Zineb El Rhazoui
|Zineb El Rhazoui|
Rhazoui speaking in London in 2017.
Zineb El Rhazoui|
19 January 1982
|Occupation||Journalist and writer|
|Known for||Human rights activism|
Zineb El Rhazoui (born 1982) is a Moroccan-born French journalist. She is a columnist for Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. She was in Morocco during the Charlie Hebdo massacre on 7 January 2015.
She is the magazine's religion expert and a passionate critic of Islam. Since the killings, she has become a prominent secularist and human rights campaigner, speaking publicly around the world about Islam and free speech.
Rhazoui has criticized the term "Islamophobia" and says it first appeared in Iran "a few years ago, as a way of silencing critics of that country's government", although the word is attested in French as early as 1910 in Alain Quellien's book, La Politique musulmane dans l’Afrique occidentale française. According to sociologists Abdellali Hajjat and Marwan Mohammed, the term does not even exist in Persian.
Rhazoui was born on 19 January 1982 in Casablanca, Morocco. She describes herself as a "blédarde, born in Morocco to an indigenous father and French mother," and thus a dual French and Moroccan citizen.
Growing up in Morocco, she routinely asked critical questions about the subordinate status of women under Islam. In secondary school, she made a point of wearing black nailpolish and low-cut blouses to school, where her teacher was a conservative man with a long beard. "As a woman in a male-dominated country, you sooner or later face a choice. You can comply, let yourself be cowed, and shut up, or you have to fight."
After graduating, Rhazoui worked for a semester as a teaching assistant at Cairo University. At the library she read early Islamic writings, which she found to be more thoughtful and open to critical analysis than contemporary Islam. She wrote a master's degree on Muslims in Morocco who convert to Christianity. She later said that she "wanted to understand how they first could put out the enormous intellectual effort that it takes to escape from one form of brainwashing, only to voluntarily join another religion."
Rhazoui began her career as a journalist in Morocco working for a weekly paper that was shut down by the regime in 2010. She published a number of articles about religious minorities in the journal Le Journal Hebdomadaire, which was banned by the Moroccan government in 2010. She is the founder of several organizations, including the pro-democracy, pro-secularism movement MALI, which she co-founded. She was arrested three times by the Moroccan government for criticizing it. One of the crimes for which she was arrested was a protest picnic in 2009, which involved her eating lunch in a public park during Ramadan. She was eventually forced into exile in Slovenia.
She later went to Paris to study, and became a spokeswoman for the feminist organization Ni Putes Ni Soumises ("Neither Whores Nor Submitted [Women]"), for which she worked helping Muslim women in oppressive family relationships. At the Sorbonne she studied Arabic, English, and French.
In 2011, during the Arab Spring, Charlie Hebdo asked to interview her about her participation in the struggles in Morocco. At a lunch, editors Stéphane "Charb" Charbonnier and Laurent "Riss" Sourisseau invited her to join an editorial meeting on the coming Wednesday. She was then offered and accepted a job with the magazine. In order for the magazine to be able to afford to employ her, cartoonist Rénald "Luz" Luzier offered to take a pay cut.
She wrote the text for the 2013 special issue of Charlie Hebdo, a comic-strip retelling of the life of Muhammed, which intensified the harassments and death threats directed at the magazine. The illustrations were created by Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane Charbonnier. She contributed to Charlie Hebdo issue No. 1178. She was described by the International Business Times as "a secularist and human rights campaigner". In February 2015, she received death threats from ISIS.
Charlie Hebdo massacre
On 7 January 2015, Rhazoui was at her home in Casablanca, Morocco, having had her Christmas holiday extended. She sent an article about ISIS's views of women to her editor at Charlie Hebdo and then went back to bed. Two hours later she was awoken by her ringing phone. It was a friend telling her about the massacre at the magazine's offices. During the next few hours, she would learn that twelve of her friends and colleagues had been murdered. She later told Aftenposten that she believed herself to have been one of the terrorists' main targets. She said: "Those of us who are alive are alive only because of small coincidences."
In a 9 January article for Le Monde, she recalled her massacred colleagues and praised Charlie Hebdo as an "edgy newspaper" but one that "never takes itself seriously." She stated that "Charlie has never been a newspaper like any other" and that her colleagues had been murdered "because we dared to deride Islam." A meeting room once "accustomed to jokes and laughter" had become the site of a "bloodbath." Charb, she remembered, was always worried about the newspaper dying but "cared little about his own death, he who had been under police protection since 2012." Addressing him, she said: "If you had been here, my Charb, if only you could have seen the place de la République, packed with people, people in tears wearing your portrait in a monastic silence."
She contributed to Charlie Hebdo issue No. 1178, which was published the week after the killings.
After the massacre, extensive security routines became a part of Rhazoui's life. She avoids eating at restaurants or taking the train.
Those who defend the violence [against Charlie Hebdo] or who think we've all but asked for it ourselves," she has said, "I place...in the same category as the Islamists. Many of those on the left, in several countries, are so scared of being accused of racism or Islamophobia that they accept oppression and abuse of women and children, 'among the others.' They don't dare get involved. I think that's exactly what racism is – approving differential treatment.
