The Trumpian Inquisition

The climate of hatred fostered by Donald Trump in his first month in the White House is disturbing; the political course for his administration has been set and a foreboding sense there is a fanatic intent to further divide the country by pitting communities, races, and religious groups against one another permeates the land. Demonizing the media and labeling them “the enemy of the American people” as they shed light on his false narrative, marginalizing the Judiciary as it stand against his hateful and prejudiced persecution, purging his cabinet of staff who voice opposing and often rational perspectives that are faithful to the spirit of the US constitution, are all small steps designed to erode Americas’ faith in the checks and balances system designed by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to prevent an authoritarian consolidation of power. Trump and his acolytes see an indubitable Executive as necessary to protect the country from the “bad hombres” and the “hateful Muslims,” and restore the sovereignty the Obama administration is believed to have diminished in favor of a corporatist, globalist strategy.

History tells us the most atrocious acts of oppression and violence against target groups spawned from an insignificant, small scale political action and evolved gradually into genocide. In the 15th century, Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella I’s enforced conversions of Jews and Muslims and their subsequent expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula resulted in part from their perception that there was an urgent need for unity of faith; they considered Jewish and Muslim practices a threat to that unity and their sovereignty. They requested a papal bull – akin to an Executive Order – that they were granted by Pope Sixtus IV in 1478. For 350 years, thousands of Jews and Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity while others were burnt at the stake; thousands more were dispossessed of their lands, businesses, and properties. To American scholars, the Spanish Inquisition serves as a perfect inversion of American values.

Similarly, when on January 30, 1933, Hitler, as the leader of the right-wing National Socialist German Workers Party, was sworn in as Chancellor, he promptly named some of his top aides to key cabinet positions; with a willing cabinet in place, Hitler invoked emergency clauses of the constitution and set about eroding Germany’s democracy. The Nazis swiftly launched a fear and hate campaign against the Jews. Progressively, laws were enacted and a political morality was constructed to justify forcing them out of their government jobs, boycotting their businesses, and demonizing and marginalizing their communities.  The tracks were greased for the Holocaust.

One needs not be an anti-terrorism expert to come to the conclusion that the ban exacerbates US ‘security posture. The White House has been briefed on this multiple times. If the ban is not a successful measure to keep terrorist out, why is the Trump administration so actively implementing it? Donald J. Trump’s Executive directives, restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries and aggressively deporting undocumented immigrants, are the first steps in the gradual execution of his and his alt-right cabinet’s long term strategy towards the final solution to America’s obstacles to the fulfillment of a Julius Evola vision of unification of faith and purity of race. This is done with the complicity of a morally bankrupt, hypocritical, and mendacious Republican Party and all in the name of “protecting Americans.”  The current composition of his cabinet and the GOP – the power structure of American politics – are a microcosm of the end-state of this agenda.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement task forces are conducting aggressive raids rounding up thousands of immigrants. There are unsubstantiated reports that a Department of Homeland Security draft memo proposes the use of National Guard troops to support ICE in cracking down on undocumented immigrants. This is not surprising; a military general in at the helm of a civilian administration will naturally lean towards military solutions to civilian problems. The allegation of using National Guard troops is further fueled by Trump’s own comment to the news that ICE raids are “a military operation.” He most likely called them so because he is a nescient buffoon oblivious to the lexical and legal meanings of his utterances. Using the military in support of ICE would be a grave infringement of the Posse Comitatus Act and another step further away from democracy and closer to authoritarianism.

00116226In addition to terrorizing the Latino and Muslim communities, this insidious campaign against them aims to establish a new “identitarian” moral foundation through which anyone who is deemed not American is perceived as being uncaring, perfidious, subversive, and degrading. During his inauguration speech, Trump outlined his domestic policy in a four words mantra, repeated many times before and afterwards: “buy American; hire American;” The mantra evolved from an older one that called for “America for Americans.” In 1924, the Ku Klux Klan chapter in Kansas published a seven-page pamphlet in opposition to the gubernatorial bid of William Allen White, the publisher of Emporia newspaper, whose campaign called for the curtailment of the Klan’s influence in state politics. The pamphlet contains the Ku Klux Kreed which defines what a true American is; it states:

“No people should be as proud of their heritage, their traditions and forbears as America’s Native Sons; Why? Because in their veins run the Courage of the Pilgrims, the Bravery of Boone, the Wisdom of Washington, Sagacity of Franklin, the Nobility of Lincoln and Lee. Surely the blood of kings and potantes could be no more royal – no lineage more noble. The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan desire that this blood be not polluted, but kept pure as a sacred heritage and thereby forge on to the front and take its place at the pinnacle of all nations of the world, where purity, Christianity, peace, and prosperity reign supreme.”

On the other hand, they define those who lack that “pure lineage” as

“the poor, oppressed and discontented of other lands, and to America they come and suck from her bosom her riches and at the same time maintain allegiance to their own nation.”

It goes on to say:

“The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan stand for “America First.”

Sounds familiar?

See! Trump’s brand of nationalism dismisses the all inclusive sense that all Americans, as diverse as they are, have interests that coincide with one another and with the Constitution. Trump’s brand of nationalism is a white supremacist doctrine that preaches that the only people worthy of being called Americans, worthy of governing, worthy of enjoying the riches of the land and the opportunities that sprout from it, are white people.

Despite subsequently denying that his sweeping Executive Order specifically targets Muslims while giving preference to persecuted Christians in the immigration admission process, Trump and many of his so called advisors have a track record of harboring a deep conviction that Islam and Muslims are a threat that needs to be countered. Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Michael Anton, Sebastian Gorka, Jeff Session, and others, all top Trump advisors who oversaw the drafting of the Executive Order banning Muslims, share a deep animus towards, not radical Islamic terrorism, but Islam proper. For Trump’s entourage and their supporters, radicalism is an inherently pervasive characteristic in Islam. All Muslims are radicals, they believe; some Muslims have realized it and acted upon it – and those are the terrorists, while in others, this proclivity for bloody mayhem is a latent talent. During an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Trump conveyed his belief that “Islam has tremendous hatred of us.” When he was asked to clarify whether he was talking about radical Islam or mainstream Islam he replied that “it is very hard to separate.” It is safe to conclude that when he pledged to destroy radical Islamic terrorism, he was pledging to destroy Islam. This, of course, is delusional.

Trump makes no attempt to mask his administration’s Islamophobic aims. They simply stated that they want to bar Muslims from entering the US, as Rudy Guiliani acknowledged matter-of-factly on Fox News. It is only when they realized, through the widespread condemnation of the civil society and media institutions, that they refrained on calling it a “Muslim ban,” opting instead for a less vitriolic appellation, i.e., the “immigration ban.”

A mid-term goal this administration wishes to reach is to degrade the American Muslim community, which they deem a security threat because of its alleged inability to assimilate to the American/Western culture. LA Times reported:

“Trump’s top advisers on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the US decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.”

As Trump has no compunction painting all Muslims – except those billionaires with whom he has a business affinity – a security threat, he has demonstrated exceeding disinclination to empathize with them when they are victims of Islamophobic and terrorist attacks. It has been demonstrated that the large majority of those targeted by Daech are Muslims; Trump conveniently ignores that fact and gave Christian asylum seekers from the Middle East preference. To his supporters and the American public at large, he is conveying the idea that Christian minorities and the West are the only victims of Daesh’s terrorism and that the Muslims support their violent activities. This is a blatant falsehood.

When Trump finally got around to showing empathy, albeit in a stilted way, for American Jews, whose synagogues and communities have been victim of bomb threats and violent anti-Semitism by groups who are emboldened by his presidency, Trump remains indifferent to the American Muslim community although it is experiencing similar threats and violence. When six Muslim worshipers were killed by a far-right fanatic in Quebec, Canada, when Muslim houses of worship are being burnt down in Florida, Texas, California, and many other states, when Muslim women are been brutalized for wearing a hijab, when a New York imam and his assistant were gunned down, when Muslim students are killed, Trump, known for his impulsive and fanatic tweeter rants about trivial matters, kept mum.

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(Image: Shepard Fairey)

The silver lining in this dark Trumpian cloud is that communities are binding together and supporting one another. The Muslim ban sparked massive demonstrations across the country; if the Trump administration institutes a Muslim registry, non-Muslim Americans states they will register in opposition to it and in solidarity for Muslims. Millions of Americans across the country stand up against the Trump administration’s message of fear and hatred and say: “I Am A Muslim Too.” When Islamic Centers, in Victoria and Lake Travis, both in Texas were destroyed in a massive criminal fire, the neighboring churches and synagogues opened their doors to Muslim worshipers; non-Muslims contributed funds to rebuild new mosques. Similarly, when a Jewish cemetery, outside of St. Louis, was desecrated in a spate of anti-Semitic attacks, Muslims raised funds and volunteered to clean and rebuild it. That is America ‘saving grace; the people will always come together, regardless of their differing faiths, their races, and cultural backgrounds, and protect the diversity and inclusive quality that make the United States of America a shining example coexistence and tolerance.

© 2017 AB

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Posted in Democracy, Donald Trump, Freedom of the Press, Hate Crime, HUMAN RIGHTS, Identity, Immigration, Individual Freedom, Islam, islamophobia, Steve Bannon, Terrorism, United States | Leave a comment

For American Muslims, The Worst Is Yet To Come

Having lived in these United States of America for most of my adult life, I have, like most immigrants, I am sure, experienced a good deal of hostility. Sometimes, it is lobbed in the form of an implicit bias, subtle micro-aggressions, passing comments about the perceived backwardness of Islam, the strangeness of my very ethnic name, or again my accent. Other times, it is unmitigated, unabashed, malevolent. It was never to the point where I would worry about the future of my children. And with Trump as President, I am dreadfully worried.

I brought my children up to believe their bona fides as Americans are unquestionable; I instilled in them the conviction that being a patriotic American does not mean relinquishing one’s ethnic and religious identities. They don’t have to pretend to love baseball and football, to celebrate Christmas and Easter. Espousing a strong sense of inclusiveness, embracing diversity, upholding the principles enshrined in the US constitution, fostering an environment of equality, justice, dignity, and respect, entrepreneurship, innovation; these are the pillars defining what “being an American” truly means. Since Plymouth Rock, Immigrants who have settled here, “yearning to be free,” believed in them. They are values the US government spent dollars and effort promoting around the world since World War II. And they are the reasons I settled here too.

My daughter, who is seven, had asked, in fact, demanded, to accompany me and her mother to the polling station to make sure we would vote for Hillary Clinton. She had been preoccupied with this election more than a child her age should be. Not long ago, she had heard someone at her school make a reference to Donald Trump and talk about Muslims in a hateful fashion and wondered if we would have to leave the US were Trump to win the Presidency. In a mock election her school had organized, she voted for Hillary, but, to her dismay, Donald J. Trump won. This led her to emphatically state to her class and teachers that she must be the only Muslim in her school.

Millions of Americans today share that feeling of loneliness and abandonment. We are indeed experiencing a peculiar time in America today. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” in a safe haven isolated from the social, economic, and political vicissitudes of the rest of the world is no longer the binding factor that holds the amazing diversity underlying the American experience. Although the laws have evolved and today they guarantee equal rights to all Americans, regardless of religious, racial, or ethnic backgrounds, the hearts of many have conserved the antediluvian bellicose paranoia that blames all of America’s ills on “the other” and harbors a staunch conviction that America’s justice and fairness should not be extended to its Muslim citizens. They portray American Muslims as foreigners, fresh off the boat immigrants with less human potential than the rest, a terrorism project in progress.

Our children are too young and too innocent to understand that the Republican Party, Donald Trump, the dubious Electoral College, and the millions of Americans who voted him into the Oval Office think that being an American is a zero-sum game and want to see America purged of its Muslims. According to the Pew Research Center, most registered Republicans associate Islam with violence and 40% of them believe Islam should be illegal in America. They persist on chalking up to Islam any lawlessness carried out by alleged Muslims. This is notwithstanding the statistics most violent crimes in the U.S. are committed by non-Muslims. Of the 358 mass shootings that took place in 2015, two were perpetrated by criminals known to be Muslims. Michael Steven Fish, a University of California, Berkeley researcher, provides, in a book he entitled “Are Muslims Distinctive,” empirical evidence  that homicide rates and class-based inequities are far less severe in Muslim countries than they are in the US.

I have been perplexed by how, in the eyes of Americans, criminals who do everything in flagrant contravention to the tenets of Islam are proclaimed as the embodiment of its doctrine and representatives of the totality of its adherents. Why is it so? Because America’s war on terrorism, like any other war, is a profit generating endeavor. Millions of dollars are budgeted annually to mitigate the threat of “radical Islam.” Thousands of individuals and countless new government institutions and private “security” companies are working around the clock to uncover terrorist plots from “Islamists.” Anti-terrorism in America has become a self-sustaining, profit generating operation that constantly alienates Muslim communities and openly infringes on their rights. But it can’t go on if the majority of citizens believe that there is no threat. It is critical that people are constantly reminded of the threat posed by “radical Islam,” that the fear of mayhem unleashed by homegrown terrorists, “radicalized” young American Muslims, remains present in their hearts and minds.

