French Arab writer gets threats of death, rape for saying Islam is not above criticism, humor or law

French Arab writer gets threats of death, rape for saying Islam is not above criticism, humor or law
Zineb el Rhazoui, a French journalist who used to work for Charlie Hebdo, is dealing with an avalanche of online abuse from Muslims, for saying that Islam should submit to French law. She says she has no intention of backing down.

“Islam must submit to criticism, submit to humor, submit to the laws of the Republic, submit to French law,” el Rhazoui said in a recent interview. For that, she’s been called a whore and threatened with violence, murder and rape.

The abuse got so bad that her current publisher, Ring, has addressed a complaint to Twitter, attaching screenshot of a few choice messages: “I want to beat you up” and “I want to see you burn in hell” being the more innocuous ones.

The threats won’t halt her activities, el Rhazoui vows. She's been speaking out against hardline Islam for years and believes she has not only the right to, but the perfect context in which to do it. She had been working for the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 when two men broke into the magazine’s office in Paris and killed eight of its staff (as well as four unconnected people) to “avenge the Prophet Mohammed,” who, the attackers felt, had been wronged by Charlie Hebdo's highly-controversial cartoons.

El Rhazoui herself was in her native Morocco at the time and, when she returned, she helped Charlie get back on its feet with its first post-shooting issue – as scathing as ever.

Islamophobia or a sober view?

Now, she lives under 24/7 police protection, never far from her bodyguards, and remains a staunch critic of Islam – or simply a person with a sober view of hardline Muslim practices and their links to terrorism, depending on which side of the fence you’re on.

El Rhazoui, a dual French and Moroccan citizen (she has a French mother), holds a master’s degree in sociology of religion and served as Charlie Hebdo’s religion expert. Her divisive statements over the years have earned her the contempt of many an Islam defender.

Face veils on women, a universal hallmark of Islam, are part of “the same ideological chain of production” that leads to terrorism, she said in a particularly scathing interview in October, triggering another wave of online abuse.

Veiled women belong to and display an ideology that is the ideology of radical Islam ... whose outcome is terrorism.

El Rhazoui, who wrote the book 'Destroy Islamic Fascism', has been called a racist and an Islamophobe – and it’s cries like that, she believes, that are drowning out any attempts at reasonable discussion on Islam's shortcomings.

“And if you call them by their names you are Islamophobic and racist,” she said in an interview with Women in the World.

‘I can teach them a few things about Arab culture’

Having grown up in Morocco, el Rhazoui says there’s “richness and diversity” in Arab culture and, to accept it, one does not have to also embrace the restrictive norms of a religion “influenced by a Bedouin context 15 centuries ago.”

No ideology can just erase more than one millennium of civilization.

She has attacked the notion that Islam is a “religion of peace.” Coined by English-speaking politicians and activists to separate, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Islam from radical Muslim terrorists, it is now often used as a bitterly sarcastic meme, brought up after every terrorist attack in the Western world.

In recent years, Europe has had to deal with multiple terrorist attacks traced back to radical Islamist groups like Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). Some, like the August 2017 Barcelona truck rampage, the 2016 Berlin Christmas market ramming and the November 2015 Paris massacre, have claimed numerous lives and led to unprecedented increases in security – with roadblocks and armed police guarding public spaces and holiday events.

The problem has been exacerbated by the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, with droves of asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa fleeing wars and poverty in their own countries. Worried by the prospect of terrorists and radicals exploiting the over-welcoming border policies of European countries, the public has been losing trust in politicians that have allowed this to happen. German Chancellor Angel Merkel, for one, has suffered a massive hit to her ratings after declaring an “open border” policy and, in many countries, politicians and parties with nationalist and anti-migrant views have made considerable gains in recent elections.

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