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Tuesday 3rd of May, Canadian writer Djamila Benhabib and French/Maroccan journalist Zineb El Rhazoui were awarded the VUB/ULB Difference Day Honorary Title for the Freedom of Speech during the second edition of Difference Day, organised in the context of the World Pres Freedom Day 2016. Benhabib’s last essay Après Charlie was published early 2016. El Rhazoui is columnist at Charlie Hebdo.
On the 3rd of May, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Erasmushogeschool Brussel, BOZAR, Evens Foundation and iMinds illuminate the importance of freedom of press and speech with a free series of actuality debates with international speakers. Highlight of the day was the ceremony in which three awards were granted: WAN The Golden Pen of Freedom, Press Cartoon Europe and the VUB/ULB Difference Day Honorary Title for the freedom of speech.
Last year the Difference Day Honorary Title went to the emprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. This year, writer Djamila Benhabib and journalist Zineb El Rhazoui were awarded for ‘their important contribution to the safeguarding and promotion of the freedom of thought and speech in a democratic world in constant evolution.’
Djemila Benhabib is born in 1972 in Ukraine and grew up in Algeria. Having a mother of Greek-Cypriotic origin, she became aware at a young age of the inegality of women in her country. In 1994, her family was sentenced to death by the islamists and fled to France. Three years later, Djemila parted for Quebec on her own where she starts her career as essay writer with Ma via à contre-Coran. The book was awarded the prize of the Ecrivains francophones d’Amérique in 2009. The publication of Les soldats d’Allah à l’assaut de l’Occident in 2012 was attended by the then director of Charlie Hebdo Charb, who handed Djemila the International Award of Secularism. In 2013 she receives the Prix humaniste du Quebec for L’automne des femmes arabes. Après Charlie is published in January 2016. In that last book, Benhabib sees the fall of the great ideologies of the 20st century as causing the return of religion in our society. According to her, this leads to the freedom of thought and speech being under threat, as are also other achievements like women’s emancipation and education, etcetera. Due to her engagement, Benhabib has been subject to physical threats, intimidation campaigns and juridicial actions from islamist groups and their followers, especially in Canada.
Zineb El Rhazoui
Just like Benhabib, El Rhazoui (1982) comes from a mixed family: her father was born in Marocco, while her mother is French. She starts questioning the submissive status of women in Islam when still young and begins a career as journalist in Marocco, establishing several pro-democratic, secular organisations. She has been arrested a number of times before finally being extradicted. She heads for Paris and becomes spokesoman for the feminist organisation Ni Putes, ni Soumises. When the Arabic Spring broke in 2011, she was engaged by the magazine Charlie Hebdo. There she co-operated on several articles about the prophet Mohammed and received death threats from ISIS in return. On the 7th of January, she escaped the slaughtering in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Since then her life has changed considerably, retricted as it is by security measures.