Donald Trump’s caustic rhetoric about Islam is not an attack on the American Muslim community as much as it is a byproduct of the disenfranchisement of a destitute white non-suburban electorate over the generational complacency of the political establishment. As philosopher Richard Rorty so accurately prognosticated in 1998 in his “Achieving Our Country,” when a strongman, like Trump, is exalted by a segment of the electorate as their deliverer from a “rigged” system, “One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words [slur for an African-American that begins with “n”] and [slur for a Jewish person that begins with “k”] will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.” Rorty did not include Muslims  in his essay because he could not have foretold 9/11. Today, of the minorities he mentioned, we are the easiest target.

Trump’s rhetoric is designed to be consumed by those “badly educated” Americans who already consider Muslims enemies; it appeals to those mostly White right-wing Americans whose views have been extreme all along, but have in recent years become increasingly vulgar and mainstream. Their vitriol and fear drive gun sales up. According to a study published in the journal “Injury Prevention,” one in three Americans owns a gun; the vast majority of gun owners are conservative white Christian men, a mostly pro-Republican demographic that harbors a hatred against Muslim borne out of a metaphysical solipsistic view of Western civilization and consider Muslim Americans less American than they.

It sees Islam as a hateful, murderous ideology and its adherents a fifth column and unauthentic Americans. Despite historical proof of the contrary and based on some warped logic, they do not consider American Muslims capable of loving America the same way other Americans, especially those of a European ancestry, do. Nor do they consider them part of a shared American history.

The simple fact that Muslims exist in America riles them. Indeed, it is not a simple “dislike” of Muslims; it is an unadulterated and visceral hatred; it is the same reductive mindset that causes Muslims to be removed from flights, denied employment, and profiled by law enforcement for no reason other than they are suspected of being Muslims. Even President Obama is not immune to such attacks. In the wake of the Orlando attack, Donald Trump alluded that the President sympathizes with radical Islamists because he may secretly still be a Muslim. This mindset is not an aberration in America today. It is the norm. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us about it in his “The Other America” speech; it conveys “consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist” and “its ultimate logic is genocide.”

For hard-liners in Donald Trump’s entourage, like Stephen K. Bannon, shortlisted as Chief Strategist, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, as national security adviser, General James Mattis, as Secretary of Defense, Senator Jeff Sessions, as Attorney General, Mike Pompeo, as CIA director, Frank Gaffney, and Rudy Giualliani, all strong proponent of a Muslim “registry” system, this is an auspicious opportunity to advance their preposterous conviction that all Muslims are terrorists until proven otherwise and reinforce the oft-used, oft-disproved misconception that Islam is not a religion, but a violent ideology inherently opposed to modernity and Western values. These radical demagogues malignantly caricature this putative discordance. They stoke fear and loathing of immigrants and Muslims. They stir up people into a mob mentality that easily ostracizes “the other.” They rationalize xenophobia, racism, violence. They peddle the politics of fear and suspicion and incite vigilantism against Muslims. According to the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims have been rising sharply since Trump started his campaign. It is estimated it will continue to rise during his Presidency.

Donald Trump and his chauvinistic cortege, having, based on clear indicators, turned their backs on the Founding Fathers’ vision and wishing to deconsecrate the egalitarian principles that form the bedrock of American exceptionalism, are on the verge of unleashing white supremacy, xenophobia, misogyny, and islamophobia on America’s minorities. White nationalist groups are crawling out of the shadows to resuscitate America’s historical dalliance with hatred, violence, racism and anti-Semitism. American Muslims, not in any way responsible for the economic, security, and social woes of the country, but being one of its weakest minorities today, feel the brunt of the resentment and endure the backlash. This is not likely to change anytime soon. Aside from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the American Muslim community has little institutional representation. Congressmen Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Andre Carson (D-IN) are the only Muslim federal legislators. Both congressmen are, no doubt, outstanding Muslims and patriotic Americans, and I personally take pride in seeing them at that level, but they are not beholden to the Muslim American community; they represent their constituents, most of whom are not Muslims. Until we prime our future generations to accede to the Ivy League, power structure of American politics, we will remain under-represented and on the receiving end of agenda driven attacks by opportunistic politicians and businessmen.       

After the election, like most decent American parents, I had to explain to my daughter why Donald J. Trump will be our 45th President. To assuage her fears, I explained that, although the presidency is the highest office in the land, the rule of law and the US Constitution are more important; they remain the framework within which President Donald Trump will have to operate. The have been put in place, after all, to mitigate America’s historical dalliance with hatred. To which she quipped with intuitive political relativism: “he’ll be out of the White House by the time I’m eleven.” Let’s hope so.

Be that as it may be, to many American Muslim families, a Donald Trump Presidency means, as James Baldwin wrote about a racist America, in 1962, that their children “were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being.” It is alarming how those words ring so true for the American Muslims today.

© 2016 AB

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Moroccan Elections 2015: Going Through the Motions

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Are These Morocco’s Actors of Change?

Today, September 4th, is voting day in Morocco. The regional and local elections, so far, have been hailed as a strong expression of Morocco’s democratic vitality and a true commitment to positive change. Abdelilah Benkirane, head of government and the leader of the Justice and development party (JDP), expects a 75% participation. Streets are littered with millions of flyers distributed by temporary helpers appareled in reflective vests bearing the respective names of the political parties that hired them. The Moroccan society is abuzz with an intense debate about regional and national issues and the candidates best suited to address them.

This, of course, is a fantasy spewed out by the government’s propaganda machine. The reality is that the elections are a cash bandwagon upon which everybody is jumping to hustle. It is a seasonal opportunity to make quick money. There are 14 million Moroccans registered to vote; there is a growing sense among an overwhelming majority of them that these regional and local elections, much like the previous ones, are failing to meet their expectations and are a travesty of electoral democracy. Officially, Ennahj Ad-dimocrati (the Democratic Way), a Marxist-Leninist political party, and Al-Adl wal Ihsane (Justice and Benevolence), an illegal, but tolerated Islamic group, are the only organized entities to have called for a boycott of the elections. Authorities have harshly repressed their demonstrations. Abdelilah Benkirane, Salaheddine Mezouar, Amina Benkhadra, and Nabil Benabdellah’s theatrics during rallies and photo ops with the common Moroccans to project the idea that they are fine, upstanding gentlemen and not stuck-up elitists have further exacerbate voters’ disaffection. While Benkirane wishfully hopes participation would reach 75%, analysts estimate a 55% participation highly optimistic.

There are a number of reasons why Moroccans are dismayed by the elections. first, the political parties have failed to explain how regional councils, an attempt at decentralized governance, would improve responsiveness. Regionalization a la Gaston Defferre might improve local economies and streamline political decision-making. The biggest hurdles to its success, however, are inexperience, limited and/or inadequate resources, and the unjustified invocation of national priorities over regional ones. These are problems that King Mohammed VI’s Consultative Committee on Regionalization might have addressed, but they are difficult to accurately predict.

Second, the putative community leaders representing the various parties are political poseurs with no demonstrated ability, nor delegated authority from their parties, to take strategic political and economic initiatives. They vow to engage in the Quixotic quests to fight corruption and poverty and offer empty rhetoric on many of the other key issues of local and national importance to the people such as education reform, the crippling stagflation, road safety, healthcare, salary stagnation, etc. Their programs lack deliberate remedies for the future; they mostly consist of recycled bromide delivered with a whooping serving of political hubris. In their bombastic speeches on television and organized gatherings across the country, candidates and the politicians supporting them have resorted to the effective tactic of telling their audiences what they want to hear. That and checkbook democracy; political parties opened multiple offices across the country offering 200 dirhams for votes. This Moroccan political paradox – campaigning on a platform of political and civic responsibility, transparency, and democracy while conspicuously buying votes – has been widely denounced, but hardly prosecuted by the authorities.

Third, to deflect attention from the lack of a clear rationale for their campaigns and mask their failure in formulating coherent policy proposals that adequately addresse quality-of-life issues, more often than not, national level politicians, have resorted to negative campaigning and direct attacks on the characters of their opponents . The big cities, Casablanca, Rabat, Kenitra, Meknes, Fez, Agadir, Tangier, Tetouan, Laayoune, etc, are vied for by heavy weight politicians, the movers and shakers of the country’s interior politics. Yasmina Badou, Mustapha Bakkoury, Mohamed Sajid, Tariq Kabbage, Lahcen Bijdiguen, Hamid Chabat, and others that could hardly be considered paragons of political virtue enjoy a massive presence in today’s elections; it is not hard to see why people believe that Morocco’s political actors are not serious about a meaningful democratic change.

There was a time when Abdelilah Benkirane and his party were a breath of fresh air in the Moroccan political scene. Today, they are very much an integrated part of the ossified and unprincipled plutocratic structure that had drawn the angst of people prior to the November, 2011 election. It will be no surprise that shortly after the elections, political syncretic alliances, driven not by public service, but rather by moneyed interests, will spring to sustain the status quo. And it is back to business as usual.

AB © 2015

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Al-Adl Wal Ihsane, Ennahj Addimocrati, King Mohammed VI, Morocco Elections 2015 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are Moroccan Shanty Towns Incubators of Terrorism?

It has become trendy, since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, for non-government organizations, government institutions, and academia to organize symposia on Islamic terrorism, its causes and effects, to share best practices and propose what they think could be viable strategies to mitigate this global phenomena. The objective of any symposia is to achieve explanatory results that should further our understanding by examining terrorism’s many variables, untangling its many complexities, and shedding light on some of its baffling aspects.

Therein lies the rub!

Symposia on terrorism are often agenda driven and/or restrained to a myopic paradigm; they end up falling short of the mark. Earlier this month, the municipality of al Hoceima organized a conference on terrorism in Morocco titled “Confronting Terrorism: The Security and Development Challenges.” The keynote speakers were Ahmed el-Khamlichi, director of Dar Al Hadith Al Hassania, Idris al-Kanbour, an expert on Islamic extremist groups, and Mohamed Essabar, Secretary-General of the National Human Right Council. For Ahmed el-Khamlichi, terrorism is an aberration. The main reason behind the magnetic power ISIS holds over Muslim youths is its ability to distort complex legal concepts in Islam to delegitimize the government and accuse others of apostasy.

Idris al-Kanbour and Mohamed Essabar, both academics and involved in non-governmental organizations alleging a pluralistic worldview, consider Islam a raging force that, if not subdued, results in terrorism. All the participants agree that religious affairs should be centrally managed by a fair and just government, i.e., the Moroccan government. Idris al-Kanbour directly eluded to the idea when he proposed using John Rawls’ model of a society that allows its government to balance its responsibility for good governance with its obligation to equitably uphold the rights and freedoms of all the individuals within that society. In other words, a secular and democratic society.

Although i have an issue with the “secular” bit, I am all for a democratic society. But to apply Rawls’ theory of stability would require that the Moroccan public and politicians be motivated by unadulterated altruism and justice, rather than self-interest. Such a society does not exist – not in Morocco and not anywhere else in the world. After all, the self-interest motivational assumption is at the heart of any election. In Morocco, as is the case elsewhere, it is rare to see politicians take a just, or moral stand at the expense of their political standing. Only one man can afford to do so in Morocco: the King. It is no wonder then that people look up to King Mohammed VI for redress. His projects to increase the standard of living in rural communities and shanty towns are well documented. Projects that were executed with a hands-on approach always see fruition; others the execution of which was delegated to politicians and technocrats outside of the core royal administrative oversight often go incomplete.

For Western experts, the recruitment success ISIS has been able to achieve can only be interpreted as directly resulting from the weak and unstable economic conditions that characterize the majority of countries in the Islamic World. To a certain extent, that is a valid argument. Many of the 1122 Moroccans the authorities estimate to have traveled to Syria to join the self-identified Islamic State (IS) come from marginalized shanty towns on the edges of seemingly prosperous metropolises.

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Shanty towns like Jan Ali, Douar Sekouila, Thomas, and Lahraouyine, a hodgepodge of thousands of shelters that are nothing more than rusting metal sheets, tarpaulins, and cardboards nailed to wooden planks and weighed down with cinder blocks, are considered incubators of Islamic extremist ideology. Despite governmental efforts, services are limited: no running water, no power, no sewage system, no trash collection; the roads are unpaved and when it rains, mud squeezes what little dignity is left from the residents. Indeed, the biggest shortage residents of these communities suffer from is that of dignity; there is an appalling social stigma associated with being from economically destitute neighborhoods. The majority of youths in these neglected neighborhoods are school drop-outs and find difficulties getting jobs. They lead lives of deep economic scarcity and political and social alienation. They harbor intense sadness, anger, and a profound sense of vulnerability that is made worse by the vast disparities of personal wealth in the Moroccan society. They resort to crime and drugs as readily as they are susceptible to radicalization by extremist ideologues. In fact, joining groups like ISIS is celebrated as a step up from the grime.

Last month, Foreign Policy magazine blog run a piece by Dr. Robert Looney, a professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School and author of many books on economic development, in which he argued that Morocco is facing an imminent terrorist threat from disenfranchised youths who look at the Islamic State as a viable alternative to a system that has proven ineffective in addressing their concerns. He traces the source of the problem to King Mohammed VI’s reluctance to relinquish his powers and give the government enough discretionary authority to devise and execute economic and political policies as they see fit.

