Saturday, July 25, 2015

I will take the bait

Hillary Clinton is an astute campaigner. In a Facebook Q&A the other day, she was asked about the Black Lives Matter protestors who interrupted Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. The moderator asked her the same question those protestors had posed to her rivals: How would she “begin to dismantle structural racism in the United States"?

Her answer was deft:

Black lives matter. Everyone in this country should stand firmly behind that. We need to acknowledge some hard truths about race and justice in this country, and one of those hard truths is that that racial inequality is not merely a symptom of economic inequality. Black people across America still experience racism every day.

Like any good politician, Clinton knows what her audience wants to hear. She also knows how to put her opponent on the back foot. Because how could Bernie Sanders respond to that? What's he going to say -- racial inequality is merely a symptom of economic inequality? He's not going to say that. Nobody would.

Well, get ready for a hot take, ladies and gentlemen, because that’s exactly what I’ll say here. Angry responses can be addressed to the comments box at the bottom.

Here’s my question to the angry commenters. If racial inequality isn’t merely a symptom of economic inequality, what is it a symptom of?

I already feel like I can hear the answer: it's a symptom of hundreds of years of slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow, and urban apartheid.

Yes. But what were slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow, and urban apartheid if not extreme forms of economic inequality?

What was the point of England’s colonization of Ireland if not to impose a lucrative “economic inequality” on its victims? Was the urban apartheid of Haussmann’s Paris not the “symptom” of nineteenth century economic inequality? 

And what exactly do you think all those African slaves were doing in the American South?

To quote Barbara Fields:

Probably a majority of American historians think of slavery in the United States as primarily a system of race relations—as though the chief business of slavery were the production of white supremacy rather than the production of cotton, sugar, rice and tobacco. One historian has gone so far as to call slavery ‘the ultimate segregator’. He does not ask why Europeans seeking the ‘ultimate’ method of segregating Africans would go to the trouble and expense of transporting them across the ocean for that purpose, when they could have achieved the same end so much more simply by leaving the Africans in Africa.

No one dreams of analyzing the struggle of the English against the Irish as a problem in race relations, even though the rationale that the English developed for suppressing the ‘barbarous’ Irish later served nearly word for word as a rationale for suppressing Africans and indigenous American Indians. Nor does anyone dream of analyzing serfdom in Russia as primarily a problem of race relations, even though the Russian nobility invented fictions of their innate, natural superiority over the serfs as preposterous as any devised by American racists.

It’s true, of course, that racial inequality is due to hundreds of years of slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow, and urban apartheid – to white supremacy. But to say so is merely to recount how one particular form of economic inequality came about. Just as the story of English imperialism is merely a history of how Ireland, even fifty years after winning independence, still found itself the poorest country in all of capitalist Europe.


What Hillary Clinton is really hinting at when she says that racism can’t be reduced to “economic inequality” is racial animosity. I can’t think of what else she could mean. The new generation of radicals on Twitter like to talk about “structural” racism or “institutional” racism – but behind the verbal bravado, what they, too, are really referring to is racial animosity.

So let’s talk about interpersonal animosity, because it’s certainly not irrelevant here. That Texas trooper in the Sandra Bland video I still can’t bring myself to watch – I would be shocked to learn that he’s not a violent racist. Forget “structural” racism for a minute. Let’s talk about plain old-fashioned racism. Let’s stipulate the obvious: the archetypal “hick Texas bigot cop” really doesn’t like black people.

But can that explain why Sandra Bland ended up dead? I doubt it, because there’s a lot of people the archetypal hick Texas bigot cop doesn’t like. He hates the nose-pierced vegans in Austin. He hates the liberal Jewish foundation executives in New York. He  hates the Harvard WASPs who write about structural racism. He hates Nancy Pelosi.

But none of those groups is likely to turn up dead in his jail cell – not as likely as a black man or a black woman.

If freedom means anything, it means the freedom to go about your life without having to worry about all the people who hate you. Because let’s be honest: lots of people hate each other. Yankees fans hate Red Sox fans. Brocialists hate identitarians. Nancy Pelosi probably hates that Texas cop just as much he hates her. So do the nose-pierced vegan and the Harvard WASP.

But the Texas bigot doesn’t have to worry about ending up dead because some people hate him. Blacks in this country don't enjoy the same luxury. If that’s not due to “economic inequality,” what is it due to? What could possibly account for that difference?

Is it just a coincidence that the rate of incarceration for blacks is six times the rate for whites – and that the rate for whites who didn’t graduate high school is, likewise, six times the rate for whites who did? Is that not due to economic inequality? Is it a coincidence that the white incarceration rate is almost four times greater in poor Idaho than in rich Connecticut? Or that so far just this year, cops in Oklahoma (population: 3.9 million) have killed 29 people, 18 of whom were white – more than the entire English police force (population: 53 million) has killed in the last decade?


