She is one of France’s most menaced women, living under permanent police guard in a secret location because of the death threats that always follow her unflinching critiques of Islamist extremism.
But that hasn’t stopped Moroccan-French Charlie Hebdo journalist and human rights activist Zineb El Rhazoui from writing a furious “Open Letter to a Candidate for Jihad” after a fresh wave of terrorist attacks in the name of ISIS.
In the accusatory missive, published in Le Figaro newspaper, the author of 13, a new book about the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, slams her North African “cousins” in France for having fallen into the “victim” trap and become jihadists when they had so many opportunities — opportunities that didn’t exist for young people who, like her grew up in the “old country.”
“Before your grand departure, I wanted to write to you … I don’t know you but I know many things about you,” El Rhazoui wrote at the opening of her letter, in which she scorned the murderous Islamist recruits whose Arabic is so poor they don’t even know jihad translates as “effort.”
“Do you at least know what the word jihad means before going there? You who babble in Arabic since you apply the strictly enforced faith of Mohamed? I would wager no.”
Drawing a distinction between the Arabic she learned at her mother’s breast, and the dialect the jihadist’s parents speak but that he never learned, El Rhazoui continues: “You never had to defend your rights in Arabic. You never had to repulse your attacker because you are a woman; you didn’t have to corrupt a civil servant to obtain your birth certificate, nor explain to a police officer what you were doing with your girlfriend, or sing the praises of a dictator, or beg at the entry of a medical clinic so they would deign to treat you. You always obtained your rights in French and yet you hate this homeland.
“Jihad means effort but what effort have you made before resolving to make war? Your Islam, the one that you think is your rediscovered identity, is nothing but a mental sickness, a necrosis of reason, a defeat of your humanity. When will you stop passing yourself off as a victim? You are your own persecutor.”
In a chilling riposte to all the explainers of France’s “homegrown” terrorism problem — who claim it has emerged purely because of exclusion and racism, rather than the deliberate spread of an ideology of hate and death that aims for the destruction of universal values — El Rhazoui comes to the defense of her second home.
“When we were children, since we’re the same age, I was astonished that you called me ‘cousin’ when I came from the old country to spend my vacation in France,” she wrote. “I thought you were very lucky to live here. You had rights I didn’t have. You went to the school of the [French] republic while I was throwing up because of my compulsory religion classes. You played sport, while the handball grounds in my school were an enormous field of mud and half my classmates gave up physical education because they only had a pair of plastic sandals to wear.
“You came to show off with your latest name-brand sports shoes, you got yourself treated for free in properly equipped hospitals, while only the most well-off among us could pay for medicine.
“Still, you felt excluded. You said you didn’t have the same opportunities as others and you forgot that we, those from the home country, never had the same opportunities as you.”
The author, who was in Morocco on the day in January, 2015, that a massacre took place at the editorial meeting of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, painted a picture of a more optimistic time for North African youth in France — when earlier generations believed in fighting racism and creating a more equal and diverse society.
“You gave us a lot of hope when we were children. We saw you rising up against racism and reclaiming your right to equality and integration,” she said of that earlier generation. “Anti-racism became a beacon of hope and we believed in better tomorrows, and a France that would finally be proud of its diversity. Some of your ‘cousins’ seized the spirit of the times and became civil servants, teachers, ministers, lawyers or police officers.”
That hope was squandered however, by some members of a generation who distorted the struggle against racism into a cynical battle that pitted French communities against one another instead of championing universal rights.
Drawing upon her Amazigh or Berber heritage, El Rhazoui also mocked the jihadists who have adopted “ridiculous” religious garb that she says is from Afghanistan and has nothing to do with their North African “culture.”
Finally, El Rhazoui appealed to her reader — the would-be jihadist — to see that Paris, far from being worthy of hate is a veritable “capital of Arab culture,” where Arabic is widely studied.
“I would show you that France is also Mecca for those who defend human rights in countries that violate them … If you are still among us, you will see it is possible to renew your lost identity, and all the while being more French than ever.”
Follow Emma-Kate Symons on Twitter @eksymons