The main underlying assumption of Dr. Looney and other Western academics is that Morocco still has a chance to avoid total chaos and can mitigate this imminent threat if – and only if – the country’s King allows a true and immediate democratic transformation by relinquishing most, if not all, of his powers to allow the government to apply radical economic and political policies to bolster market mechanisms and increase wealth while decreasing marginalization. In other words, democracy, security and social stability can only be achieved if Morocco allows an unbridled liberal market economy that is connected to the global economy and in accordance with the diktat of international institutions like the international Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB). These institutions, according to Robert Koehane, an apostle of American neoliberal institutionalism, help reduce uncertainty and enhance credibility.

This, of course, is the type of analysis one gets when one tries to apply political economy theories to Morocco and examine it with a paleoliberal lens while overlooking its history and internal dynamics. Historically, Morocco’s royal institution is a perennial political, social, and religious unifying factor. People’s deference to the King is unaffected by their frustration with Abdelilah Benkirane’s government and the opposition parties. Considering that, for the people, the King is the de facto authority in the country’s key aspects of governance, namely defense, diplomacy, and economy, one could hardly speak of a decline of social capital.

What’s more! No political party in Morocco today can boast to have the agency nor the expertise needed to adequately manage national resources, operate the extremely complex economic system, and be an authoritative representation of Morocco on the international political scene. We have politicians, some sleazier than others, but we have no statesmen. It is no wonder that no candidate campaigning in the upcoming communal election has broached terrorism, security, investment, foreign policy, or even unemployment. Instead, they’d rather talk about fighting corruption and strengthening family unity. These are important issues, but they are hard to quantify.

The liberal market economy and connectedness to the global economic system the West often imposes on less powerful state actors like Morocco is rigged; it is designed to reinforce dependency on large-scale capital and perpetuate the unequal conditions that limit their development. Cooperative relations between Morocco and Western powers based on equitable free trade is a fallacy. The international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, which has gone from a $250 billion institution to a $1 trillion institution, exercises tremendous influence over the decision of sovereign states, but not all of them. In 2009, the G-20 called on the IMF to “promote global financial stability and rebalance growth” by overseeing the efforts of individual countries to revive global economy. The extent of the IMF’s influence, however, is as a participant in a peer review process. The IMF exerts more pressure on underdeveloped and developing countries than on developed one; while it only makes recommendation to countries like the United States and France, it imposes austere economic measures on countries like Morocco. Representation on the IMF executive board is 40% for underdeveloped states and 60% for the developed one. Its management and decision making authority rests with the United States and the European Union. Other autonomous actors – trans-state, non-state, supra-state, and sub-state – that exercise tremendous influence on world affairs and continuously undermine the authority of sovereign states are structured in similar ways.

In 2012, the IMF approved Morocco for a precautionary credit line of $6.2 billion; recently, the WB granted Morocco $252 million to fund projects in the health sector and promote clean energy. An additional $150 million was approved in support of agricultural projects. Abdelilah Benkirane’s administration acknowledged the WB and the IMF imposed draconian strings, strict controls and quotas to effect its economic decisions. The privatization of state enterprises and the removal of gasoline, fuel oil, and other subsidies were a direct response to such external influence. Other subsidies are on the chopping block.

The idea here is not to cut ties with the IMF and the WB. Loans from these institutions spur Morocco’s economy and help attract direct foreign investment. However, when the majority of Moroccan families rely on such subsidies to make ends meet while the privileged few are insulated by their political and financial muscle, the bifurcation of society along economic lines is further exacerbated, its political stability is undermined, its security weakened. Political stability and security are key requirements to economic development.

There is no doubt that the Moroccans who join terrorist organizations are a credible security threat to national security. I pointed that out in an article in 2007 when reports of a few hundred Moroccans fighting in Iraq surfaced. They are violent criminals that should be stopped. The Moroccan security agencies have established enhanced measures to track them down and have demonstrated an adequate organic capability to counter the threat. The sad truth is we can’t get rid of terrorism. We are looking at the wrong cause and prescribing the wrong remedy. Efforts to correct misinterpretations of Islam, to enhance human development through economic programs and equitably help people take advantage of the generated wealth, to engage in national dialogue, and nurture confidence in public institutions will not solve the problem. The Western trope that job creation, education, and democracy are antidotes to radicalization is simplistic and misleading. People are not going to stop joining ISIS simply because now they can afford to buy an ipad. In fact, many of the organization’s recruits are from democratic nations, are well-educated, and economically comfortable. It is clear then that the motivation is not economic or political. Generally speaking, people join ISIS in response to a purely thymotic drive: they hunger to be recognized, to feel they are part of a community that upholds their dignity and values them first as human beings and then as contributors. They are willing to sacrifice for a greater cause that provides them that. Moroccans are no exception. Two generations ago, nationalism unified the nation and excluded no one. Today, greed gave birth to clashing interests within our society; it has become so intrinsic to our culture that we not only marginalize the poor, but we obstruct the avenues of support available to them. “He who has no money, his words are worthless” goes the famous Moroccan saying; or yet again! “Do no good deed, you’ll be safe.” Now that the regional/communal election is in full swing, the spotlight is directed on shanty town and rural residents; they are once again made to feel they are an important part of a great national project. Their invisibility subsides; their dignity is restored, albeit fleetingly. ISIS guarantees the same acknowledgment of self-worth and world attention, except for longer and at a more mystical level. To stop the purveyors of terror, arrest the thieves of self-worth; to eradicate terrorism and bolster security and stability, protect dignity, especially that of the most destitute among us.

AB © 2015

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Democracy, King Mohammed VI, MOROCCO, POVERTY, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Morocco: Between a Westernized Islam and an Islamized Secularism

In the wake of its prosecution of public expressions of homosexuality and indecency, activities Muslims consider immoral, but the secular West sees as symbols of tolerance, Morocco’s Ministry of Justice drew a flurry of accusations of “Islamic extremism” from international and national non-governmental organizations and the liberal media. To invalidate those accusations and further bolster Morocco’s image as a pluralistic democracy, the government of Abdelilah Benkirane closed fourteen mosques, allegedly affiliated with al-Adl-wal-ihsan, across Morocco to prevent worshipers from secluding themselves for the last ten days of Ramadan. Seclusion (I’tikaf) is an Islamic practice designed to strengthen one’s conviction and subdue the ego by means of foreswearing worldly pleasures, fasting, praying, reading the Quran, and remembering (dikr) Allah. Pious Muslims, especially the Sufis, give a tremendous importance to the practice.

The government’s action is a clear violation of article 6 of the Moroccan constitution and article 220 of the penal code; I doubt it will serve to improve the country’s image abroad; No so much because restricting Muslims’ freedom to worship in a country that proclaims Islam as its official religion goes counter to globally recognized human rights standards and should attract international censure, but because this Kemalist action does not meet the threshold of violations of individual freedoms that would cause the international media and NGOs to scream bloody murder. Local secular activists who vehemently protested the trial of two Moroccan women charged with indecency for being scantily dressed in public during fasting time in Ramadan do not assess the closure of fourteen mosques and barring worshipers from freely exercising their religion as contentious. In fact, this is considered a welcome security measure to reduce what Moroccan seculars and the West label the “Islamization” of society; they consider mosques breeding grounds for terrorism and pious observance of Islam as a sure indicator of zealotry. The cover page of the latest issue of Maroc Hebdo, for instance, shows a photo of Hassan II Mosque during tarawih, with a bold title that reads: “THE RISE OF RADICAL ISLAM: The Islamic fervor that has gripped the Moroccan society is worrying.”

This islamophobia is generated by self-proclaimed Muslims in a country whose King is the Emir of al-Moumenin and where more than 99% of the population is allegedly Muslim. It should be noted that the strength of Islamic fervor in Morocco has never diminished since Uqba ibn Nafi’ in 680. During the reign of Hassan II, Moroccans were just as fervent about Islam and flocked to mosques just as much as they do now. Then, they were not described as radicals; they were just Muslims. What has changed is the international security landscape and the aberrant emergence of a political secular movement that aims to introduce a socio-economic system that is antithetical to the existing Islamic system. Seculars argue that Islam is a repressive religion that needs to be reconciled with modernity. By modernity, they mean a superior paradigm based on moral universalism, liberal market practices, and a democratic political system. This, they assert, will elevate Morocco to the level of Western nations and will ultimately result is prosperity, justice, etc…. The majority of Moroccans, especially the youths, susceptible to the globalization propaganda machine, understand modernity in a purely esthetic and consumeristic way; it is the trendy hairstyle, the fashionable dress code, the latest gadgets, the best model cars and home appliances.

The problem the Moroccan secular movement has is that the core values framing the ideas they preach are rooted in a Judeo-Christian theopolitical influence that has been foundational to Western democracies. Without these Judeo-Christian core values, the secular culture of Western democracies would not have survived. It is not that Christianity has been alienated from politics as many wrongly believe; it is that Christianity is ‘already inscribed in the prediscursive dispositions and cultural instincts of the [Western] civilization,” as William E. Connolly argues in his seminal work “Why I Am Not a Secularist.” It is this “prediscursive dispositions” and “cultural instincts” that the secularists want to see implemented in Morocco well aware that it can only be achieved at the expense of Islam. In European and American political discourse, the latter has always been seen as an obstacle to Western hegemony. War and colonization being unpopular and prohibitively expensive today, the West projects its power and expands its sphere of influence through socio-economic-political instruments that reinforce the dependency of countries like Morocco. The global appeal of Islam constitutes a challenge to Western global economic and political interest. Opposition to Islam, then, is intrinsic to the secular traditions in Europe and the United States.

I agree with Samuel Huntington’s view that in the new world order that emerged after the end of the cold war the West sees its influence eroded and hegemony curtailed while Asian civilizations are expanding their political, military, and economic powers and Islam’s demographic base is growing. In this conflict that pits the West against the rest, Islam is a Trojan horse. The growing immigrant Muslim population in Europe is uncovering the Judeo-Chrisitian cracks in secularism. While in Morocco we demonstrate for the right of people to dress whichever way they choose, regardless of the religious sensitivities of the majority, in Europe, there is an institutional crack down, supported by popular consensus, on Muslims’ right to exercise their faith as they see prescribed. Muslim women and men are denied employment opportunities and harassed in Europe and the US because of their headscarves and beards. A recent case happened in Germany where Betul Ulusoya, a young German lawyer, was initially offered a position with the city of Berlin based on her qualifications, but was rejected when she showed up to sign the contract wearing a headscarf. Berlin cited the “neutrality law” to justify its decision. Far from being the stereotypical submissive, as feminists like to portray the Muslim woman, Betul fought back and made her case public.

Undoubtedly, implementing a system that, not only subordinates Islam, the predominant ideology in Morocco, as an operational reference, but is constructed through opposition to it, will result in protracted social, economic, and political conflict. The idea of reconciling Islam with modernity violates the very principles Western democracies advocate. The government’s current strategy to balance between secularism and Islam is tenuous and dangerous. A better strategy would be to reinforce Islam as an inspiration for change rather than a hurdle to it.

AB © 2015

Posted in Arab World, globalization, islamophobia, Western hegemony | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Morocco: Islam Under Attack

As a Moroccan, I feel there has been a systematic campaign carried out against our Islamic intellect and identity in recent months. Jennifer Lopez’s wiggling, G-stringed derriere bounced around a Mawazine stage and filled Moroccans’ living rooms courtesy of 2M; two French FEMEN members publically exposed their breasts and engaged in lewd acts on the grounds of Hassan tour, a place of worship and a historical landmark dating back to 1199. A day later, at the same spot, two gay Moroccan men were arrested for French-kissing in public. Nabil Ayouch released “Much Loved,” a movie that chronicles the tribulations of four Moroccan prostitutes in Marrakesh. The movie is not without its fair share of soft-core pornography and coarse language. In recent days, two scantily dressed Moroccan women sauntered through a popular market in conservative Inzigane, a suburb of Agadir, in broad daylight; considering it is the holly month of Ramadan, they were physically and verbally harassed and had to take shelter in one of the shops until the arrival of the police who were called by their attackers. In Fez, a homosexual Moroccan cross dresser was violently attacked by a group of youths.

J-Lo is being sued for public indecency by a private interest group that some suspect has ties to the Justice and Development Party, whose Secretary General, Abdelilah Benkirane, is the head of the government. The two French FEMEN members were promptly arrested and deported. The two Moroccan homosexual men were also arrested and sentenced to four months in prison. The Inzegane women were detained for 24 hours and released with orders to appear before a judge at a set date. Nabil Ayouch and Loubna Abidar, one of the movie’s protagonists, were subpoenaed by the King’s prosecutor to answer to charges of alleged immorality and sexual exploitation of minors during the making of their film. The movie was banned in Morocco in May, soon after some of its sexually charged scenes were posted on the internet and went viral.

Abdelilah Benkirane condemned the vigilante nature of the attacks in Inzigane and Fez and warned that those who take it upon themselves to administer what they perceive to be justice will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In doing so, he expressed the view of most Moroccans. The legal actions undertaken by his government against the two homosexuals, the Inzegane women, and Nabil Ayouch, however, are denounced by international and national human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as an attempt to curtail individual liberties and promote the “DAISH – Islamic State” mindset that they contend has permeated the Moroccan society.

