues. In that case, I would have readers seek the motives behind your article somewhere other than the realm of ideas.
Racism by omission
A Zineb who spits on Islam, that’s beyond you, isn’t it? It disconcerts you so much that you preferred not to name me, so as not to introduce any doubt as to the veracity of your accusations of racism against us, the journalists of Charlie. If the expression “spit on Islam” shocks you, let me answer you on that too. Why the hell is a “white person” who spits on Christianity an anticlerical, but an Arab who spits on Islam is alienated, an alibi, a house Arab, an incoherence that one would prefer not even to name? Why? Do you think that people of my race, and myself, are congenitally sealed off from the ubiquitous ideas of atheism and anticlericalism? Or is it that you think that unlike other peoples, our identity is solely structured by religion? What is left of an Arab when he no longer has Islam? To listen to you, a person like me must be some kind of harki of the Koran, we are traitors so profoundly stricken by a racial complex that we harbor a single regret, that of not being white. As for me, my interactions with Muslims and Arabs did not begin with the  Marche des beurs. I’m what is called a blédarde, born in Morocco to an indigenous father and French mother. It’s there that I was educated and began my career as a journalist in a weekly paper that was shut down by the regime in 2010. My colleagues from the old country can explain to you how, in 2006, the Moroccan police state, which had other scores to settle with us, organized a fake demonstration of Islamists in front of the office of the Journal Hebdo, which was accused of having published Charlie′s caricatures. In reality, it was a photo of a random person seated at a café terrace holding a copy of Charlie Hebdo. I can also tell you that your piece in Article11 was posted on Moroccan websites, the same kind of sites that would never dare to poke their noses into a corruption scandal involving the King, for example. I won’t hide from you that on this one you managed to make not only the Islamists happy but also the Moroccan dictatorship that forced me and several of my colleagues into exile, and which continues to harass us as traitors to the nation, henchmen of foreign powers hostile to Morocco, even to Islam. A piece like yours is worth its weight in gold to the royalist police agents, who sponsored a “dossier” against Charlie published in a gutter newspaper in Casablanca. It informs readers that, among other things, the Molotov cocktail attack on Charlie′s offices in November 2011 was an insurance fraud, and that Charb drives a Ferrari thanks to all the dough we make. I don’t know if you’ve heard from Charb since you left the paper, but he still hasn’t passed his driving test. In another Morroccan article on Charlie, I learned I’d been hired because I had slept with Caroline Fourest and that my reporting was financed by the Algerian, Spanish, Israeli secret services. Clearly a raghead can’t really be hired for the same reasons as an Olivier.
My friend, I know you have nothing to do with the whole journalistic sewer that serves the Mohammed VI dictatorship. I simply want to show you who you’re making happy, if my pieces on Islam might occasionally please a few members of the Front Nationale.
You see, Olivier, as a blédarde born in the Maghreb, assigned against my will to a religious pigeonhole, not only by you, but above all by a theocratic state that does not allow me to choose my faith and which governs my personal status by religious laws, I have always wondered why guys like you lie down before Islamist propaganda. The laws of my country do not grant me a quarter of the rights you acquired at birth, and if I were to be attacked or raped in the streets of Casablanca by a barbu, as has been promised in hundreds of emails — never taken seriously by the Morroccan police — the websites that posted your article will definitely say I was asking for it because I don’t respect Islam. And you here in France, in a secularist state, you rehash, without grasping its implications, this whole moralizing discourse about how one must “respect Islam,” as demanded by the Islamists, who do not ask whether Islam respects other religions, or other people. Why the hell should I respect Islam? Does it respect me? The day Islam shows the slightest bit of consideration to women, first of all, and secondly toward free-thinkers, I promise you I will rethink my positions.
The Front Nationale? Don’t know them
It is not in order to please the Front Nationale that I fight alongside all the atheists of Morrocco, Tunisia, Egypt, or Palestine. Because believe me, a lot of virulent atheists in the Arab world — so virulent they regularly spend time in jail for blasphemy — have never heard of Marine Le Pen, and couldn’t possibly care if what they say pleases the French far right, because they’re too busy fighting their own far right: Islamism. If you will permit us, we “Islamophobes” of the Muslim race think the liberation of our societies will necessarily come through emancipation from the yoke of state religion. Since that is what Islam is more or less everywhere in the so-called Arab countries, you’ll also find there a strong opposition to theocracy, which is fed not only by the universal idea of separation of church and state but also by the skepticism and historicization of Islamic texts. We permit ourselves just about anything, such as, for example, thinking that Mohammed, and even Allah, are not unrepresentable. Caricatures, parodies of Koranic verses or hadiths, you just have to look around on our internet forums to see that Charlie was not the original source here.