Zineb El Razhoui was a journalist with Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine whose staff were gunned down by Islamist terrorists in 2015. In this eye-opening article for the Nouvel Observateur she responds to an initiative by prominent French intellectuals to stem ‘the new antisemitism’. The ‘new antisemitism’ is as old as the hills in her native Morocco, she contends. But it need not be fatal. (With thanks: Penina)
“When I first heard the word Yhoudi (Jewish) more than 30 years ago in Morocco, it sounded like an insult. It was at a large family reunion, the kind of meeting where the adults enjoying the reunion are irritated by their brats running in all directions. Someone had just called his child Yhoudi ould lyhoud (Jew son of a Jew!) to tell him he was a naughty kid. I was going to have the opportunity to hear this ” insult ” in different forms during my life in Morocco, a country that I later learned was the least antisemitic in the Arab world.
Zineb El Razhoui: grew up insulting Jews
“Hachak (with all due respect) is a word that Moroccans, very concerned about verbal politeness, attach to any infamous term. Thus, a Moroccan will say “hachak garbage” or “hachak donkey”. But more surprising still, many Moroccans would say “a woman, with all due respect” or “a Jew, with all due respect”. Moreover, legend has it that before the lions of the Atlas mountains became extinct in time immemorial, the traveller who feared an attack of wild beasts had to gird himself with Jews, of flesh so vile that the king of the animals would not stoop to go after him.
“A little later at Al-Amani Primary School in Casablanca where I learned Arabic, French, and had many lessons in religion, it was rumoured in the courtyard that the terraced house was inhabited by Jews. We then thought that we, little schoolchildren of a rather bourgeois private establishment, were allowed to throw insults and rubbish from the windows of our classrooms. The owner complained to the director, a graduate of the Al Azhar Theological University in Cairo and a doctor of Arabic literature, who furiously doled out punishments to us. For the first time, the neophyte antisemites that we were had just learned that hating the Jews was wrong. Ironically, it was Mr. Fahmi Shanti, a brilliant Palestinian intellectual refugee in Morocco and founder of our school, who taught us this lesson.
“This lesson I was never going to forget. I learned that antisemitism – with all due respect to the detractors of Georges Bensoussan* – is indeed atavistic – that one has a good chance of suckling it from one’s mother’s breast if receiving a standard Islamic education.
Atavistic, but not fatal. I have also learned that the Palestinian cause cannot be a pretext for antisemitism, even for those who have pad a personal price like Mr Shanti. As an Al-Azhar theologian he was particularly keen to maintain good relations with his neighbours. If he could live together with his Jewish neighbours, why can’t we in France?
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* a reference to the case of the French historian who was accused of ‘hate-speech’ after quoting a Muslim sociologist who claimed Arabs ‘sucked antisemitism with their mother’s milk’.