It is hard to put a finger on what exactly is fueling these events. Conjunctures and theories abound. Hamid Chabat, the Secretary General of the Istiqlal Party, during a political program on al-Oula, declared that Morocco is under a “vicious attack” from international and national NGOs. These organizations use the banners of democracy and individual freedoms to promote a type of secular liberalism that is incompatible with Morocco’s conservative traditions and deleterious to its Islamic values. NGOs like the Moroccan Association of Human Rights are not the only ones advocating that type of secular liberalism; politicians like Driss Lachgar and his Socialist Union of Popular Forces party, institutions like 2M, upon which the current government has no influence, and intellectuals and journalists like Ahmed Assid, Said Lakhal, and Fouzia Assouli are all promoting anti-Islamic values under the banner of pluralism, women’s rights, and individual freedoms; they see the most basic manifestation of Islam, such as the performance of the five daily prayers, as an indicator of extremism; they consider Islam as the source of all of Morocco ‘social woes and nothing short of a complete overhaul of its “antediluvian” sacred texts would be acceptable.

We are not talking about a fair competition for a share in the marketplace of ideas here. What Driss Lachgar, Ahmed Assid. Said Lakhal, and Fouzia Assouli and the movement they represent aims for is a de-Islamization of Morocco, the closure of Mosques, the eradication of any external signs of Islam in the streets, and the imprisonment of Muslim conservatives who criticize debauchery within a society that proclaims Islam its official religion and the Sunna of Allah and his prophet its moral standard.

This secular liberalist attack against Islam in Morocco uses a two-pronged strategy. First, it aims at inuring the conservative tastes of Moroccans to debauchery in the public sphere and mislead them into believing that extramarital sex, homosexuality, nudity, and prostitution should be vulgarized and openly accepted. This is achieved through entertainment venues such as Mawazine and foreign and locally produced television programs that promote promiscuity and consumerism. Zina Daoudia, a popular Moroccan folk singer, was granted more visibility on 2M where the tune of her reprobate “Aatini Saki – hand me my handbag” was adapted to various products.

Second, Morocco ‘secular liberalists aim to denigrate Islam and portray it as militantly homophobic, misogynic, and patriarchal, the minds of its adherents shuttered to modernity. The Inzegane and Fez attacks, they assert, were perpetrated by radical Islamists bent on dictating their restrictive view of the world on others. It is true that the victims’ dress and demeanor were provocative to Islamic sensitivities, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, but the attackers were not militant Islamists; they were, according to eyewitness accounts, juvenile delinquents rather than practicing Muslims on their way to the Mosque. And yet, the NGOs that have taken to the streets and social media, and whose numbers are hardly a representation of the Moroccan society, blamed Islam as the driving force behind the attacks. They conflate conservative Islam with the so-called Islamic State’s terrorism in order to confuse public opinion and erode Islam’s appeal. While DAISH and al-Qaeda are far less popular in Morocco than, say, soccer, there has been, in recent years, according to a survey conducted by the Economiste and Sunergia, a resurgence of spirituality among young Moroccans age 15 to 29. Despite a preponderance of bars, nighclubs, so called “cultural” festivals like mawazine, mosques have been filling up with worshipers and the Western values in favor of which Moroccan seculars are propagandizing have lost their attractiveness.

AB © 2015

Posted in al Qaeda, Arab World, Islam | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Children Anonymous

find us a solution

Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a recent report titled “Lonely Servitude: Child Domestic Labor in Morocco,” published in November 15th, 2012, wrote that the data it compiled between April and August of 2012 suggests the number of child domestic workers has decreased since 2005. It is difficult to take such a suggestion seriously when HRW recognizes within its report that no “accurate statistics regarding the number of children working as domestic workers in Morocco” currently exist.

HRW’s research consisted of two field visits during which 20 former child domestic workers were interviewed in Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakesh, and Imintanoute. Its researchers also met with numerous officials from various ministries and representatives from local NGOs. I value HRW’s efforts, wholeheartedly support its mission and understand the difficulties faced by its researchers, the obstructions erected before them by the Moroccan government, but it is preposterous to publish a paper on such paltry amount of credible data. For the sake of comparison, a recent study on domestic workers in the U.S. conducted by Nik Theodore, an associate professor of urban policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Linda Burnham, research director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, interviewed 2,086 workers in 14 cities.

The last comprehensive survey on child domestic labor in Morocco was conducted by the Norwegian based Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science in 2001; it estimated the number of child domestic laborers to be between 66,000 and 86,000 nationally. Despite the lack of solid data from reputed independent organizations, the Moroccan government claims to have made significant progress, through judicial and administrative remedies and educational programs, in curtailing all forms of child labor. As evidentiary source, it presents highly dubious surveys from the Moroccan High Commission for Planning showing that as of 2011, the number of children between the ages of 8 and 15 engaged in labor is 123,000, down from 517,000 in 1999.

We expect the government’s proclivity for exaggeration and prevarication to obfuscate its perennially inadequate performance. Benkirane’s administration has been bobbing and weaving since the day they took over. His ministers have come to realize they are not abrogators, but rather the window dressing of a constitution that is, even in the view of the King’s first cousin, frozen. Previous administrations failed because they lacked the political will to eradicate the country’s deep social malaises. The financial aid program sponsored by the Ministry of Education by means of which qualified poor rural families receive $7 – $16 per child attending school is fraught with embezzlement allegations and corruption. The Child Protection Units and Child Labor Units designed to enforce labor laws prohibiting the employment of children under 15 are poorly trained and equipped and utterly inadequate. One would think that the welfare of children would be a top priority for Moroccan government officials and the King; a draft law the government announced in 2006 has yet to be presented to the parliament. Not only are the laws hardly enforced, but they are extremely lenient; the murderer of a twelve year old maid was sentenced to less than ten years earlier this year; the rapist of a handicapped minor received a five year jail sentence. A 20 February movement advocate demonstrating against corruption gets three years.

123,000 is a tragic number and should be a trigger to a nation-wide outrage, a cause to start a government sanctioned citizen-led abolitionist movement by national consensus.  The fact is that the Moroccan society embraces the wrongheaded belief that it is the government’s responsibility to fix all its woes. Child labor is only one of many grim emblems of a society suffused with ethical obtuseness.  When Amina Elfilali, 16 years of age, committed suicide because she was forced to marry the man who raped her, many advocacy groups organized demonstrations to call for the abrogation of Article 475 which allows a rapist to avoid jail by marrying his victim. The majority of Moroccans, however, snug in smarmy sanctimonious religiosity, promote Article 475 as a bastion of righteousness and thought Amina’s parents were absolutely correct in forcing their daughter’s hand into that matrimonial union. They argue that such a marriage would preserve her honor. “Who would want of a deflowered, never before married woman?” they ask. Moroccan single mothers are degraded and terrified; the lucky ones are embraced by minimally funded NGOs; others are forced into low-paying jobs, or even prostitution. It is a fact that the Moroccan society today is just as misogynistic as that of yore; the repudiation of unmarried women who have lost their virginity is still of startling vehemence.

There are other ominous signs that the moral fabric of the Moroccan society has disintegrated. Thousands of uneducated, malnourished, drug addicted street children roam the streets of Moroccan cities like scavenging packs of hyenas; they sleep outside cafés, in public parks and bus stations; they are often victims to sexual predators and drug dealers who intimidate them into silence; their most realistic aspiration is survival, but even that seems to be a lofty goal. They have fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they are unable to escape without the help of professionals. But first and foremost, they need a healthy environment that the Moroccan society, by its chilly indifference, refuses to provide. The Moroccan society is content to see them slip deeper into the dumps to a life of criminality, displacement, and hopelessness. From what rotten spring does this apathy flow? Only a delusional society could seriously entertain the notion that it could advance to a higher standard whilst exploiting thousands of its children as laborers and abandoning thousands more to starvation, disease, and debauchery.

Children are not the only victims of the Moroccan society’s apathy. Everybody in a position of weakness is. Four Moroccan friends of mine were recently driving in Bourgogne, Casablanca when they were T-boned by another vehicle. The force of the impact drove their car into a light pole. They were wearing their seat-belts, but the force of the impact caused them to briefly lose consciousness. A crowd quickly gathered as they often do in Morocco. They were still dazed and bloody when they were pulled out of the car and laid on the sidewalk. When they regained their situational awareness, they realized that their watches, jewelry, and wallets were gone. One of them had his shoes stolen. Their laptops, cameras, jackets and other valuables were also lifted from the car. Bystanders told them to be grateful to be alive; the rest could be replaced. In a horrific coach accident in Tizi-n-Tichka last September, the families of many of the 42 people that died that day reported their valuables stolen. Such a resigned mindset that makes it acceptable to strip possibly mortally injured accident victims denotes a level of greed and depravity and a lack of love and compassion that can never be a breeding ground of prosperity and peace.

Action against apathy and on behalf of those who cannot fend for themselves, before it becomes a collective effort, is primarily the responsibility of the individual. Do random acts of kindness every day; buy a child a sandwich, clothes, a book; teach him how to read and write; fill his head with big dreams; report on those who employ underage children and volunteer with local NGOs. Until every adult citizen pulls away from the magnetic pull of “the bystander effect,” we will remain a wretched nation.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Child Abuse, Child Labor, Children, HUMAN RIGHTS, Human Rights Watch | Tagged | 1 Comment

Jesus Wouldn’t See That Movie and Mohammed Wouldn’t Go On That Demonstration

A birdie in the name of Mohammed!

Moderate Christians, especially those living in Western nations, are always shocked when they are reminded that Muslims, so unlike them, do not turn the other cheek when their religious symbols are attacked. Mocking Islam is tantamount to hugging a killer bees hive; the reaction is almost always homicidally violent. Muslims have become so predictable that, in our overly interconnected world where information, intellectually enlightening or idiotic and eroding, can equally spread in an instant, it has become a trend among anti-Islam activists to draw the ire of Muslims and lure them into violence by denigrating their religious symbols. They use it as bait to draw media attention to their platform and enlist new supporters. Muslims, especially Arabs, have become a giant billboard for the likes of Terry Jones and those involved in the production of the besmirching amateur movie to promote their apocalyptic bigotry whilst “revealing” the feral nature of Islam. With a prim scowl, they point an accusatory finger at the raging mobs burning buildings of consulates and embassies and say: “look! Didn’t we tell you these Muslims are inherently murderers, naturally terrorists?” Such violent responses allow racist politicians like Michel Bachmann, Louie Gohmert, Lynn Westmoreland, Trent Franks, and Thomas Rooney to mobilize voters and radicalize Americans against Muslims, even those whose American lineage is a few generations deep. To build a constituency for the November congressional election, Gabriela Mercer, a Republican candidate, herself a Mexican immigrant, is quoted saying:

“If you know Middle Easterners, a lot of them, they look Mexican or they look like a lot of people in South America: dark skin, dark hair, brown eyes. And they mix, they mix in. And those people, their only goal in life is to cause harm to the United States. So why do we want them here, either legally or illegally? When they come across the border — besides the trash that they leave behind, the drug smuggling, the killings, the beheadings — you are seeing stuff: it’s a war out there.”

I saw the 14-minute trailer of “Innocence of Muslims” on youtube. Like millions of people around the world, I wouldn’t have known of it were it not for the demonstrations. The advocates of the movie couldn’t have hoped for a better promotion. No critical insight is needed to see the movie, that allegedly cost five million dollars, is a diarrheal burst of preposterous blasphemy and ribaldry wrapped in buffoonery and delivered in abominably bad acting. There is no point in its depiction of the prophet Mohammed beyond sheer provocation, giving Muslims a metaphorical wedgie.

The question many Westerners are struggling with is whether such divisive speech can be protected; whether it would be counter to our American principles to censor opinions masquerading as boorish irreverence. It is understandable that many Americans would be loath to restrict speech and curtail opinion. After all, you don’t see Christians, Hindus, or Buddhists violently demonstrating every time Jesus, Krishna, or Buddha is ridiculed. A Wall Street Journalist commenting on the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” wrote: “Making fun of Mormons in front of a Broadway crowd is like shooting trout in a demitasse cup.” No copies of the WSJ were burnt in Salt Lake City the next day. No movie theaters or British embassies were attacked when Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” came out. Nobody took umbrage at “Bruce Almighty,” where god, played by Morgan Freeman, gives his powers to Bruce Nolan, played by Jim Carrey. Criticism of such work was limited to op-eds and opinion articles.

As soon as an uncomplimentary opinion of the prophet Mohammed comes to light, worldwide riots erupt, fatwas are issued, flags and effigies burnt, businesses and official buildings ransacked, people killed. In Sudan, a middle-aged British teacher was jailed for allowing one of her pupils to name his teddy bear “Mohammed.” In September of 2006, The Deutsche Oper Berlin canceled performances of Mozart’s “Idomeneo, re di Creta ossia Ilia e Idamante” because the depiction of Muhammad’s severed head in one of the scenes represented an “incalculable risk” and would endanger its employees and audience. Yale University Press refused to include the controversial Jyllands Posten cartoons in Professor Jyette Clausen’s book about the controversy, “The Cartoons That Shook the World.”  When Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park’s creators, tried to parody the Danish cartoons by scripting an animated appearance of Mohammed in one of their episodes, Comedy Central management blacked out the cameo. In subsequent episodes of South Park, Parker and Stone, true to their comedic nature, depicted the prophet Mohammed wearing a mascot’s costume and talking from inside a U-Haul trailer. It hasn’t always been like this; two months before 9/11, “the Muslim prophet with the power of flame” stood next to Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Joseph Smith, and Lao-tse, the South Park episode titled “Super Best Friends,” to help Stan, one of the show’s main characters, demystify the magician David Blaine.

