Broadsides & Bone Saws
In a moment characterized by violence against journalists, a new documentary portrays the life and work of Zineb El Rhazoui who survived the Charlie Hebdo attacks
It’s hard to imagine a more fortunate day to miss work than the day two militant fundamentalists wielding assault weapons swept through the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo and murdered twelve employees of that paper with a hail of bullets.
The Moroccan-born journalist Zineb El Rhazoui happened to be holidaying with her family in Casablanca that day in 2015.
“Those of us who are alive are alive only because of small coincidences,” she said at the time, fully believing herself to be one of the intended victims.
She escaped that bloody assault but days later a Twitter hashtag #KillZinebElRhazoui targeted her and was retweeted some 7000 times. She had been arrested in her homeland for her protests three times before and had been subjected to [several] fatwas. She was once arrested for hosting a picnic during Ramadan in Casablanca. Since the Hebdo attacks, however, she’s suffered relentless death threats and harassment
In their excellent new documentary Nothing Is Forgiven, filmmakers Vincent Coen and Guillaume Vandenberghe follow Rhazoui in the days and years before and after this awful incident. We see her as a young dissident feeling increasingly out of place in Morocco, then moving to Paris where she found Charlie Hebdo to be a natural fit for her irreverent temperament. After the massacre, we see her adjust to life in Paris and at the paper, initially moving to a different hotel room every night to ensure her safety before she was transferred into a safe house.
Even now, Rhazoui receives a police escort to and from work and must travel with a security detail when visiting here in the United States. When the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about her appearance in that city, they held their story until she was “safely out of reach.” She’s often described as “the most protected woman in France.”
In 2016, she told the New York Times, “It’s totally crazy. I have done nothing against the law and have nothing to hide, yet I live with security while those who threaten us are free.”
You can’t watch this documentary, of course, without noting its timeliness. I watched it at the tail-end of this week in which the press continued to penetrate a web of lies about the gruesome murder and dismemberment of the Saudi exile and Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi.
This same week Trump took time at one of his ego-stroking rallies to praise Greg Gianforte for assaulting the Guardian journalist Ben Jacobs, who dared question him about his healthcare policy. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy,” Trump said to laughter, cheers and applause from the crowd. This jesting about violence against a specific journalist came from a United States President who regularly names and shames members of the press who he perceives as adversaries at his rallies and who refers to members of the fourth estate as “the enemy of the people.”
This same week a photo posted on Twitter by WNYC producer Andrea Bernstein went viral. It showed a “Fight for the Truth. Punch a Journalist” sticker gracing a red pickup truck in Park Slope, a veritable haven for New York media types.
Arguably, too, the shooting deaths at The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, MD this past June were the result of, yes, a man aggrieved with the paper for several years, but also emboldened to commit violence in an environment where our nation’s President regularly vilifies the press from his bully pulpit.
These incidents all share a common characteristic: They involve people emboldened to use violence to silence those who would use to words to criticize them. Many of them involve people in power using or inciting violence to shut down their critics.
It’s worth noting, too, that Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is accused of having Khashoggi slaughtered is also known for jailing his critics. Remember the praise lavished on him for ending the driving ban for women? Well, he also sent the two women to jail who organized protests against that ban. He enjoys praise for his supposed progressive changes even while banishing his critics.
In the months after the bloody spree at their office, Charlie Hebdo made a commitment never to portray Mohammed in its pages again after that horror unfolded. Arguably, the terrorists won. Rhazoui quit the paper.
It’s cowardly to respond to words with bullets. Or punches. Or bone saws. Zineb El Rhazoui. The creators of this new film about her. Jamal Khashoggi. Ben Jacobs.
They are the real heroes.