Criticizng Islam is not racism : Charlie Hebdo Journalist, Zineb El Rhazoui, tells the Oslo Times
June 19, Oslo: Zineb El Rhazoui is a Morocco-born French journalist and a columnist,religion expert and a critic of Islam for the Paris-based parody magazine Charlie Hebdo, who had been lucky enough to be in Casablanca during the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January. Ever since the shooting she has become even more vocal about her views on religion.
The Oslo Times International News Network’s Editor-in-Chief,Hatef Mokhtar spoke with Zineb El Rhazoui about her views on Islamophobia, racism, freedom of expression, democracy and Human Rights .
The Excerpts below give us an insight into the interesting talk that followed:
Can you tell us a little bit about the freedom of expression and media freedom in France?
Media is free in France, it is as free as it can be, however, in France we do have laws regulating the freedom of expression. For instance though, France, is a democratic country where freedom of speech is practiced, it is very different from countries like the United States where you have the first amendment of the constitution, allowing citizens to have any opinion they want. In France racist or hate speech is not considered as of freedom of expression, it is punished by the law.
The Charlie Hebdo team works under the French law and is not under the Sharia law and we have always won all the charges against us during trials at the court of law , be it against the Christian Church or, Muslim Associations, accusing us of racist speech for instance. We respect the French law and we are an anti racist publication, but we have the right to criticize religions as this right is granted to us by the French Constitution and the French law. And, as a French publication we function under the French law and not the Sharia Law.
Now coming to my next question, firstly, I am not asking this question on behalf of the Muslim Community, but, instead in terms of human dignity and respect for human rights; there are a lot of Muslims living in France who complain about being discriminated due to their faith, what do you have to say about this?
Racism is a reality that we cannot deny in the French society and in many other countries across Europe in the west and also everywhere in the World. No one deny this reality but, we should know the difference between criticizing ideas and criticizing people, for me a racist speech is when you say this person, because that person is supposed to belong to a community, he must be like that, he must think or act like that and he must be treated like that or I can deny him a right because he belongs to another ethnicity or race or religion-this is racism.
But, when you criticize a religion it is not racist, for instance as a French person if you criticize Catholicism, you are an anti-clerical no one tells you that are Catholophobic or Christianphobic.These words just doesn’t exist , but if you criticize Islam or the very small radical minority of Muslims, accuse you of being Islamophobic and racist, because actually they have no other legal tool to shut your mouth.
So, personally I don’t understand what you mean by the ‘Muslim Community’. In France we have a lot of different shades of people who were born Muslims– you have Atheists, Antagonists, you have people who are believers but are secular, we also have people who are moderate Muslims, people who are just normal people who want to work and raise their children and we have a very small minority of radicals and it is this very small minority speaks up in the name of six million people.
Now the question here is, will this group led by radicals count someone like me who was born a Muslim but is an atheist, as part of the supposed Muslim Community of six million. And if they do, why are we all supposed to think the same way, if we are, for me this is racism. Racism is the lack of respect for diversity inside a community that you put under the same cliché.
A lot of Human Rights activists and journalists have spoken against the dictatorial and totalitarian regimes in the Arab World, what is your view on such regimes as a journalist?
As a journalist and also as a Moroccan citizen, who grew up under one of those dictatorial regimes, I can say that those dictatorial regimes are the best example of how to use religion to oppress the rights of the others. All Arab countries have Islam as a state religion, and actually this religion of state is used to oppress the rights of the people, or instance the rights of women, the right of normal citizens to oppress their individual freedoms but also against the opponents and against those who have negative impression against the regimes.For instance, you have dozens of people who were arrested in several countries in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and in the Palestinian territories.
But What is the alternative if the totalitarian regime is completely removed, then what? Lets look at the example of what has happened in Iraq. Today Iraq is a pie in the middle of powers like the USA and Iran who all want a piece of it, what will happen if such a thing happens in Morocco. And, apart from Iraq we have had similar examples in Indonesia, Egypt and other countries, so what do you think, what is the alternative for such dictatorial regimes?
The Alternative for me is definitely not like what happened in Iraq, I believe that a dictatorial regime must be removed by its citizens, of the country and not by a foreign country so, the alternative is to assist those inside the country, who are fighting against those regimes, who will fight against all forms totalitarian regimes, against religious, political totalitarianism, against economic injustice etc.
Those kind of people are left alone. I know many of them and we have many cases, like people being arrested and whipped for criticizing the religious police in Arabian countries like Saudi Arabia.
So, we as citizens here in Europe and also as countries who pretend to protect human rights, we must understand that we must help those people to promote the universal values of freedom and democracy in their own countries.
Coming to my next question, as a journalist how do you feel about the fact that you are surrounded by security and body guards?
I take it as a warning for all of us, if a French journalist walks with body guards in Europe, it means that our freedom of speech is really threatened and we have to be aware of that and stand up against terrorism, and fight for our freedom of speech.
Now for my last question, this is a question that we ask to all our guests on The Oslo Times, What do Human Rights mean to you?
Human Rights to me means dignity first. Human rights is a question of dignity, it also includes equality between all genders on this planet. Human Rights means standing -against death penalty, it also means standing for freedom of thought, the freedom of being safe and secure, where ever we are.
Is there anything else that you would like to say to our readers?
Well yes, if I could say something about democracy, I would say that democracy is not a luxury nor is it a product for rich countries. Everyone on this planet deserves it and those who do have it, should do their best to spread it across the World.
All Rights Reserved with The Oslo Times