South Park’s “Super Best Friends.”

Why should the world knuckle under to threats of violence when the subject of Islam is broached? Why should there be an exception in deference to Islamic sensitivities?

Well, there isn’t! It turns out that the Danish newspaper that published the affronting cartoons of Mohammed rejected earlier that month cartoons of Christ explaining to the artist who submitted them that they would provoke an outcry. No American film director today would produce a work similar to D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation.” And even if it were, no theater would show it lest the African American community would violently protest. Disney would not release its 1946 musical “Song of the South” for home viewing fearing it would offend minorities. In today’s America. we camouflage censorship with political correctness and no longer allow derogatory epithet like the word “nigger” opting instead for the ““N” word.” Suggesting the Holocaust never happened is a crime in Germany and Israel. The idea that all speech is protected denotes a simplistic understanding of the law. In Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire, the court wrote:

“ There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or “fighting words” those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”

The Muslim people’s outrage is most certainly justified, but the violence is absolutely not. If Muslim nations aspire to democracy, aspects of Islam should be openly questioned and objectively criticized without the fear of being accused of heresy, or apostasy, or subjected to grievous harm or death. This is not only a matter of judicial reform; it requires an honest self-examination at the level of the individual citizen and a willingness to accept the skepticism even of those holding antagonistic opinions.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Anti-US demonstrations, Democracy, Egypt, Freedom of speech, Innocence of Muslims, Islam, Libya, Terrorism, United States | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Coming Out Of The Political Closet

Many see Abdelilah Benkirane’s moments of candor and transparency as a breath of fresh air in Morocco’s political governance today. In a clear departure from the false demagoguery proffered by previous prime ministers, he provides a glimpse of a pervasive and growing reality Moroccans have long been denied, but have always suspected. The appointed heads of previous governments were either ideologically purified children of privilege and political scions, or obsequious civil servants and party leaders who, despite the prestige of their offices, were nothing more than unctuous clerks lacking the gumption and conviction of true leaders. They didn’t have to worry about governing well and honestly so long as they are executing the dictate of the King and his imperious votaries, a nexus of corruption and patronage.

Mr. Benkirane understands this very well. He may be an idealist who believes in a changing Morocco, but he is also a pragmatist who sees the system as a top down patriarchy of stunning efficiency. There is a clear indication of that when he implied by his infamous “aafa Allah aan ma salaf – let the bygones be bygones” that former high ranking officials will not be held accountable for their incompetent and possibly criminal leadership. Any intensified scrutiny into the etiology of the nation’s ills will lead to the King and his inner circle that, for decades, have privatized profits, but nationalized losses. No foreign or domestic policy, economic strategy, military initiative, or religious interpretation has ever been strategically conceived and implemented without the approbation of the King.

Sometimes, Mr. Benkirane, despite his political acumen, lets his truculence get the better of him and he trespasses on the patience of the King. He forgets his right and left limits and extends his line of fire to those who act under the aegis of the palace. Last month, when he accused Fouad Ali El himma and Mounir Majidi of filibustering his administration’s efforts to reform, he was forced to publicly apologize. He could have acknowledged his indiscretion privately, but there is a lesson to be learned in this public political coitus. Mr. Benkirane, a standard-bearer known for his political obduracy, needed his dignity wrung out. Schooling him on “makhzenian” sadomasochistic politics became necessary; the Moroccans needed to see with painful clarity who has true agency and realize there is no one on the scene yet with the spine to stand up to the elite. As long as he is pandering to the King and his cabal, Mr. Benkirane can attack anybody else and gin up any self-serving polemic.

I am one to believe that Mr. Benkirane’s probity is a tool to settle scores and abdicate his responsibility to fulfill campaign promises. Last Monday, in a statement before the parliament and to the media, he announced it will take time for his budget minister to devise a workable economic model for recovery and stability. He confessed the country is headed towards economic austerity; the deficit figures reported by Salaheddine Mezouar, the previous Minister of Finance did not add up. The situation is so dire that Morocco had to call on the International Monetary Fund earlier this month to request a precautionary credit line of $6.2 billion. That’s in addition to over $2 billion borrowed from the World Bank and the African Development Bank in the past two years to optimize farming irrigation systems, improve electricity production and public transportation, prop up educational reform and rural roads programs, develop the financial sector, reform public administration, support infrastructure projects, and finance the Ouarzazate solar power project.

Many of these projects have already failed, or are so flagrantly mismanaged by an unaccountable and grossly opaque and graft-ridden bureaucracy that their dismal flop is inevitable. Policies to improve living conditions in rural areas and combat illiteracy, to eradicate poverty and slums, to reduce unemployment, and to reform the health, judicial, and education sectors have all yielded derisory results. Three weeks ago, Mohamed El Ouafa, Minister of Education, officially admitted that the emergency program (2009 – 2012) designed to overhaul public education has failed. The program was introduced with a fanfaronade by Ahmed Akhchichine, El Ouafa’s predecessor, . Its budget exceeded $370 million. Is there a motion to hold Mr. Akhchichine accountable? Absolutely not! You see, Mr. Akhchichine is a protégé of Fouad Ali El Himma.

A study by Morocco’s recently reactivated Competition Council indicated that over 63% of business transactions are facilitated by bribes and 54% of businesses surveyed are driven by patronage. These are dejecting numbers. Mr. Benkirane was quick to point out that eradicating corruption, as he had promised during his campaign, will prove difficult. It is certainly a long-term project and success is not guaranteed.

For every promise made during his electoral campaign, Mr. Benkirane and his ministers have disclosed information to explain why it would be difficult to fulfill. In the coming months, Morocco’s deficit is projected to grow as it is posed to carry out the biggest grain import in thirty years; social woes are worsening; civil rights are declining, according to international human right organizations, as demonstrators are being violently suppressed and detained incommunicado. Mr. Benkirane’s government lacks the strategy that will protect the country from the vicissitudes of the global economy and advance it towards democracy. He is falling back on a familiar script when he said: “When I say that I am only the head of government, that is not to play down my importance. But it is the king who is our guarantor of stability and the key person with responsibility for constitutional implementation.” So, what took you so long to come out of this political closet and join the rest of the harem?

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Ahmed Akhchichine, Arab Spring, Fouad Ali El Himma, HUMAN RIGHTS, Mohamed El Ouafa, Moroccan Constitution 2011, Moroccan Initiative, MOROCCAN JUSTICE, MOROCCO, Morocco Legislative Election 2011, Mounir Majidi, Partie de Justice and Development, Salaheddine Mezouar | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Morocco’s Great Illusion

For the past three months, I have been struggling with the notion that Joseph de Maistre’s famous “every country has the government it deserves,” found in his “Lettres et Opuscules Inédits vol. 1, letter 53,” is indeed an accurate delineation of Morocco. Could it be conceivable that we, Moroccans, are not aware of the judiciary’s pliancy? Do we lack proof of the politicians’ venality? Does it come as a shock to us that the nation’s polity is task organized like a mafia where the King and his confederates, Mounir Majidi et al, are intolerant of criticism and intemperate in their disregard for basic standards of freedom? Do we need Ahmed Benchemsi and other journalists and intellectuals to inform us that this cartel monopolizes the country’s economic resources, controls its financial institutions, directs its security and military assets against civilians they perceive as threats to their personal interests, and eviscerates the minute grassroots opposition that occasionally flows into the streets to demand a participatory government?

We know all that!

As we watch the unfolding of a democracy we surely know to be illusionary, we bemoan how we lack representative political institutions. Those sleepy clowns we elect to the parliament we know to be beholden to the whims of an oligarchy of über-Moroccans no better, in fact worse, than any foreign colonizer. People jeer at how fractured Abdelilah Benkirane’s government is, how crude his ministers, whose directives are snubbed by subordinate officials, are. Mr. Benkirane finds himself making the same mistake Abderrahman al-Youssoufi committed during his tenure as a Prime Minister in the transitional government of 1998 – 2002: ingratiating himself with the King at the expense of his credibility in the street by excessively running to the palace to beseech the King’s imprimatur to force the application of any comprehensive reform on his own rank and file. Everybody is aware our spurious political opposition is a slapstick act. No one in Morocco is shocked to know that the economy is weak, corruption widespread, the education system bankrupt, healthcare inefficient, elections fraudulent.

We know all that!

We allow ourselves to be entertained by the old guard’s obstructionist strategies to the overly conservative reforms of the Islamist government. Cafés have been abuzz with how Faycal Laraichi and Samira Sitail are the steadfast withstanders of Islamisation, the last bulwark against the sweeping advance of an intolerant, misogynist Islamic discourse into Morocco ‘secular and permissive mindset. Mosques are filled with chatter about how Islam is under attack and the PJD is the shield protecting country and faith from a denigrating Western culture set on undermining our identity, stymieing our progress, indoctrinating our minds.

But there is a more salient reason why Morocco is a sinkhole for democracy. We gripe about the government more openly now, but we act little. We are an ambivalent and empathic lot, bloated by greed and spectacular cynicism. Everybody’s looking for a way to fool the system and con the other. Nurses who surreptitiously eat the food brought by families of patients under their care are not exceptions, nor are pregnant women who are forced to deliver their babies at the gates of a regional hospital deserted by its on-duty doctors. Ambulance drivers ask patients for “gas money” while government clerks demand their “cup of coffee,” euphemisms for bribery, in exchange for their services. The teachers, the doctors, the nurses, the civil servants, the lawyers, the judges, the policemen, the military, the politicians, and anybody in a position that bestows upon him an iota of power is for sale. When the Tunisian and Libyan governments collapsed, the Direction générale de la surveillance du territoire (DGST), Morocco’s counterintelligence service, was advised that the security services of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Mummar Gaddafi had recruited Moroccan journalists, intellectuals, parliamentarians, and government officials, as sources tasked to collect and report on their own country; in exchange for their services, they received salaries and gifts.

Integrity and philanthropy are raindrops in the desert. We condemn the repression of journalists, artists, and bloggers, but we suppose they deserve it after all; we preach tolerance and yet chastise those Moroccans who opt for different religions and cultures. We at once lament child servitude and accept it as a cultural fait accompli; we growl about the suicide of a teenage woman forced to marry her rapist, but rationalize the marriage as protection to her honor; we complain about trash in our streets, but we too litter.

The people want change so long it is designed and implemented by the King. He is regarded by most as a beacon of light among sleaze. Any such change cannot subvert his moral authority to govern. Forget about democratic institutions governed by laws and procedures; Moroccans would rather rely on one man’s wisdom and sense of justice. The King of course relies for his governance on a perfidious ecosystem of which the Moroccan society as a whole is a part.  No wonder then the Moroccan society is hardly reactive and has such high tolerance for political and economic shenanigans – in pari delicto. Its members are riddled with self-destructive pathologies. What’s worse? We are in denial. We have yet to face up to reality. We live in a paracosm in which frenzied adulation to the King and his entourage are rooted in the deepest recesses of our psyche. So long we remain this way, there will be no change for a thousand years to come.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Child Labor, Democracy, HUMAN RIGHTS, JUSTICE, Moroccan Initiative, MOROCCAN JUSTICE, MOROCCO, Mummar Qaddafi | Tagged , | 5 Comments

African Lion 12

The United States Marine Corps has deployed its “Few and Proud” to Morocco to take part in African Lion 2012, a joint and combined annual iteration sponsored by the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff (CJCS), scheduled by US Africa Command (AFRICOM), executed by Marine Force Africa (MARFORAF), and hosted by Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces (RAF). The Marine contingent is comprised of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (special ops capable) (MEU(SOC)) and the 14th Marines, a reserve unit from Fort Worth, Texas. The exercise will serve to promote military cooperation, reinforce interoperability, and consolidate the two nations’ counter-terrorism strategy and merge their vision of regional stability.

African Lion 12 is taking place in Cap Draa and neighboring regions. According to Its Operation Order (OPORD) and Concept of Operation (CONOP), it will consist of a Command and Control (C2) exercise, Field Training Exercise (FTX), Aviation Training Exercise (ATX) provided by an Air Force component, and Public Affairs training. Peace Keeping Operations Training (PKO) will be provided by a Military Police detachment. Utah Army National Guard civil affairs team with its medical, dental, and veterinary capabilities will engage in Humanitarian Civic Assistance (HCA) in Morocco’s remote villages while the US Navy Medical Corps will participate in Medical Exchange and Disaster Response. An Intelligence Capacity Building Seminar focused on counter-terrorism (CT) and force protection (FP) is also scheduled.

My analysis of RAF Trends that have emerged in recent years clearly indicate that the Moroccan military leadership has shifted its strategy to focus on developing core naval and air competencies and attaining regional sea and air superiority; its acquisition climbed 400% in the past five years. With regard to African Lion, RAF leadership would like the training to enable it to achieve rapid and decisive air mobility, to enhance the deployment and sustainment of forces and the ability to launch precise and selective force against targets while minimizing risk. It is most likely that in the next few years, General Abdelaziz Bennani, Inspector General of the RAF and Commander of the southern zone, will seek to expand the scope of African Lion by emphasizing to AFRICOM Commander General Ham the RAF’s need to interface with an integrated and synchronized DoD combined forces capabilities and requesting the inclusion of more advanced air mobility/assault training and equipment. Considering the fact that African Lion is a yearly iteration, US Navy Seabees have most likely been engaged in Exercise Related Construction in the Tan Tan region to support US Forces ongoing and future operations.