The connections between economic stratification and ascriptive hierarchy, between social structure and subjective affect – these issues are not new and, believe it or not, Twitter, they weren’t even born in the antebellum American South.

Here’s Karl Marx in 1870, advising an activist friend in America about the Irish question:

England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the “poor whites” to the Negroes in the former slave states of the U.S.A.. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organization. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power.

As a social theorist, Marx unfortunately lacked the subtlety of, say, a Hillary Clinton. His simplistic solution was for the Irish to free themselves from their English landlords in Ireland -- and unite with the English workers in England. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sophistry on Greece: An Anthology

1.  "The Problem Was That Greece Failed To Implement The Program."

2.  "Greece Is Different. Public Debt Was Growing Even In The Good Years."

3.  "But Look At How Much Greece Spends On Pensions."

4.  "It's Not About Demand. Greece Doesn't Export."

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Here’s my prediction of what happens if Greece votes No

Well, it's not really a prediction, just my best guess about both sides’ next moves and the considerations they’ll be taking into account. Like most guesses about the future, it’s probably wrong, but hopefully illuminating. (If there's a Yes vote, I have no idea what will happen, except that Varoufakis will resign and the Eurogroup offer will be signed.)


Immediately after the No vote, Greece demands that the ECB restore full liquidity to the banking system (as any normal lender of last resort is supposed to do). A threat is made -- either publicly stated or implicit but communicated to the Eurozone authorities -- that if this doesn't happen, Greece will immediately issue a parallel currency redeemable against future tax payments.

At that point the ECB has to decide what to do. It won't make the decision without clear guidance from the political authorities, because the issuance of a parallel currency is a major step -- albeit potentially reversible -- towards a Grexit.

So the EU will have to decide which outcome is least unpalatable to it. Of course, neither is desirable from its point of view. If it complies and restores ELA, the bank panic ends, cash controls can be lifted, and a calm atmosphere can proceed in which Syriza can negotiate for a better deal -- now armed with a democratic mandate and a public admission from the IMF that the existing deal on the table was not sustainable.

Obviously that would be a terrible outcome from the EU's perspective. It would be perceived (rightly) as a major political victory for Syriza.

So the EU might refuse to restore bank liquidity. In that case Greece will issue the parallel currency.

In my view, the best way to do this is in the form of tradable tax credits redeemable starting in, say, a year. (See here and here.) A fresh batch of these would be allocated immediately to citizens and firms. These credits are obviously worth something: every retailer can use them to pay his VAT, every individual can use them to pay his payroll tax, etc. (Greek businesses have to pay VAT tax every three months, so these credits will come in handy.) Since they're tradable and valuable, Greeks will be willing to buy these credits for euros, albeit at a discount, mainly reflecting the risk that the drachma will be introduced at some point and the tax credits redenominated. As a result, the credits would be a form of money whose supply would be under the Finance Ministry's control. The result, if it works the way it's supposed to, would be Greece's ability to stimulate aggregate demand and increase economic output, which it can't do as long as the ECB has a monopoly over issuance of means of payment. In Milton Friedman’s terminology, the tax credits would accelerate the velocity of euros inside the Greek banking system.

There has been some talk about the technical and logistical difficulties of quickly changing over Greece’s electronic payments system or distributing currency to ATMs. But as I see it, no such complicated operations are needed. Greece can mail every household a paper check worth, say, 600 euros of future tax relief. Individuals can take the check to a currency exchange [SEE UPDATE BELOW], like the ones at the airport, and exchange it for, say, a 300 euro check, which they can then deposit at their bank. (Banks are closed for withdrawals but they’re happy to take deposits!) 

At that point, 300 real euros will be transferred in the usual way, electronically, from the currency exchange’s (Greek) bank to the customer’s (Greek) bank, and 300 euros will be credited to the customer’s account. The individual can spend the money using a debit card -- debit cards are working normally for domestic transactions -- or make (limited) currency withdrawals. Afterward, the currency exchange can sell the tax credits to business and individuals. Again, the point is that the velocity of money is increased, which increases GDP. And Greece can print as many of these credits as it thinks prudent.

So the EU's decision about whether to comply with Syriza's post-referendum threat will depend on how it views this parallel currency scenario: is it better or worse, from its point of view, than the Syriza-negotiating-triumph victory?

Of course, the upside of the parallel currency for the EU is that it doesn’t hand Syriza a major immediate victory. The obvious downside is that it would clearly be a big step towards Grexit. Moreover, it's a step that allows Syriza to keep its promise to voters not to take Greece out of the eurozone: there would still be euros in Greek bank accounts and the Bank of Greece would still be hooked up to the Eurosystem payments network.

