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Samia Hathroubi and Zineb El Rhazoui, interviewed by Zainab Salbi at The 2017 Women In The World Summit in New York City.

Paris on the brink

WATCH: A passionate exchange about the rise of Islamic extremism in France

April 7, 2017

Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist whose colleagues were killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack, and Samia Hathroubi, a French Muslim activist and the European Director of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, came together onstage at the Women in the World Summit on Thursday for a heated conversation, moderated by television host and journalist Zainab Salbi. The pair discussed the fight against Islamic extremism and how to stem the anti-Muslim tide dominating the French election.

You can watch the full panel above, or see some of the highlights below. 

“If you’re feminist you have to fight for the right of every woman –and all French women,” Hathroubi told El Rhazoui, of the contentious issue of wearing the hijab.

“I will consider the hijab as normal dress the day that no woman in the world will be jailed for not wearing it,” El Rhazoui responded.

Most mainstream Muslims grow up with the idea you should not depict the prophet, asserted Zainab Salbi, referring to the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, considered one of the reasons it was targeted by extremists for a terrorist attack. “Where is the line between freedom of expression and respecting certain values, that are benign, of other religions and cultures?” Salbi asked.

“This is a completely fake idea,” said El Rhazoui, adding that she had grown up with compulsory Islamic education at school in Morocco, and also studied the sociology of religions at university in Paris, and been unable to find any edict anywhere in the Koran, Hadith or Sira that the prophet must not be depicted.

Even if she had, she insists, Charlie Hebdo is an atheist, Parisian newspaper and “not obliged to respect a religious, or a Muslim, Christian or Jewish rule.”

“By depicting Muslims as terrorists you are just saying, bluntly — and promoting the clash of civilization — that Islam is inherently violent,” said Hathroubi, objecting strongly to a position she attributed to El Rhazoui.

Thirty percent of people who get radicalized into Islamic extremism are converted into Islam and fascinated by nihilistic ideology — they do not take their ideas from the Koran, argued Hathroubi. Many of the others are the next generation, raised in “very secular families.”

Discrimination and exclusion, she said, are significant factors in the extreme disaffection experienced by these youth.

On the issue of how much of this is about Islam, and how much is about French social, economic and political issues, El Rhazoui said she totally disagrees with seeing it as a stark dichotomy. “I consider both positions [Islamism and the French right] are fascists, far-right wing. Why? Of course, they definitely don’t have the same social project but they have the same dialectic tools. Both of them — the far-right wing or the Islamists — see the society divided into communities and those communities don’t have the same rights.”


‘Most protected woman’ in France quits satirical magazine for going soft on Muslim extremists

Surviving Charlie Hebdo journalist: ‘I don’t have the right to be silent’

A no-holds-barred conversation on what’s driving Islamic extremism in France

Zineb el Rhazoui, Charlie Hebdo survivor, discusses why the world needs to ‘Destroy Islamic Fascism’

Charlie Hebdo’s Zineb El Rhazoui pens searing open letter to would-be jihadists