El Rhazoui’s “relative position of power”

Shulevitz ends that op-ed with a story that needs separate treatment, because it’s a whole other issue, and one I have very strong feelings about.

A few weeks ago, Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist at Charlie Hebdo, spoke at the University of Chicago, protected by the security guards she has traveled with since supporters of the Islamic State issued death threats against her. During the question-and-answer period, a Muslim student stood up to object to the newspaper’s apparent disrespect for Muslims and to express her dislike of the phrase “I am Charlie.”

Ms. El Rhazoui replied, somewhat irritably, “Being Charlie Hebdo means to die because of a drawing,” and not everyone has the guts to do that (although she didn’t use the word guts). She lives under constant threat, Ms. El Rhazoui said. The student answered that she felt threatened, too.

A few days later, a guest editorialist in the student newspaper took Ms. El Rhazoui to task. She had failed to ensure “that others felt safe enough to express dissenting opinions.” Ms. El Rhazoui’s “relative position of power,” the writer continued, had granted her a “free pass to make condescending attacks on a member of the university.” In a letter to the editor, the president and the vice president of the University of Chicago French Club, which had sponsored the talk, shot back, saying, “El Rhazoui is an immigrant, a woman, Arab, a human-rights activist who has known exile, and a journalist living in very real fear of death. She was invited to speak precisely because her right to do so is, quite literally, under threat.”

The response of the student in the audience makes me want to punch a wall. She does not “feel threatened, too” – not in the sense that Zineb El Rhazoui does. A number of El Rhazoui’s colleagues and friends were murdered just a few weeks ago, and allies of the murderers have made death threats against her on social media. Zineb El Rhazoui is an ex-Muslim, an apostate, an unbeliever – when she says she lives under constant threat she doesn’t mean people disputing her ideas, she means people who would be happy to shoot her with machine guns.

Those students don’t know they’re born.


  1. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Being afraid of expressing an unpopular opinion because, you know, someone might disagree with it, is totally and completely exactly precisely and in all other ways the same as being threatened and/or killed for it.


  2. PatrickG says

    The real question is: was there a room with puppy videos available for that poor student?

    I mean, the trauma of it all…

  3. says

    Hmmm, I get where you’re coming from Ophelia, but Ally Fogg had an interesting thing to say about this particular news piece as a small section of a much broader topic:

    Take the examples in Shulevitz’s piece. At a lecture by a Charlie Hebdo journalist, a Muslim student stood up at the end, raised concerns about Islamaphobia and said that “she felt threatened too.” An exchange of opinions then followed in the student newspaper.

    We are clearly meant to mock the student, comparing herself to a Charlie Hebdo journalist in the aftermath of the slaughter in Paris. But what Shulevitz did not mention is that the lecture was held 15 days after the brutal murder of three Muslim American students in Chapel Hill, 14 days after a Muslim family had been assaulted while shopping in Michigan, while Mosques were being firebombed and vandalised across the US and numerous Muslim organisations were receiving specific death threats. Whatever one’s views on the (complex) politics of Charlie Hebdo and broader issues of Islamophobia, I’d suggest that “feeling threatened” was not necessarily an unreasonable reaction for a Muslim student.

  4. johnthedrunkard says

    The ‘poor oppressed muslims’ trope is a disgusting attempt to shift attention. Why not invoke all the burnt churches and abducted children in Nigeria?

    More puppy videos for Maiduguri!

  5. says

    while Mosques were being firebombed and vandalised across the US

    What? What does that refer to? Are there mass firebombings of mosques going on all the time? I don’t think so. That looks like a very loose and hyperbolic claim to me.

  6. says

    And what that passage still overlooks or minimizes is the fact that Zineb El Rhazoui got specific, personal death threats sent to her personally along with her home address. Days after 9 of her colleagues were murdered in their office. No, I don’t believe that student felt threatened the same way, and no, I don’t think she was right to respond to Zineb El Rhazoui the way she did.

  7. says

    Yeah, I think I do swing more towards your viewpoint. I just get worried about dehumanisation (it’s happening SO much in Australia, from Muslims to Aboriginal Australians to women), and it makes me a little uneasy to hear a minority expressing a fear and then being roundly dismissed. I don’t know what to feel about it really…

  8. says

    Everything that’s happening is pretty horrible all the time now (well, it probably was somewhat like this for…basically forever, but now is the time that I live in and am paying attention to the most).

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