The EU has put on a brave face about not really caring about Grexit, but behind the scenes it is deeply divided. Many on the Right, in Germany and Northern Europe generally, seem OK with the idea. (In fact, Schaeuble himself recently mentioned the possibility of a parallel currency in Greece.) But many others, on the center-left and in Southern Europe, privately view the prospect with horror. Francois Hollande, in particular, is now panicking. All along he assumed that Germany would never push things this far; he thought that if he privately and politely urged Berlin to go easy it would listen to him. Now the masks have come off and France is scrambling. God only knows what Renzi et al are feeling.  

So if  the EU takes this path -- if it denies Greece bank liquidity and forces it to introduce a parallel currency -- the immediate outcome would be a political crisis within the Franco-German core the likes of which haven't been seen in many decades.

Even worse is what might happen after the immediate crisis. If a major expansion of the effective Greek money supply does what one would expect it to -- stimulates the Greek economy -- this would be a real nightmare for the Eurozone, for reasons that are too obvious to explain. In many ways, it would really be the worst of all possible worst-case scenarios, politically speaking. And economically speaking, there is the question of what the markets' reaction would be in Spain, Italy, et al., which until now have weathered the Greek crisis OK.

Of course, the eurozone could retaliate against Greece and shut off its access to the payments network, or achieve the same thing by drastically reducing ELA, thus kicking it out of the euro. Politically speaking, this would presumably require a unanimous vote of the EU heads of state at the European Council. (If the ECB took this step over clear French opposition, I think the European project would be effectively over, at least for many years.)

Obviously it would be terrible for Syriza (and the whole country) if Greece were forced out of the euro. It would cause an appalling economic collapse, a visible humanitarian crisis in a NATO country. But in a sense it would also let Syriza off the hook: Hey, we tried our best to fight austerity within the euro, the voters agreed with us, and then the evil Europeans kicked us out.

So a lot depends on three things, in ascending order of importance:

(1) how smoothly Greece can roll out the currency issuance;

(2) how much it would stimulate the economy;

(3) above all, the Europeans' perceptions of (1) and (2).

The risks are high for both sides, but I think Greece is in a stronger position than most people think. Again, I’m probably wrong.

UPDATE:  Actually, this could be done without middlemen. Banks could accept and deal in the credits directly. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rise of the robots

[UPDATE: Despite what the chart title says, this actually shows employment in "industry," which includes mining, utilities, and transport along with manufacturing. Sorry for the slip.]

Monday, June 1, 2015

What are the most important issues for people of color?

Luckily, we don't have to guess! For decades, Gallup has been asking Americans this very question on a regular basis.

Here's how it works. A Gallup interviewer asks a respondent: "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" The respondent volunteers up to three answers, and the interviewer records the responses word-for-word. Then, the data wizards at Gallup group together all the basically similar answers under a single heading (such as "Ethical-Moral-Religious Decline") and count the results.

Got it? Great! Let's see what the numbers say.

The most recent Gallup poll asking this question was conducted on March 5-8, 2015. There were 203 respondents who said they were something other than non-Hispanic whites. Of these, 105 were non-Hispanic blacks and 61 were Hispanic, the rest being Asian or something else. (For those who would point out the fairly small size of this sample, I enthusiastically invite them to obtain a larger one by combining several polls together -- and be sure to report what you find in the comments!)

What follows is the number of respondents of color who volunteered each issue as their first answer***.

In first place, by a pretty wide margin, we have "Unemployment/Jobs" (24 respondents). Then "Politicians" (17 respondents). In third place we have what Gallup called "The Economy (General)" (17 respondents). After that comes "Immigration/Illegal Aliens" (12 respondents, 5 of whom were non-Hispanic blacks; the number of Latinos was not specifically recorded). And in fifth place we've got "Health Care/Hospitals" (10 respondents).

I’d like to point out three other noteworthy items: (1)"Race Relations," as Gallup terms it, was the most important issue for 6 respondents. (2) The criminal justice system was most important for 5 respondents. And (3) elections or election reform was most important for 3 respondents.

As you might imagine, with such an open-ended question the total number of distinct answers was large -- 34 in total, as recorded by Gallup. So to help make sense of them all, I'm going to consolidate them into 10 larger categories of my own design, ordered from biggest to smallest.

For no particular reason, I'm going to call the first category "Bernie Sanders Issues." And I'm going to place Race Relations + Criminal Justice + Election Reform under the single heading, "Race."

Behold: the Vox populi!!