In January 2015 she toured Quebec for a fund-raiser for Charlie Hebdo, and also spoke about Islam and freedom. "Secularism as far as I know, is the only way to permit everyone to live in the same society, even if people are different," she stated, adding that Islam "needs to submit to secularism and it also needs to get a sense of humour."
In February 2015 she received death threats via Twitter that she described as "a fatwa 2.0." Several people online have written that it is their "obligation" to find her and kill her in order to avenge the prophet. Her husband has also been targeted. In that month, thousands of supporters of the ISIS jihadist group called for lone-wolf terrorists to target el-Rhazoui. They tweeted under a hashtag translated as #MustKillZinebElRhazouiInRetaliationForTheProphet and posted her personal details, pictures of her husband and sister, and a map showing places she had visited, along with photographs of ISIS beheadings. In addition, reward money has been offered for information on her or her husband's residence or workplace.
In March 2015, she gave a talk about the freedom of expression at the University of Chicago Law School in Chicago. Her visit to Chicago, sponsored by the university's French Club, marked the first time a Charlie Hebdo journalist spoke in the United States since the attack.
She was profiled on April 2, 2015, in a long article in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.
In April 2015, she moved from Casablanca to Paris.
One of the texts in which she has most thoroughly set forth her views on Islam, the concept of anti-Muslim racism, Western attitudes toward Islam, and related issues was a response to a harsh December 2013 critique by Olivier Cyran of her work for Charlie Hebdo. Rhazoui rejected Cyran's charge that she is an anti-Muslim "racist," and that she "contracted this dangerous syndrome from the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo." The operating premise underlying this charge, she stated, was "that the Muslims of Azerbaijan, of Bosnia, of Malaysia, Egypt or Burkina Faso, represent a single whole that can be designated as a 'race.'" If they are indeed all one race, she said, then "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." She also explained to Cyran the nuances of racial identity in North Africa, pointing out that the "Arabs" of Morocco often aren't Arabs at all but Berbers, and pointed out that while some North Africans are atheists and others are "agnostics, skeptics, free-thinkers, deists," or Christian converts, he had "chosen to defend" a single group, the "militant Islamists":
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.
She further observed that Cyran, in condemning her work as "racist," had in fact omitted to give her name, indicating either that she did not "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." She concluded that the notion of someone named "Zineb who spits on Islam" was "beyond" Cyran. For him, she stated, "a 'white person' who spits on Christianity is 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."
This, to her, suggested that in Cyran's view "people of my race, and myself, are congenitally sealed off from the ubiquitous ideas of atheism and anticlericalism," or, perhaps, that "unlike other peoples, our identity is solely structured by religion." Noting that Moroccan laws "do not grant me a quarter of the rights you acquired at birth," and that if she were raped "the websites that posted your article will definitely say I was asking for it because I don’t respect Islam," she observed that Cyran himself had implicitly endorsed all of this by embracing the "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."
She is married to author Jaouad Benaïssi.
- Anne Penketh, Matthew Weaver, Charlie Hebdo: first cover since terror attack depicts prophet Muhammad, The Guardian, 13 January 2015
- "Zineb El Rhazoui fortsetter kampen for ytringsfriheten i Charlie Hebdo". Aften Posten. Apr 2, 2015.
- Tom Porter, Isis supporters call for Charlie Hebdo survivor Zineb el-Rhazoui to be murdered by terrorist lone wolves, International Business Times, February 19, 2015
- Alain Quellien, La Politique musulmane dans l’Afrique occidentale française, Paris, Larose, 1913 (1re éd. 1910), 304 p. (ISBN 2012892019), « Reproches adressés à l'Islam dans l'Afrique occidentale », p. 133.
- Abdellali Hajjat and Marwan Mohammed, "Islamophobie. Comment les élites françaises fabriquent le problème musulman“ (ISBN 978-2707176806)
- "If Charlie Hebdo is racist, then so am I — Zineb el-Rhazoui responds to Olivier Cyran". The Charnel House.
- Sifaoui, Mohamed (Feb 23, 2015). "Protégeons Zineb El Rhazoui et son mari!". Huffington Post.
- "Zineb El Rhazoui". Oslo Freedom Forum.
- Charlie Hebdo : Zineb El-Rhazoui attend «de pied ferme» ceux qui la menacent de mort, Le Parisien, 24 February 2015
- "Zineb de " Charlie Hebdo " : « Il arrivait que l'on dise aux collègues : "Je vous aime"". Le Monde. Jan 9, 2015.
- Woods, Allan (Jan 26, 2015). "Charlie Hebdo journalist urges western resolve to fight religious fundamentalists". The Star.
- Who Is Charlie? Charlie Hebdo Journalist Zineb El Rhazoui on Freedom of Expression
- "Who is Charlie? Featuring Charlie Hebdo Journalist Zineb El Rhazoui". University of Chicago Press. Feb 26, 2015.
- ""Charlie Hebdo", not racist? If you say so…". Dec 5, 2013.