Here’s a marvelous, blistering piece by Zineb El-Rhazoui in reply to the December 2013 one by former Charlie Hebdo editor Olivier Cyran saying CH was racist. Seth Ackerman at Jacobin translated it. Zineb el-Rhazoui is religion editor of CH.
She learned from Cyran’s piece that she’s a racist.
Being of French citizenship, I was anxious to identify, before the malady could advance any further, which races were likely to activate my white-woman antibodies.
She flips sarcastically through many possibilities, then zeroes in on the real one.
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. Since 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 that that is the “race” from which I spring. 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.
We’re all (or most) sick of hearing “Islam is not a race!” from Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins, but hearing it in that style with that panache from a French citizen of Berber origin who is also a woman and an atheist and an editor at Charlie Hebdo – that’s not so boring.
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 a misfit 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. Either 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.
Wow. I want to be her new best friend.
That’s only the beginning; read on.