[UPDATE: Note that these are raw numbers, not percentages! The sample size is almost an even 200, so to get a percentage, just halve each number.]

*** As for the second-choice responses, there's not much news there. 156 of the respondents declined to give a second choice, and the top answer, "Health Care/Hospitals" was chosen by only 5 respondents. Nobody gave a third choice.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Uber deserves a fair chance in the marketplace

A while back, you might remember, the formidable Mike Konczal made a splash with a piece in the Nation titled “Socialize Uber.” His argument was simple: most of the capital used by Uber – the cars, the auto insurance – is paid for by the workers. Yet the workers don’t get any of the profits. (Actually, Uber probably doesn’t make any profits yet, but it collects something like $2 billion a year from drivers; it then blows most of that on marketing and lobbying.)

So the obvious answer is right there in the title: Socialize Uber. The company should be run as a worker cooperative.

At that point, Joe Wiesenthal of Business Insider posted a comment to Mike’s Facebook wall asking a reasonable question: “How do you go about turning Uber into a collective?” In response, I offered this:

the simplest way to turn Uber into a collective is just for cities to adopt regulatory codes for ridesharing that only permit ridesharing by worker-owned firms. Uber would then seamlessly transition into becoming a software provider.

Why am I posting this now, months later? One reason is that Mike just asked me to. But another reason is that I’d like to expand a little on the economics of this idea.

Suppose you were to pitch this concept – municipal laws that require ridesharing companies to be driver cooperatives – to Travis Kalanick, Uber’s charming CEO. I’m guessing he’d be opposed to it. But it's hard to see on what grounds he could object. Uber has always claimed that it doesn’t actually employ its drivers. Rather, the drivers are simply plucky entrepreneurs, and Uber merely sells a service that connects those entrepreneurs to customers via a sophisticated proprietary software system. Uber promises investors that it will soon be making mega-profits, but it also claims those profits merely represent a return on its technology and risk-bearing. Certainly the money doesn’t come from exploiting Uber’s workers. What workers? No, no – you see, the drivers are merely Uber’s business partners, and you can't exploit your business partner.

Well, in that case Kalanick should have no objection to what I’m proposing. Once these laws are passed, Uber can continue to sell its innovative software services at whatever price the market will bear, a price it will obviously set so as to ensure it is fully compensated for the technology and risk-bearing it’s already supplied. (Or, at least, it will hope the market will bear that price.) Except that now, Uber will be transacting with genuine business partners – worker cooperatives who are free to purchase software and service from the company (or one of its many competitors) in a free-market business transaction. Now it will be the workers who democratically set their own fares, determine their own work rules, and, of course, pocket any profits. And since Uber claims it already sets fares with the best interest of drivers in mind, it should have no reason to worry about losing its fare-setting control to them.  

Marx famously wrote that under capitalism, “the owner of money must meet in the market with the free laborer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labor-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realization of his labor-power.” Perhaps soon, Uber, the owner of money, will have a taste of what it’s like to engage in that sort of “free” transaction: in this case, meeting in the market with a transactor who owns all the labor-power necessary for that money’s realization.

Or, to quote the Old Man again, this time addressing an 1864 meeting of workers on the subject of labor cooperatives:

The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labor need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the laboring man himself; and that, like slave labor, like serf labor, hired labor is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.

P.S.: In case anyone was wondering, there are many precedents for laws excluding certain kinds of owners from particular industries. Many states forbid corporations from engaging in certain kinds of farming; many exclude for-profit companies from certain kinds of gambling and credit counseling businesses; and federal restrictions on foreign ownership exist in a wide range of industries. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Truly Too Hot For Jacobin!

The other day on Facebook, my Jacobin colleague Connor Kilpatrick posted an excerpt from an interview with prison scholar Marie Gottschalk. Gottschalk has a new book out called Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics that looks to be very much worth reading.

In the interview, she points out how, despite large racial disparities in incarceration rates, even whites in America are imprisoned at far higher rates than the populations of most other rich countries.

Gottschalk is right. Which reminded me of something that came up during the Charlie Hebdo debate. Some people at the time were circulating articles reporting that 60% or 70% of French prisoners are Muslims. In fact, these were basically guesses since France doesn't collect data on the religious affiliations of detainees. (Which doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong).

The argument went that by comparing those stats with analogous U.S. figures it could be said that the "racial" bias against Muslims in the French criminal justice system is even worse than the bias against blacks in the U.S.

So I went looking for actual stats on French prisoners, and compared them with U.S. data. Here's what it looks like:

It turns out it's true -- the black-white incarceration ratio in the U.S. is lower than the North African immigrant-native ratio in France. But that's only because so few native French are in prison. 

Which raises a larger issue.

