In December 2013, former Charlie Hebdo editor Olivier Cyran, who had left the magazine in 2001, published an article, “Charlie Hebdo, Not Racist? If You Say So,” on his website Article11.
Charlie Hebdo’s religion editor, Zineb el-Rhazoui, replied in an essay published the same month. I’ve translated her essay below. When the attack on the paper’s offices occurred, el-Rhazoui was traveling in Morocco.
"If Charlie Is Racist, Then I Am"
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 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. 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. 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.
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 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. 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, unlike 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 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 universal 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 Moroccan 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 FN.
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 Moroccan 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 to free-thinkers, I promise you I will rethink my positions.
The FN? Don't know them.
It is in order to see that day come that I fight alongside all the atheists of Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt or Palestine, not to give pleasure to the FN as you explain in your article. 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 could not possibly care if what they say pleases the French far right, because they're 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 on this score.
You've got to understand us, because you see, centuries after his death Mohammed is still imposing his law. He is, in a manner of speaking, the head of state of this Umma that deprives us of our freedom of thought, and which forbids me, for example, to inherit property equally with my brothers or to marry a man of my choosing. Why would you -- you, an anti-authoritarian -- want a man with as much power as him to be exempt from critique? Because, when I speak to you of laws, I am not referring to obsolete Koranic decrees but to the positive laws in our countries, to the civil code that governs our marriages, divorces, inheritances, child custody, etc. Yes, it's Mohammed, in the name of Allah, who decides, and not us, free people who are equal to you. Let me tell you that for all these reasons, it will not be the official representatives of the Islamic denomination in Europe, whose platitudes you adopt, and who themselves take good advantage of the joys of secularism, who will fix the limits of our freedom of expression. Make no mistake, Olivier, because antiracism is on the side of Charlie Hebdo, which opens its pages to people like me who cannot speak out in their own country under penalty of prison or attack, and not on yours, you who agree to hand the entire "Muslim race" over to its self-proclaimed clergy. Charlie is aware of the intellectual and ideological ferment that is animating the Muslim world, it has understood that a war is on between freedom and politico-Islamist dictatorship, whether you date it to before or after the Arab Spring, and Charlie has quite simply chosen its camp: ours, its -- that of the anticlericals. If blasphemy is a right for the heirs of Christian civilization, why do you deny it to Muslims? Why is an Islamic state acceptable in Tunisia or Egypt, but not in France? Isn't that what racism is?
The Art of Muzzling Criticism
Far be it from me to force this analysis on you. While it flows logically from your reading, I wouldn't go so far as to say you would adopt it. I've tried to uncover the reason you've fallen into such a trap, and I've found it in the fallacy that serves to cement your argument: "Headscarves, high heels, even a T-shirt made in Bangladesh, none of them matter to me when the person underneath is deserving of respect," you say in your article. The honorable philanthropic intention you demonstrate unfortunately conflates the critique of ideas with the critique of persons. Let's remember that the basis of all sound rhetoric is always to avoid the argumentum ad hominem. Inversely, to abhor an idea must never lead to its personification. Critiquing the headscarf is not the same as humiliating every woman who wears it, any more than critiquing Islam amounts to jeering every Muslim. The veiled women in my family are less sensitive than you on this score. Even though I do not hide my aversion to the bit of fabric they wear on their heads, they understand that it in no way detracts from the affection and respect that I have -- or don't have -- for them, for simply human reasons. In committing this fallacy, you once again adopt the arguments of the watchdogs of Islamophobia. Lacking the religious laws that are their tool of power in Muslim countries, they seize on antiracist laws in France to silence detractors of their beliefs. They are dying to have us admit that critiquing the headscarf means denying dignity to those who wear it, and therefore it's racism. Critiquing Mohammed means humiliating every Muslim on an individual basis, and therefore it's racism. That's their equation, and you, Olivier, you took the bait.