The end state of African Lion 12 is to strengthen security cooperation and improve military engagement and deterrence. It will allow RAF and the US Marines to share tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), and establish a focused strategic operational support template and a more responsive tactical information exchange process that will deliver timely, relevant, and accurate intelligence on terrorist trends that might affect regional stability.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in African Lion, AFRICOM, Gen Carter F. Ham, General Abdelaziz Bennani, MOROCCO, US Marine Corps | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A Tweet To Mohammed

Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year old journalist and blogger from Saudi Arabia, is currently in jail in Jeddah awaiting trial on apostasy charges. On February 5, the day Moslems celebrated Mohammed’s birthday, Hamza sent the following tweet addressing the prophet:

“On the day of your birthday, I won’t bow before you (…) I loved certain things about you, but I abhorred others, and there is so much I don’t understand about you.”

It was too much for Saudi Arabians’ monochrome mentality. It caused an outrage among Twitter users and netizins who alerted the authorities. A facebook page was created and has now over twenty thousand members clamoring for Hamza’s execution. Why facebook is allowing such a masquerade is unclear at this time.

The following day, he sent another tweet recognizing his “sin” and apologizing, but it was too late. The religious authorities, known to have an animus against shaving kits and free thinking which they believe is the work of Satan, decided to try him for publicly repudiating Islam. This of course makes Islam sound like a mafia; once you’re in, it’s for life. In accordance with the unreasonable and angry sharia law, Hamza will most likely face a stiff sentence to “restore his soul,” if not the gallows.

Hamza Kashgari

After having received hundreds of death threats, Hamza boarded a flight on February 9 to New Zealand via Malaysia. Unfortunately, upon arriving to Kuala Lampur, he was arrested at the behest of Saudi authorities and deported two days later back to Jeddah. International human rights associations accused Interpol of disseminating a warrant for his arrest and deportation knowing that Hamza would face an unfair trial and a possible execution. Interpol categorically denied involvement.

Without the support of the international community, Hamza has little chance of walking out of this ordeal alive. In a country crisscrossed by red lines, a minefield of known and unspoken taboos where he is considered a radical fringe, the young journalist has very few sympathizers. Those who support Hamza’s right to free expression are part of a small group of Saudi secular literati known as the “enlightened Moslems.” Their point is not to change the conservative majority, but rather to allow a free thinking minority the right to self-actualization.

Saudi conservative intellectuals seized the opportunity to attack the “enlightened Moslems.” Dr. Suhayla Zinalabidin Hamad, a prominent academician and a member of the Saudi Human Rights Association nonetheless, bemoaned the alarming pervasiveness of secularism in the Saudi society and accused the proponents of freedom of speech of encouraging the desecration of Islam ‘sacrosanct symbols. She called for an inquisition of those writers who, she claims, use creative license as an excuse to irreverence.

Ironically, it hasn’t been two years since Prince Saud al-Faisal said to an American journalist that Saudi Arabia is “breaking away from the shackles of the past,” since Jedah hosted Art Pure, an avant-garde exhibition similar to the ones organized in New York City, Paris, or Rome, without a raid from the marauding mutawas.

The Hadith relates the story of Abdoullah Ibn Oubay, a follower of the prophet who was known to be a hypocrite. It was reported to Mohammed that Ibn Oubay insulted him and was urged to kill him to deter others from similar disrespect. Mohammed refused. And so, this is not about why I and so many others are critical of Islam’s unsparing posture vis-à-vis those who question its precepts, but rather why Islam today has grown less tolerant than during the time of its prophet.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Hamza Kashgari, Islam, Saudi Arabia | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

The Moroccan “Paper Terrorist”

Amine El Khalifi as the Moroccan community in D.C. knows him. (copyright glittarazzi website)

When the news that a Moroccan was arrested in Washington, D.C. on charges of terrorism, a friend of mine called. ”I thought it was you,” she joked. But the case of Amine El khalifi is no joke. It profoundly rattled the Moroccan community in the D.C. area. Many feel an unwarranted haze of suspicion floating over their heads now. They look over their shoulders. They fear the community will be singled out in intrusive federal probes, stereotyped by local businesses, and harassed by local law enforcement. There is a concern the Moroccan community will be demonized and viewed as a source of “stealth Jihadist.” In coffee shops where Moroccans congregate, some expressed anger at El Khalifi; “he brought shame and embarrassment upon the Moroccan community not just in the D.C. area, but across the United States,” they vehemently retort. He deserves his fate some say.

Amine’s brother and cousin, also living in the U.S., are stellar individuals; his father is a hard working, law abiding and respected teacher in Casablanca. He, on the other hand, was rumored to have brought the rambunctiousness of the old m’dina with him. Since he landed here, at the age of seventeen, his life seemed to follow a script written by Antonio “Tony” Montana, the fictional character known as Scareface. His dream was to make beaucoup money and fast by any means necessary. I have seen him a couple of times lingering in a coffee shop in Arlington, VA, twirling the keys to his BMW, looking for action. He was known in the community as a player, a drug dealer and user, infamous for his vainness and dalliances with young women in Layla lounge and other such clubs where he peddled narcotics. Hardly the profile of a suicide bomber wanna-be. Prior to his arrest, he was never convicted of any crimes; his drug trafficking and use remain unsubstantiated allegations.

Overnight, he replaced the twirling BMW keys with prayer beads, grew whiskers, and raised the banner of Islam. He seemingly found Allah and became a devout Moslem. Never mind he couldn’t recite more than a few short Coranic verses, nor could he speak smartly about moderate Islamic doctrines and interpretations, let alone radical Islamic fundamentalism. Those who know him attest he was never in the thrall of radical Islam. They considered his piousness with a bit of sarcasm.

Amine was more of a threat as an alleged drug dealer and junkie than as a Moslem terrorist. He practiced on how to use the gun the FBI gave him, a MAC-10, in a hotel room. He could have gotten more training value from Elevator Action: Death Parade video shooting game in a public arcade. He had never handled a gun until the FBI urged him on. He was so incompetent, he failed to notice the MAC-10 he was given was missing a firing pin. He couldn’t tell the difference between C-4 and glazing putty. Many believe he was incapable of blowing himself up, or shooting anybody. He should have been arrested on drug charges a long time ago; it would have been cheaper if he were detained for being in the U.S. illegally and deported back to Morocco.

The FBI’s development of Amine into an operational “paper terrorist” serves many objectives. It demonizes a Moslem community and enkindle the fear of terrorism; Amine El Khalifi and other similar cases, in which the FBI and local police authorities operate in a grey area, using dubious methods some consider akin to entrapment, constitute ammunition to conservative politicians with an anti-immigration agenda. It justifies the extra-judicial collection on U.S. persons – surveillance on the Moroccan community in New York for instance – because the latest amendment to E.O. 12333 considers terrorism an exception. It gives Lisa Monaco, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s national security division, the opportunity to comment: “Today’s case underscores the continuing threat we face from home-grown violent extremists. Thanks to a coordinated law enforcement effort, El Khalifi’s alleged plot was thwarted before anyone was harmed.” A study by the University of California at Berkeley shows that only three of the hundreds of terror plots investigated by the United States may have had an existence independent of the FBI. Karen Greenberg, a law professor at Fordham University in New York, analyzes FBI tactics in these alleged terror plots; she states that “The target, the motive, the ideology and the plot were all led by the FBI.” The FBI currently has $8.1 billion in discretionary funding. The federal government has a vested interest in maintaining, if not improving on the laws and policies enacted since 9/11 and empowering it to execute preemptive operations without oversight and outside the constitutional framework.

What saddens me is that no one talks about the Moroccans, some citizens and others residents, who lost their lives in support of the War on Terrorism. No one thanks those who are today serving in Afghanistan and who served in Iraq in defense of the U.S. constitution and the ideals it stands for.

I know quite a few Moroccans who, to escape the accusatory looks of friends and neighbors, changed their names to Latin or Anglo-Saxon ones. I was asked once what I thought of it. I am totally opposed to it for the simple reason that I believe we need to grow more cohesive as a community, strive for coexistence instead of a mindless social camouflage. We need to embraces our Moroccan identity and, as American citizens and residents, treasure and defend the principles and institutions of our adoptive home.

My only advice to those who are still considering changing their names is to stir clear of “Timothy McVeigh.” It has an unflattering history.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Amine El Khalifi, FBI, Terrorism | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

The New Court Jester

Before he uttered a word, Mr. Abdelilah Benkirane, the new Moroccan Prime Minister, was made to understand he will be challenged. As he stood before the lectern to address Morocco’s bicameral Parliament, parliamentarian women stood up holding printed slogans expressing their indignation at the trifling representation of women in his new government and chanting their intention to be no milquetoast opposition. Outside the parliament, another group of women demonstrated; their voices squawked through loudspeakers to deplore the regression of the status of women. Mr. Benkirane was hardly nonplussed as if he expected such an outburst. 

In his speech, he outlined his government’s multi-tiered program to address the set of challenges that have overwhelmed his predecessor and dejected the public. He predicted a 5.5% growth over the next four years and a 1.6% reduction in the unemployment rate to 8%; he promised to stabilize the inflation at an appropriate 2% and to slash the budget deficit to 3% of gross domestic product. He vowed a better execution of the “Cities without Slums” program by expediting the construction of 840,000 housing unit. Eradicating corruption and poverty are his national priorities. Honoring Morocco’s agreements with the European Union and other partners, and fostering new international relations are the framework of his foreign policy. Protecting Morocco’s monarchic institutions, its borders, and national security are the bedrock of his government ‘strategy. The new constitution will be its guiding light.

To many, Mr. Benkirane ’speech was motivating, even inspirational. A pugnacious political opposition, mostly disgruntled former ministers and officials turned representatives and councilors, described the speech in a frothing rebuke as nothing more than a wish list and rote slogans. They deplored the lack of details on how the recently formed government will execute. They inveighed against the lack of urgency and criticized Mr. Benkirane’s long view. It is clear that the opposition is vehemently unwilling to take the high road and make a good-faith effort toward political impartiality. It has already started building a wall of obstruction and concocting schemes to subvert any initiative the government proposes in order to delegitimize the PJD’s ascension to the Executive.   

Mr. Benkirane’s agenda is riven with conflicts and contradictions. If we are to base our analysis on facts, Mr. Benkirane’s critical tasks seem highly inexecutable. To maintain the inflation at 2%, the government will have to raise interest rates and discontinue government subsidies; it will require enacting austere fiscal policies that will throw Morocco into an economic depression neither the public, nor the government – unless it aims for a bloody revolution – is ready for. To revitalize the economy by drawing international investment, fostering entrepreneurship, and lowering the unemployment rate will require, among other steps, decreasing interest rates. How Mr. Benkirane will reconcile opposing economic strategies is unknown at this time. He seems to fudge on key issues; he sometimes talks about reducing inequality; in others, he promises expanding opportunities. In light of Europe’s economic recession, a 5.5% growth over the next four years is improbable.

Mr. Benkirane’s popularity could be chalked up to his audacious denunciations, during his rallies, of unprincipled politicians and his unrelenting confrontations with Abbass el-Fassi’s government over the inconstancy of its members. But so far, there are no reassuring signs he is the bellwether Moroccans believed he would be once at the helm of the government. Since winning the election and his subsequent appointment by the King as Prime Minister, he has seeing his image change in the collective psyche of Moroccans. His floundered attempts at forming a government portrayed him as a weak-kneed concessionist. By handing over ministerial portfolios to individuals who have participated in previous administrations, some such as Mohand Laenser since the early eighties, people, especially the young and disenfranchised segment of society, consider him now a member of the Makhzen establishment he has once railed against. Allowing Mr. Aziz Akhanouch to resign from the Independents’ National Rally party to join the new government and carry on his duties as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries is a clear constitutional transgression.

And it is not the only one.

Creating ministerial positions without assigning portfolios to accommodate the power-grabbing aspirations of organized political interests the public deems undesirable is another one. The negligible representation of women in the new government is yet another example of how dismissive Mr. Benkirane could be of the new constitution when it oppugns his Islamist leaning or his political duplicity. The unemployed have grown convinced they have been hoodwinked into believing that Mr. Benkirane is a reform-minded outsider who will put the kibosh on their woes. However, they quickly realized how the patriarchal level-headedness he demonstrated before the election has morphed into a churlish assertion of regulatory power only a few weeks after he assumed power. Last week, four unemployed youths who hold higher degrees self-immolated in Rabat when they became exceedingly harassed by the police during a sit-in. Demonstrations organized by activists in major Moroccan cities have been violently confronted by security forces resulting in the detention and hospitalization of hundreds of participants. Human rights and individual freedoms are slowly and steadily deteriorating.

These are strong indicators that Mr. Benkirane has transitioned from a belligerent opposition leader to a consummate “makhzny.” They reinforce the view many Moroccan analysts share that the electoral success of the PJD was orchestrated and only serves to placate the mounting populist aversion to the status quo.  