I remembered finding something surprising in the U.S. stats when I looked at them a while ago. It turns out that the smallest racial disparities in U.S. imprisonment rates are in the Deep South, while the largest are in states like New Jersey and Connecticut. Not quite what you'd expect, right?

What to make of that surprising fact? I have no problem believing that the New Jersey and Connecticut justice systems are racist. What I find hard to believe is that those in Alabama and Mississippi are far less racist.

So after looking at the French numbers, I decided to do a little statistical analysis. I found that the degree of racial disparity in U.S. states' incarceration rates is almost entirely a function of how low the white rate is. It's completely unrelated to how high the black rate is. (R-squared is 54% for the white rate, 5% for the black rate.)

Racial disparity in overall incarceration, it seems, is a pretty useless way to measure the bias of a criminal justice system. What seems to be the case, rather, is that the more punitive a justice system gets, the more the experience of incarceration starts to affect people outside the very lowest ranks of society.

The result is a paradox: the higher a state's overall incarceration rate, the smaller the racial disparity. Here's what that looks like:

So suppose, tomorrow, the government were to blindly adopt an across-the-board cut in statutory sentencing standards for every crime. The result would surely be a massive drop in incarceration, for both blacks and whites. But also, it seems, a big increase in the level of racial disparity. Food for thought.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"If Charlie Is Racist, Then I Am," by Zineb El-Rhazoui

In December 2013, former Charlie Hebdo editor Olivier Cyran, who had left the magazine in 2001, published an article, “Charlie Hebdo, Not Racist? If You Say So,” on his website Article11.

Charlie Hebdo’s religion editor, Zineb el-Rhazoui, replied in an essay published the same month. I’ve translated her essay below. When the attack on the paper’s offices occurred, el-Rhazoui was traveling in Morocco.

"If Charlie Is Racist, Then I Am"

Zineb el-Rhazoui

On December 5th, I learned in the press that I have a terrible disease. The diagnosis, by Olivier Cyran on the website Article 11, is definitive: I am racist. Being of French citizenship, I was anxious to identify, before the malady could advance any further, which races were likely to activate my white-woman antibodies. My suspicions naturally gravitated to the descendants of those exotic hordes who are said to be invading Old France to steal our bread, my bread. The Chinese? I've received no Asian complaint on this score. The blacks of Africa and elsewhere? That happens to be the color of the man I love. The drinkers of vodka? I just came back from a year's exile in Slovenia and don't especially remember being allergic to Slavic charms. Who then? "Whites"? I wouldn't venture to think Olivier Cyran could adhere to the theory of "anti-white racism." No. I didn't have to make it far into the piece to be reassured that his diagnosis was more precise: my racism, thank God (that idiot), is only aimed at Muslims, and I  contracted this dangerous syndrome from the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo. An occupational illness, then. Since Olivier Cyran is himself a veteran of the shop, though I never had the pleasure of meeting him -- since he had the luck, and the balls, according to him, to get out before the infection could spread  through the paper -- I've decided to address him as tu, since we use tu among colleagues at Charlie.

Olivier, you start from the premise that the Muslims of Azerbaijan, of Bosnia, of Malaysia, Egypt or Burkina Faso, represent a single whole that can be designated as a "race." Well, it so happens that that's the one I belong to. The fact that I'm an atheist, and proud of it? It makes no difference, since you don't ask us what we think; you talk about racism, and therefore race. I won't keep beating around the bush, since I don't doubt for a second that, like me, you perfectly understand the distinction between a religion and a race. If you make this lamentable conflation, it's because you engage in a sociological fallacy whose origins lie in the demography of France: our Muslims are most often those we call "Arabs." I'm sort of starting to understand why you speak of racism. But let's try to be precise: we're not talking about the Arabs of Lebanon, who are rarely encountered in the French projects, nor the persecuted Arab Ahwazi minority of Iran, whom nobody in France talks about, and certainly not the Arabs of Qatar who keep Louis Vuitton in business. No, you're talking about the "Arabs" of North Africa -- and here again, it so happens that that is the "race" from which I spring. Moreover, for your information, those "Arabs" aren't always Arabs. The best-informed people in France know that they are Berbers, a word of Greek origin, "Bearded," which refers to us Amazighes, Imazighen -- Free Men, as we like to call ourselves. I am thus triply qualified to dispel the obvious confusion you manifest when you identify those you claim to be defending: the Muslim race.