Not me. Because the specter of racism that you fear -- so much so that you anoint the arguments of the Islamic far right and throw stones at your former colleagues, to escape all suspicion -- I do not fear it. It is so absurd to suspect me of racism that even you prefer to suppress my name from your article, though you mentioned all the others. As the Arab whose name you preferred not to cite, I experienced your piece as racist because you forced me, the Arab, to defend my colleagues, the whites. Why should I have more legitimacy than them to advance these ideas? Why does your article force me to bring up my name and my identity? I would have you think about that. You deny me the right to critique the religion I studied as a mandatory subject in school, from preschool to graduation, and which still today forbids me from staying in the same hotel room as my boyfriend when I want to spend a weekend in Marrakech, on the pretext that we don't have a fornication certificate signed by Mohammed. As for my colleagues at Charlie, they clearly ought to shut up, or draw Christmas trees every time they get the notion to criticize Islamic dictatorship, on the grounds that they're white. Nice definition of antiracism.
If you've read nothing other than Malek Chebel, the most vulgarized exponent of Islam-the-religion-of-peace-and-love, I strongly urge you to buy a Sira book first, to get an idea of the teachings of Mohammed, and you tell me if you still think it's disgusting to critique them. Otherwise, go take a tour of the Salafist bookstores that are popping up everywhere in the Paris region, and tell me if you still think that hatred is on the side of Charlie Hebdo. Furthermore, be aware that the increase in their number over the past fifteen years or so -- the period when Charlie, you say, curiously started to take an interest in them -- in no way corresponds to any demographic explosion of Muslims in France, but rather to an ideological shift financed by petrodollars, involving a radicalized minority of Muslims.
Enlightened Minds, Learn Islam!
You will find many pearls in these books, such as le mariage de jouissance (Zawaj al-Mut’a). Practiced in times of war by Muslims, this unilateral marriage contract -- since it's the conquering warrior who decides -- can last an hour, two hours, or a few days, and is intended to allow Allah's fighters to drain their balls (sorry for the vulgarity, but it's impossible to call it anything else) during their razzias. It appears that this is what happened in Syria in this byzantine story of "sexual jihad." In your article, you quoted a piece in Charlie, of which I was the author, which addressed this subject and which you described as a "pseudo-investigation" based on an abominable Islamophobic rumor. I concede that neither you nor I were on the ground to witness the practice, given the difficult conditions of journalism in Syria at the moment. But for you it was sufficient that [Saudi preacher] Mohamad al-Arefe denied the fatwa that was attributed to him -- urging that the jihadists be resupplied with women -- for all of this to be unfounded. Do you think the FIS in Algeria, or Al-Qaeda everywhere else, had to wait for al-Arefe? You also refer to another of my articles -- again without naming me -- and quote the teaser to illustrate Charlie Hebdo's dangerous drift towards nationalism. In your opinion, this piece about a group of Belgian Salafists was denouncing the threat of our Christian West being invaded by barbarian Muslim hordes. "Will fries soon all be halal?" I asked. You forgot to mention that the hapless hero of my piece was a [white] Belgian convert named Jean-Louis, a.k.a. "le soumis." This is no issue of racism, but rather of fundamentalism. Since the article came out, the tall redhead was arrested over a recruitment cell for jihad in Syria. You would think I wasn't totally wrong to take an interest in his case.
You see, Olivier, this Charlie Hebdo that was totally not racist when you were working there, but which inexorably became so after you left it, does not need anti-racist lessons from you, and it's the Arab who's telling you so. Personally, I never worked with [Philippe] Val and I don't know if I would have been able, as you were, to listen to his encomiums to Israel, a racist and colonial state, at every editorial meeting in order to keep my job. For me, it's the pen of Charb, one of the most pro-Palestinian writers in the French press, with which I find affinity. Charb, because of this lynching to which you are contributing through the confusion of your ideas, is today being threatened by al-Qaeda and lives under police protection. So which side is hatred on?
Zaynab bint Mohammad ibn al-Mâatî al-Rhazwî al-Harîzî.