As their hopes blink out into oblivion, the Moroccan people are no longer swayed by the bloviation of politicians and businessmen who act as if they will flog the nation into prosperity when in fact they are depleting its resources. They understand that Mr. Benkirane is nothing more than the new court jester; the blame falls squarely on the King. They have grown intolerant of the unvarnished condescension directed at them from the palace. The recent inauguration by the current heir apparent to the throne of a zoo in Rabat is a clear illustration of how nothing will be changing in Morocco. Moroccans saw an eight year old child around whom high ranking city officials and politicians could not walk upright out of fear; they lavished upon him profound veneration, kissing his hand and never calling his name as if doing so were a blasphemy. Instead, they referred to him as “The Name of my Master.” The inauguration gave insight into the upbringing of Morocco’s future king. Before he understands the underlying principles of governance, the strategies of politics, the glorious history of the people he will inherit and upon whom he will be king, he is taught first and foremost that he is the apotheosis of mankind, that people need to be obsequious servants at his whim. 

Where is the dignity in that? No Moroccan in his right mind pines for the era of Hassan II, nor does he look forward to the era of a Hassan III who believes the people ought to serve him and not the other way around. No wonder demonstrators around the country today are chanting: “You king, you vile enemy of the masses.”

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Arab World, Democracy, Freedom of the Press, HUMAN RIGHTS, Individual Freedom, MOROCCO, POVERTY | Tagged | 1 Comment

2011… To Be Continued

2011 will be remembered as the year a young Arab generation leaders, intellectuals, and parents thought to be politically vain, unengaged, timorous, convulsed and toppled three dictators and caused others to reassess their positions, make concessions, and reform their ways. So many died for intangible ideals such as freedom, social justice and equity, democracy. Others wanted nothing more than an honest job, a decent living, a dignified existence. Many hold Mohmmed Bouazizi’s self-immolation as the catalyst of the revolution that spread like wild fire.  Somehow his demise pinched a nerve many believed neuroparalytic.

Bouazizi is hardly exceptional in the Arab world. In fact, his plight is rather mundane. Many young Arabs eke out a living in ways fraught with danger and uncertainty and are constantly harassed by corrupt police. Their meager sources of income have always been targets to unscrupulous legislations. Many young Arabs self-immolated when their options were drastically reduced and their legitimate grievances ignored by their political leaders.

Somehow, Tunisians decided that the government’s lack of compassion with Bouazizi’s plight was a slap across the nation’s collective face.  Its judicial unctuousness could no longer dupe the people. It was too much to bear. Most saw Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s pity visit to an expiring Bouazizi as a devious maneuver to appease the brewing anger of a nation that can no longer silently witness the government’s heedlessness to their needs. It blew the lid on the feral rage Tunisians felt about their precarious economy while Ben Ali and others of his ilk were basking in lavishness.

The Egyptian and Libyan revolutions have been fairly successful because people have come to grips with their own strength as powerful brokers of change in countries where the only change ever allowed was seldom palliative to the people and always initiated by unrepresentative prehensile officials. I say fairly successful because the revolution is ongoing. It has become clear that Arab Heads of States are only the tip of the iceberg. Behind the dictators stand a more powerful oligarchy that has demonstrated it has no compunction thrusting one of their members on the gallows to save the status quo. People in Tunisia understood that Ben Ali, and Mohammed Ghannouchi who tried to head a transitional government afterwards, were nothing more than the executors of policies devised by the Constitutional Democratic Rally. It has become clear now that Egypt’s military has been the true deleterious drive behind Housni Moubarak. It has been suspected that many of the politicians, military commanders, and businessmen who supported and often conspired to strengthen Muammar Qaddafi’s rule are now heads of newly formed political parties vying for power in the emerging government.

Thanks to the ingenious use of social media as a political tools, the Arabs have grown quite skilled at discerning between fundamental political changes and nostrums concocted to mitigate social unrest and deceive people into believing that their will is being fulfilled.

Much has changed in the Arab World in 2011, but clearly the revolution is not over yet. 2012 promises to be a delving year for the Arab world.

(to be continued)

  A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in Arab Spring, Mohammed Bouazizi | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Morocco’s Museum Of Things I Can’t Afford

As I sat in Fanajeen, Aasmaa, Akhannouch’s café, contemplating a map of Morocco amputated of its southern provinces in a Morocco Mall brochure while sipping from my 30 dirhams cup of coffee, I couldn’t help thinking Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch, the queen of retail franchising in Morocco and CEO of Aksal Group, must have sensed Moroccans’ bubbling need for a new shopping and entertainment experience. The venue is palatial and its three floors teemed with an overjoyed crowd that raged like white water through its arteries, seeking to be part of the hottest action Casablanca has ever seeing.

The excitement was palpable. There are no symptoms of poverty here. Since December 5th, the day it opened its doors with an extravagantly overpriced “J-Loesque” fanfare, visitors from Rabat, Marrakesh, Fez, Meknes, and Tangier, have been flooding Casa-Voyageur and hopping in cabs to Morocco Mall; others drove their BMW’s, Audis, Mercedes, and Range Rovers; and yet, others rode buses, or came on foot. The taxi driver told me it was his sixth trip to Casablanca’s new shopping landmark. The venue expects 14 million visitors and revenues in excess of two billion dirhams a year. Although it lacks a helipad, the premise is impressive. With its 350 high-end and well-known signature fashion brands stores, IMAX cinema, an aquarium, an arcade, an ice skating rink, and a musical fountain mimicking the Bellagio’s, it is guaranteed to be a Mecca for Morocco’s wealthy families and a broadening middle class base with a rapidly increasing purchasing power.

At least, that’s what Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch believes based on an article she wrote for the Oxford Business Group titled “Moving on up.” She further stated that the retail fashion market is compelled to expand to satisfy Moroccans’ demand for quality fashion clothing. To that end, her company co-developed, along with Saudi Arabia’s NESK Investment Group, the Morocco Mall. In the same article, Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch predicts the project will have “important social and economic impacts for the country.” Not only will it promote growth and create jobs, she adds, “it will change Moroccans’ life styles and buying habits.”

Such spurious arguments have become the meme of Morocco’s wealthy business families.

I don’t see how Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch’s just-add-money franchises that make up Morocco Mall will translate into an agenda for broad prosperity; they neither develop a skilled labor force, nor improve the local and national economies. It is a pure profit venture that exploits the country’s cheap labor and lax employment laws, and facilitates the transfer of millions of dirhams toward Europe. Of course it generates revenues, but those are not positively impacting communities in dire need of adequate schools, hospitals, and other public service institutions because thanks to her husband’s connections Aksal Group enjoys unique tax breaks. Morocco Mall and similar other businesses will become even more profitable to foreign investors when the transitional period for custom tariffs dismantling ends on March 1st, 2012. The five thousand employment positions Morocco Mall created are low-paying service jobs; hardly enough to put a dent in Morocco’s chronic unemployment and soften the brunt of its current economic recession in which the government is forced to subsidize commodities to avert a major security crisis. Morocco’s GNI per capita in PPP dollars is $2,750 yearly; according to a study by the High Commission for Planning (HCP), 60% of Moroccan household have a monthly income of less than MAD 4,227, 40% less than MAD 2,892, and 20% less than MAD 1,930. Household consumption has been lagging, the poverty rate climbing, social mobility stagnating, and wealth inequality widening.

Millions of Moroccans, although scraping by on low-earning income, believe the malarkey coming from certain business circles such as Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch’s. They are of course in denial that Morocco Mall is beyond their buying power. Instead of adapting financial restrain, they are willing to stretch their paychecks and sacrifice necessities to earn bragging rights that they’ve shopped at Morocco Mall. For a few hours, they leave a world of woe behind and relish a slice of Europe that, so far, does not require a visa.

The fog of economic profiling is thick around Morocco Mall. A friend of mine who happens to be a lawyer decided, after a walk along the corniche, to take his teenage son to Morocco Mall to check it out. He was promptly stopped at the door by two security employees highly trained in sniffing the whiff of poverty on people and recognizing the wooziness of hunger. They toted handheld radios – the ubiquitous paraphernalia of authority in Morocco. They explained that he and his son couldn’t go in dressed the way they were. My friend and his son were decently dressed in locally made jeans and shirts, except…. except that they were wearing flip-flaps. He was incensed. He complained loudly and refused to leave. He was embarrassed that his son had to see his father subjected to such humiliation. Isn’t Morocco Mall open to all public? A manager finally came out and after a brief debate, decided to let them in. By that time, my friend had lost his urge to goggle at Louis Vuitton bags and Gucci dresses. Such an incident is not isolated. Excluding some Moroccans seems to be a management standard operating procedure; after all, Morocco’s journalists were never invited to the inaugurations.

Deciding between Sidi Abderahman and Morocco Mall

Morocco Mall is surrounded by miserable and decaying patchworks of slums baked by the sun and through which a salty breeze sleathers. Their residents, stifling under the pall of poverty, will give Sidi Abderehman a break and come to Sidi Morocco Mall for no other reason than to drool over things they can never afford; a classic case of the waif ogling at freshly baked napoleons through the window of an expensive bakery. Those who do not reflect – at least visually – a certain economic standard will be barred from entering; impressed upon them will be their lack of worth and the power of a minority in society. The yawning inequities between poor and rich are spotlighted at the entrance. This will only further strain the already tenuous cohesion within society. Instead of a driver of prosperity for all, as Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch would like us to believe, Morocco Mall will most likely highlight income inequalities. An International Monetary Fund report published last April found that gaping income disparity undermines economic growth within communities.

The obvious question is why does Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch have such breathless optimism in the face of economic gloom? When Galerie Ben Omar in Maarif opened, it was the talk of the city. Anybody who’s somebody had to shop at Gallery Ben Omar. It is now a faded ghost of its old self. Twin Center and O Gallery, across from Megarama, also became the premier destination of Morocco’s fashionistas and, for a few years, achieved a degree of success. As it turns out, they were only mid-term investments. Once the initial cost is recouped and a predetermined rate of profit achieved, the business is left to rot. I suspect the same fate awaits Morocco Mall.

I headed to the aquarium. There was a huge line. The cover charge was 25 dirhams. There was a time when Casablanca had a beautiful aquarium. Few remember it. I decided to forgo gazing at fish and headed for the door just as security dragged a well-dressed young man outside. The crowd said he was a college student who, being broke, decided to wear a jacket he fancied and walk away with it.

A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in Akhannouch, ECONOMY, MOROCCO, Morocco Mall | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Democracy

Abdelillah Benkirane, Abbas El Fassi, Nabil Benabdellah, and Mohand Laenser

The unflappable Mr. Abdelillah Benkirane, who billed himself as a spur to political virtue, the ultimate standard-bearer willing to stake his political future on standing up for the people, has succeeded in ushering in a golden age of nonpartisanship when he secured a most unlikely coalition for his executive cabinet. The Independence Party (Istiqlal), the Progress and Socialism Party (Takadum Wal-Ishtirakia), and the People’s Movement (Alharaka Ashaabia), in a rare instance of syncretism and out of an unadulterated sense of patriotic urge to advance the relentless inculcation of democracy in Morocco, have decided to brush aside their fundamental ideological differences with the PJD and join its new government. Once the ministerial portfolios assigned and the new formation is blessed by King Mohammed VI, the new government can finally attend to the pressing matters the public cares passionately about. Abbas El Fassi commented on the new coalition by saying: “WE’RE BACK!” Salahddine Mezouar, the Minister of Economy and Finance and the President of the National Independents Rally, is being alienated, not only by Benkirane, but by his former partners in crime as well. He is so dejected about this he hardly has the energy to steal anybody’s money.

We were on the precipice of despair, people; on the brink of a bloody revolution; stalked by anomie. Thanks to the initiative of His Royal Highness who has always been attuned to the needs of his people and to the political parties whose stalwart effort greatly contributed to the success of last month’s Legislative election, we are skipping the Arab Spring and going straight into the Moroccan Summer. But don’t pull out your Lancaster tanning lotion and don your swimsuits quite yet, especially the ladies, until PJD strategists section the beaches by gender and provide ushers to assist the public. The Moroccans, with their dream to forge a sustainable democracy galvanized by a reformed constitution and a new government that has vowed to disown the deleterious strategies of its predecessors, await with panting anticipation the badly needed implementation of new social, economic, and political fatwas that will restore confidence, energize the employment market and drag them out of the ditch of poverty.

Let’s not concern ourselves with the fact that the parties invited to be part of the government greatly contributed to the corruption, incompetence, and cronyism that have hamstrung the nation’s progress since the independence. Don’t get wrapped around the axle because a few bloggers and journalist got arrested and activists were intimidated by a few shoves and slaps and the occasional knife stab from hired crack heads. Look at the bright side of things. Those crack heads are now gainfully employed. Disregard the fact that during the tenures of Abbas El Fassi, Nabil Benabdellah, and Mohand Laenser, corruption was so widespread many analysts thought it a spin-off of a governing strategy. Don’t let the effulgent and shameless lack of personal rectitude previous ministerial officials from these parties cloud your judgment and stamp your hopes. It is true that the men entrusted to lead us in Benkirane’s government have devised cynical designs to retain the ability to expand their personal and their parties’ influences and maintain the status quo. That was before we began our historic shift. They are now paragons of integrity.