Muslim You Will Stay

Among the individuals that you assign to this racial category, there are militant atheists like me, obviously secularist (laïque). There are atheists who have other fish to fry, they are secularists too. There are atheists who love Charlie Hebdo and support it; others less so or not at all. There are agnostics, skeptics, free-thinkers, deists; they are secularists as well. There are believers who are non-practicing but politically Islamist, practicing but secularist, or even those with "no opinion," whose daily lives do not suffer because of Charlie Hebdo. There are converts to Christianity -- and oh, are they secularist, for they've endured the terrors of theocracy in their countries of origin. And finally there are the fundamentalists (intégristes), the militant Islamists, the adherents of an identity defined above all by religion, and those are the ones you have chosen to defend. Those are the ones who, given the reality of  French laïcité, have no other choice than to cry racism, a tear in their eye and a hand on their heart, on the pretext that their "religious feelings" have been mocked by a drawing in Charlie. Among them you will find many who stand for laïcité in France but vote Ennahda in Tunisia, who do their shopping at a Parisian halal butcher but would cry scandal if a misfit decided to open a charcuterie in Jeddah. Who are outraged when a day care center fires a veiled employee but say nothing when someone they know forces his daughter to wear the veil. They are a minority. But they are the standard to which you have chosen to align the identity of all of us.

Enough generalities, which I didn't think a man of the pen needed to be reminded of. If I've taken up mine to answer you, it is not solely to defend myself from racism, but above all because in my journalist's memory I have rarely resented an opinion column as much as I did yours. If you will allow an "Arab" to address her own complaint, let me tell you that your rhetoric and arguments are the most sophisticated variety of racism that exists in France. Rare are those today who would risk shouting from the rooftops,"Ragheads Out!" The extremists who would do so would immediately be jeered by you, by me, and by a majority of the French people. First of all, you quote Bernard Maris, Catherine, Charb, Caroline Fourest. What about me, what about me! You preferred to omit my name, when it was my articles that you pointed to as dangerously "Islamophobic," thus, according to you, necessarily racist. Frankly, I wondered why , and I see only two options. Either you didn't want to let Charlie Hebdo's detractors (who can only subscribe to your thinking if they never read the paper) know that the author of these racist ravings belongs precisely to the Muslim race. Or you simply didn't think that, as a person, I was worth naming, since in a fascist rag like Charlie I couldn't be anything but the house Arab. I must have been hired as an alibi, so that Charlie could hit its diversity quota, but you could never imagine that I could be brought on staff for the same reasons that you were. An Olivier, of course, is hired for his professional qualities; a Zineb is only hired by affirmative action. Or maybe you "spared" me because in my case you have no personal scores to settle, unlike a fair number of your former colleagues. In that case, I would have readers seek the motives behind your article somewhere other than the realm of ideas.

Racism By Omission

A Zineb who spits on Islam, that's beyond you, isn't it? It disconcerts you so much that you preferred not to name me, so as not to introduce any doubt as to the veracity of your accusations against us, the journalists of Charlie. If the expression "spit on Islam" shocks you, let me answer you on that too. Why the hell is a "white person" who spits on Christianity an anticlerical, but an Arab who spits on Islam is alienated, an alibi, a house Arab, an incoherence that one would prefer not even to name? Why? Do you think that people of my race, and myself, are congenitally sealed off from the universal ideas of atheism and anticlericalism? Or is it that you think that unlike other peoples, our identity is solely structured by religion? What is left of an Arab when he no longer has Islam? To listen to you, a person like me must be some kind of harki of the Koran, we are traitors so profoundly stricken by a racial complex that we harbor a single regret, that of not being white. As for me, my interactions with Muslims and Arabs did not begin with the [1983] Marche des beurs. I'm what is called a blédarde, born in Morocco to an indigenous father and French mother. It's there that I was educated and began my career as a journalist in a weekly paper that was shut down by the regime in 2010. My colleagues from the old country can explain to you how, in 2006, the Moroccan police state, which had other scores to settle with us, organized a fake demonstration of Islamists in front of the office of the Journal Hebdo, which was accused of having published Charlie's caricatures. In reality, it was a photo of a random person seated at a café terrace holding a copy of Charlie Hebdo. I can also tell you that your piece in Article11 was posted on Moroccan websites, the same kind of sites that would never dare to poke their noses into a corruption scandal involving the King, for example. I won't hide from you that on this one you managed to make not only the Islamists happy but also the Moroccan dictatorship that forced me and several of my colleagues into exile, and which continues to harass us as traitors to the nation, henchmen of foreign powers hostile to Morocco, even to Islam. A piece like yours is worth its weight in gold to the royalist police agents, who sponsored a "dossier" against Charlie published in a gutter newspaper in Casablanca. It informs readers that, among other things, the Molotov cocktail attack on Charlie's offices in November 2011 was an insurance fraud, and that Charb drives a Ferrari thanks to all the dough we make. I don't know if you've heard from Charb since you left the paper, but he still hasn't passed his driving test. In another Moroccan article on Charlie, I learned I'd been hired because I had slept with Caroline Fourest and that my reporting was financed by the Algerian, Spanish, Israeli secret services. Clearly a raghead can't really be hired for the same reasons as an Olivier.

My friend, I know you have nothing to do with the whole journalistic sewer that serves the Mohammed VI dictatorship. I simply want to show you who you're making happy, if my pieces on Islam might occasionally please a few members of the FN.

You see, Olivier, as a blédarde born in the Maghreb, assigned against my will to a religious pigeonhole, not only by you, but above all by a theocratic state that does not allow me to choose my faith and which governs my personal status by religious laws, I have always wondered why guys like you lie down before Islamist propaganda. The laws of my country do not grant me a quarter of the rights you acquired at birth, and if I were to be attacked or raped in the streets of Casablanca by a barbu, as has been promised in hundreds of emails -- never taken seriously by the Moroccan police -- the websites that posted your article will definitely say I was asking for it because I don't respect Islam. And you here in France, in a secularist state, you rehash without grasping its implications this whole moralizing discourse about how one must "respect Islam," as demanded by the Islamists, who do not ask whether Islam respects other religions, or other people. Why the hell should I respect Islam? Does it respect me?  The day Islam shows the slightest bit of consideration to women, first of all, and secondly to free-thinkers, I promise you I will rethink my positions.

The FN? Don't know them.

It is in order to see that day come that I fight alongside all the atheists of Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt or Palestine, not to give pleasure to the FN as you explain in your article. Because believe me, a lot of virulent atheists in the Arab world, so virulent they regularly spend time in jail for blasphemy, have never heard of Marine Le Pen, and could not possibly care if what they say pleases the French far right, because they're busy fighting their own far right: Islamism. If you will permit us, we "Islamophobes" of the Muslim race think the liberation of our societies will necessarily come through emancipation from the yoke of state religion. Since that is what Islam is more or less everywhere in the so-called Arab countries, you'll also find there a strong opposition to theocracy, which is fed not only by the universal idea of separation of church and state but also by the skepticism and historicization of Islamic texts. We permit ourselves just about anything, such as, for example, thinking that Mohammed, and even Allah, are not unrepresentable. Caricatures, parodies of Koranic verses or hadiths, you just have to look around on our internet forums to see that Charlie was not the original source on this score.

You've got to understand us, because you see, centuries after his death Mohammed is still imposing his law. He is, in a manner of speaking, the head of state of this Umma that deprives us of our freedom of thought, and which forbids me, for example, to inherit property equally with my brothers or to marry a man of my choosing. Why would you -- you, an anti-authoritarian -- want a man with as much power as him to be exempt from critique? Because, when I speak to you of laws, I am not referring to obsolete Koranic decrees but to the positive laws in our countries, to the civil code that governs our marriages, divorces, inheritances, child custody, etc. Yes, it's Mohammed, in the name of Allah, who decides, and not us, free people who are equal to you. Let me tell you that for all these reasons, it will not be the official representatives of the Islamic denomination in Europe, whose platitudes you adopt, and who themselves take good advantage of the joys of secularism, who will fix the limits of our freedom of expression. Make no mistake, Olivier, because antiracism is on the side of Charlie Hebdo, which opens its pages to people like me who cannot speak out in their own country under penalty of prison or attack, and not on yours, you who agree to hand the entire "Muslim race" over to its self-proclaimed clergy. Charlie is aware of the intellectual and ideological ferment that is animating the Muslim world, it has understood that a war is on between freedom and politico-Islamist dictatorship, whether you date it to before or after the Arab Spring, and Charlie has quite simply chosen its camp: ours, its -- that of the anticlericals. If blasphemy is a right for the heirs of Christian civilization, why do you deny it to Muslims? Why is an Islamic state acceptable in Tunisia or Egypt, but not in France? Isn't that what racism is?

The Art of Muzzling Criticism

Far be it from me to force this analysis on you. While it flows logically from your reading, I wouldn't go so far as to say you would adopt it. I've tried to uncover the reason you've fallen into such a trap, and I've found it in the fallacy that serves to cement your argument: "Headscarves, high heels, even a T-shirt made in Bangladesh, none of them matter to me when the person underneath is deserving of respect," you say in your article. The honorable philanthropic intention you demonstrate unfortunately conflates the critique of ideas with the critique of persons. Let's remember that the basis of all sound rhetoric is always to avoid the argumentum ad hominem. Inversely, to abhor an idea must never lead to its personification. Critiquing the headscarf is not the same as humiliating every woman who wears it, any more than critiquing Islam amounts to jeering every Muslim. The veiled women in my family are less sensitive than you on this score. Even though I do not hide my aversion to the bit of fabric they wear on their heads, they understand that it in no way detracts from the affection and respect that I have -- or don't have -- for them, for simply human reasons. In committing this fallacy, you once again adopt the arguments of the watchdogs of Islamophobia. Lacking the religious laws that are their tool of power in Muslim countries, they seize on antiracist laws in France to silence detractors of their beliefs. They are dying to have us admit that critiquing the headscarf means denying dignity to those who wear it, and therefore it's racism. Critiquing Mohammed means humiliating every Muslim on an individual basis, and therefore it's racism. That's their equation, and you, Olivier, you took the bait.

Not me. Because the specter of racism that you fear -- so much so that you anoint the arguments of the Islamic far right and throw stones at your former colleagues, to escape all suspicion -- I do not fear it. It is so absurd to suspect me of racism that even you prefer to suppress my name from your article, though you mentioned all the others.  As the Arab whose name you preferred not to cite, I experienced your piece as racist because you forced me, the Arab, to defend my colleagues, the whites. Why should I have more legitimacy than them to advance these ideas? Why does your article force me to bring up my name and my identity? I would have you think about that. You deny me the right to critique the religion I studied as a mandatory subject in school, from preschool to graduation, and which still today forbids me from staying in the same hotel room as my boyfriend when I want to spend a weekend in Marrakech, on the pretext that we don't have a fornication certificate signed by Mohammed. As for my colleagues at Charlie, they clearly ought to shut up, or draw Christmas trees every time they get the notion to criticize Islamic dictatorship, on the grounds that they're white. Nice definition of antiracism.

If you've read nothing other than Malek Chebel, the most vulgarized exponent of Islam-the-religion-of-peace-and-love, I strongly urge you to buy a Sira book first, to get an idea of the teachings of Mohammed, and you tell me if you still think it's disgusting to critique them. Otherwise, go take a tour of the Salafist bookstores that are popping up everywhere in the Paris region, and tell me if you still think that hatred is on the side of Charlie Hebdo. Furthermore, be aware that the increase in their number over the past fifteen years or so -- the period when Charlie, you say, curiously started to take an interest in them -- in no way corresponds to any demographic explosion of Muslims in France, but rather to an ideological shift financed by petrodollars, involving a radicalized minority of Muslims.

Enlightened Minds, Learn Islam!

You will find many pearls in these books, such as le mariage de jouissance (Zawaj al-Mut’a). Practiced in times of war by Muslims, this unilateral marriage contract -- since it's the conquering warrior who decides -- can last an hour, two hours, or a few days, and is intended to allow Allah's fighters  to drain their balls (sorry for the vulgarity, but it's impossible to call it anything else) during their razzias. It appears that this is what happened in Syria in this byzantine story of "sexual jihad." In your article, you quoted a piece in Charlie, of which I was the author, which addressed this subject and which you described as a "pseudo-investigation" based on an abominable Islamophobic rumor. I concede that neither you nor I were on the ground to witness the practice, given the difficult conditions of journalism in Syria at the moment. But for you it was sufficient that [Saudi preacher] Mohamad al-Arefe denied the fatwa that was attributed to him -- urging that the jihadists be resupplied with women -- for all of this to be unfounded. Do you think the FIS in Algeria, or Al-Qaeda everywhere else, had to wait for al-Arefe? You also refer to another of my articles -- again without naming me -- and quote the teaser to illustrate Charlie Hebdo's dangerous drift towards nationalism. In your opinion, this piece about a group of Belgian Salafists was denouncing the threat of our Christian West being invaded by barbarian Muslim hordes. "Will fries soon all be halal?" I asked. You forgot to mention that the hapless hero of my piece was a [white] Belgian convert named Jean-Louis, a.k.a. "le soumis." This is no issue of racism, but rather of fundamentalism. Since the article came out, the tall redhead was arrested over a recruitment cell for jihad in Syria. You would think I wasn't totally wrong to take an interest in his case.

You see, Olivier, this Charlie Hebdo that was totally not racist when you were working there, but which  inexorably became so after you left it, does not need anti-racist lessons from you, and it's the Arab who's telling you so. Personally, I never worked with [Philippe] Val and I don't know if I would have been able, as you were, to listen to his encomiums to Israel, a racist and colonial state, at every editorial meeting in order to keep my job. For me, it's the pen of Charb, one of the most pro-Palestinian writers in the French press,  with which I find affinity. Charb, because of this lynching to which you are contributing through the confusion of your ideas, is today being threatened by al-Qaeda and lives under police protection. So which side is hatred on?

Salutations collégiales,
Zaynab bint Mohammad ibn al-Mâatî al-Rhazwî al-Harîzî.