Royal Appointment Ceremony of 28 Ambassadors, Dec. 6th, 2011

Now that we have a new constitution and democratically elected officials, the notion of a Moroccan government as a cesspool of Makhzen ideologues appointed to crucial position of influence regardless of ethics and competence is quickly fading in the rearview mirror of our history. Have no doubt that by emphasizing the eminence of the new constitution in his 17 June 2011 speech, the King widened the scope of democracy so much that he foreordained the success of Morocco’s democratic experience. You might feel compelled to think of that speech retrospectively as a sedating sophistic discourse. Don’t pay too much attention to those polarizing pundits and activist bloggers who draw your attention to the fact that by appointing twenty-eight Ambassadors on 6 December, the King acted in violation of article 49 of the constitution. What could be a better lesson in democracy than the King himself taking the time to show the people the wrong example? After all, the King’s appeal resides in the fact that he is something of a paradox: he counsels democracy, but feels his actions represent the national will. I know you are urged to look at his adding the controversial Fouad Ali El Himma, a political hack whose lack of credibility is terminal, to his advisory staff as a blunt statement that further reinforces the Moroccans’ impression that Mohammed VI is still using the master script of governance written by

Fouad Ali El Himma

Hassan II, only framing it in a way befitting of today’s highly politically sensitive environment. Such assertions are absurd. There is no one in Morocco that could advise the King on how to mix a Manhattan better than Fouad Ali El Himma. Of course, for El Himma, now that the PJD is in charge of the government, there is no safer place to drink one than in the Palace.

I wouldn’t call what’s happening in Morocco democracy, but I would be happy with something like: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Democracy.” 

A. T. B. © 2011

 

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Democracy, Moroccan Constitution 2011, MOROCCO, Morocco Legislative Election 2011, PJD | Tagged | 6 Comments

PJD: Mission Impossible?

Abdelilah Benkirane, the PJD’s (Justice and Development) leader, is living an enviable political moment. His party’s electoral win hurtled him into the inner circle of the King’s decision making process. He was summoned to the Palace to be officially nominated as Prime Minister and tasked with the formation of a new government today. He will most likely be advised of the King’s agenda in due time and required to ensure that his future government’s plan of action accommodates it. I am fairly certain that the King’s agenda and the PJD’s coalesce under the general premise that the primary focus is the nation’s interest.

The PJD surged in the polls taking 107 of 395 Parliament seats last Friday humbling the parties known to form Morocco’s power structure. Al-Istiqlal came in a distant second with 60 seats. Of the 13 million registered voters, 45.6% participated. The results of Morocco’s first “wave” election show that there is a national consensus that the country’s traditional and sclerotic political parties might be the source of all evil. There is an urgent need for a dramatic transformation of the political culture and the PJD might very well be the harbinger of genuine democracy in Morocco.  

I admit I was too conventional in my analysis of the outcome of the election. I figured it would follow a familiar script in which al-Ahrar, al-Istiqlal, PAM, or al-Itihad al-Ishtiraki would take the lead. The PJD, a moderate Islamist party which has been dismissed as too radical, humiliated, scorned, and ridiculed by an ossified political structure that hoped it would flare and fizzle, has emerged as a change agent of epic proportions. It has cast itself during the electoral campaign as an alternative to the political oligarchy whose wealth and control over national resources are no longer enough to buy it an electoral victory. The majority of Moroccans, including the youths of 20 February Movement, the internet and social media savvy rebels and activists who most certainly do not share the PJD’s views, concede it is the only political party in Morocco today with the fire power and a grand enough ambition to remodel the Moroccan political structure and change its withering ways. The party promised real solutions to the enormous problems Abbas El Fassi’s cratering government exacerbated, if not created. It announced bold and dramatic changes: decreasing poverty by 50%, increasing minimum wage by 50%, and eradicating corruption.

Benkirane was able to masterfully steer his party to tap the people’s simmering angst about a crippling stagflation. He demonstrated a confident command of issues and a knack for sound bites Moroccans related to. His eloquent, yet colloquial rhetoric is often change inspiring exhortations suffused with passion and clarity and carrying just the right amount of florid quotations from the Koran and the Hadith. By emphasizing high ethical standards in the practice of politics, he was able to attract a sizable young electorate that has grown tired of the self-serving back-room deals of the other parties. Public anger at a coterie bent on morally and physically looting the country and the global economic distress brought the PJD back from political irrelevance and front and centered it on the electoral stage.

Needless to say, The PJD will have to live up to the huge expectations of the Moroccan people. Benkirane often bridled at the criticism that the PJD is an Islamist party explaining that it is a political party that uses Islam as a reference. Nonetheless, its perceived religious doctrine evokes serious concern among moderate Moroccans that the party’s hardliners will attempt to cut the country’s ties with the West. There is a sense among people that the PJD will remain locked into its dogmatic orthodoxies; there is a fear its minders will start patrolling the streets shutting down bars and evacuating beaches enforcing scriptures. The PJD’s leadership is well aware that doing so will sabotage its future. It will have to fashion itself into an icon of political moderation and religious tolerance.

Based on their comments to the media, PJD’s leadership understands there is a paramount requirement to rebuild people’s trust in the government before committing to any transformational quixotic agenda. Threatening to change everything at once will magnify distrust and undermine its legitimacy. People need to know that they will be treated with dignity by an independent judicial and the security service is accountable for its actions. Before tackling corruption and other forms of moral deprivation, they need to create jobs, enhance public service, mitigate poverty, and enforce existing laws on gender equality and child labor. And by any standard, that is a tall order to fulfill for a party lacking experience in government management in the rough and tumble Moroccan society. 

A. T. B. © 2011

     

Posted in 2011 Election Morocco, Abdelilah Benkirane, Partie de Justice and Development, PJD | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Moroccan Government to Citizens: You Supply The Vote, We The Results

Surveying the Moroccan media’s coverage of today’s election, I got the impression the political parties are locked in a vicious, but healthy fight for power. I have intently read, listened, and watched as the leadership of the thirty political parties vying for a parliamentary majority reveled in exposing their grand vision of Morocco under their governance in newspapers and magazines and on national radio stations and television channels. They vowed to put the people’s interest before their partisan agenda; to ease the collective anxiety and earn the people’s trust, they bemoaned the irresponsible and undemocratic practices of erstwhile governments. They passionately pleaded with the citizens to denounce electoral graft and demonstrate civism by committing to the newly voted constitution and aiding in the construction of a more democratic culture.

The Moroccan government cranked up a robust campaign to urge people to vote. It commissioned three twin-engine planes to drop leaflets in remote areas to animate voters. The airwaves have been saturated with countless programs and ads sensitizing people to the importance of voting. Actors, singers, intellectuals, and politicians have been mobilized to tell the masses, in almost personal pleas, that it does not matter whom they vote for so long as their voices are heard. The streets are littered with fliers, banners, and posters reminding them to head to the polling stations to cast their ballots. The government’s efforts to educate people on the value of electoral participation as a public entitlement that should never be relinquished is indeed commendable and should be encouraged.

I felt the urge to vote. I did what I usually do in similar situations. I lay down and let it pass.

Somehow, millions of Moroccans are skeptical. They wonder how could a government that has lacked responsiveness to their most basic grievances for the past five years all of a sudden pay lavish deference to them. Since the electoral campaign started, ten ministers, as crass as they come, have left the comfort of their swanky homes and parked their Audi A8’s to tread through impoverished neighborhoods and among the commons. They danced for the people and laughed with them, they shook their hands, told them jokes, made promises and served meals. Most people know exactly how long this paroxysmal kindness will last. Not a day past 25 November. These are the same ministers who for the past five years have shown utter indifference to the plight of Moroccans. Something is rotten in the state of Morocco.

While the media is promoting the practice of democracy, the government’s security elements are arresting those calling for the boycott of the election and instigating criminal attacks on young activists leading demonstrations and organizing sitting-ins. The latest to be attacked is Sarah Soujar, stabbed Tuesday night during a demonstration in Sbeta in front of a swarm of suddenly lethargic police force.

I step out of my house one morning and I come face to face with Karim Ghellab, the Minister of Equipment and Transformation and Provincial Secretary of the Istiqlal Party. He was flanked by the Qaid and other sycophants. The streets were cleaned spotless as if the King himself was coming to visit. Before becoming a minister, Ghellab had campaigned for a parliamentary seat three times and won. He and most other candidates see the people though the prism of election. Once the election is over, Ghellab wouldn’t touch my neighborhood with a ten-foot pole. Why would he? The guy never experienced the life the majority of Moroccans endure; he attended Lyautey and finished his studies in France before returning as an engineer to a privileged professional post as a regional delegate of the Ministry of Transportation and a reserved seat within the Istiqlal Party leadership where his father, Abdelkarim Ghellab, was a prominent figure – one of the signatories of the independence document. Looking at the background of most of the well-heeled candidates, one quickly realizes that what needs to be changed first is the old guard.

Twice or thrice every hour, Moroccan viewers are invited to participate in a trivia game on TV; they are asked a simple question such as: what color is the white polar bear? Viewers are urged to send the correct answer via text message to a number displayed on the TV screen to win between five thousand to fifty thousand Dirhams and a brand new car. Each text message cost the participant ten Dirhams – a little over a dollar. Millions of Moroccans participate generating tremendous revenues to Maroc Telcom, Meditel, and Inwi.

The Moroccan government is using the same strategy. The results, I suspect, are already secured. What matters is a large turnout to give the fabricated results legitimacy.

So far, only 35% voted. We Moroccans are not easily duped. Then again, it wasn’t so long we were swept by Mawazin.

A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in Democracy, Moroccan Constitution 2011, MOROCCO, Morocco Legislative Election 2011 | Tagged | 2 Comments

Qaddafi: Return To Sender

Guess who's next!

And so, it has been proven that the King of Kings of Africa, the Guide of the People was a mere mortal who bled red like the rest of the Libyan people he tortured and executed. For once, his hands were covered in his own blood and not others’. The circumstances of his demise are still unclear. His eighty-vehicle strong convoy was annihilated by strafes of fire from NATO gunships as he was escaping westward from Surt, his hometown and final stronghold. He sustained injuries from that attack, but he was alive when rebel fighters pulled him out of a culvert where he was holed up not far from the site of the attack. Whether he bled to death or was vengefully executed by his captors is unknown at this time.

The blurry videos and pictures of Qaddafi’s capture and death broadcast on al-Jazeera and other Arab networks, sinister war trophies purloined from history by a bitter crowd, depicted a bloodied and livid man verbally degraded and physically abused by his captors. I deplore the unfair death of any man no matter how despicable he might be, but it is understandable how the young rebels, being primarily a civilian armed force driven more by reprisal than professional military discipline, could fail to stop on a dime and lack magnanimousness towards a dictator who brutalized so many. They seethed in a claustrophobic police state without a voice for so long that when they finally came face to face with the dictator that gagged them, they had to sound as loud as machine guns.

No one really cares. Everyone in Libya is ecstatic that the leader of the revolution who spoke the mind he lost is dead. They see it as a fitting end for an egotistic and self-delusional murderer who, when they peacefully voiced their grievances, formed his goons and hired mercenaries into dead squads to kill the men and rape the women.“I am a glory that Libya cannot forgo and the Libyan people cannot forgo, nor the Arab nation, nor the Islamic nation, nor Africa, nor Latin America, nor all the nations that desire freedom and human dignity and resist tyranny! Muammar Qaddafi is history, resistance, liberty, glory, revolution!” he proclaimed in February in his inimitable way. He gave a whole new meaning to the enlightening words Steve Jobs shared with students at the commencement speech to the Stanford class of 2005—“Stay hungry and stay foolish”.

Would it have been ideal to mete out institutional justice to Qaddafi and the nation’s erstwhile tormentors in his employ? Of course. It would demonstrate that the populace has a stronger esteem for the rule of law and would have set the future Libya on a solid path to democracy. In essence, is it not a total absence of equity that the Libyan people reproach to the rule of Qaddafi? But Libyans feel that his death brings an immediate measure of closure to forty-two years of Praetorian governance a lengthy trial could never deliver. The people are so traumatized that they no longer want to see his unbridled oratory theatrics, hear him spew invectiveness on the rebels, agonizingly rant about how Libya is victim of a Zionist, U.S., and NATO conspiracy to steal Libya’s oil and gold, and boastfully claim he is the Brother Leader of the Revolution who brought glory to the Libyans.

After the euphoria of freedom dims, the challenge of building a consensus around a central government will become more immediate. The dangers of widespread fighting among tribes and factions for influential portfolios in the next government are palpable. The Transitional National Council has been criticized as being opaque and unrepresentative of all Libyans; It has failed to assuage the fears of residents whose relationship with armed militias that are supposedly maintaining order has become fractious and confused. Its leaders have already announced they will resign once victory is attained. Now that the primary and unifying mission of the rebels has been accomplished, the conflicting and hidden agendas of Libya’s power brokers, some funded by the U.S. and NATO while others are supported by China, Russia, or Iran, will emerge. The fighters will consolidate along tribal and geographic lines. This problem was already apparent when multiple rebel groups from different cities and with distinct tribal affiliations clashed with each other in Tripoli. Qaddafi might have died, but the violent culture that fed his youth is still the source of intellectual nourishment for most Libyans. As Che Guevara once said: ” cruel leaders are replaced only to have new leaders turn cruel.” It will take tremendous political willpower and restrain and civic selflessness from all to navigate the next formative stages of Libya’s future and prevent the chaos Qaddafi had eerily predicted would ensue upon his removal.

A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in Libya, Mummar Qaddafi, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments