There’s certainly a number of pervasive rhetorics, deeply rooted in Arabic culture, that seem to surface during every discussion with a slightest hint of Arab politics. Arguments that, albeit tremendously misleading and erroneous, are overly used by media outlets , Arab intellectuals and even leaders. A quick , and amateurish, comparative media study will reveal for example how conspiracy theorists (Glenn beck, 911 “truthers”, birthers, NWO advocates etc…) are ridiculed in western media while their Arabic counterparts are tolerated, even celebrated at times. This hasty tendency to lean towards distorted thinking causes serious repercussions on Arabs’ ability to properly reason vis-a-vis significant political events.
The “aggressive” campaign lead recently by the Moroccan government and its minions to promote the “Moroccan exception” image raised many suspicions among the outspoken Moroccan dissidents . It should be noted that the phrase was first coined by French Le Monde to praise the transparency of the latest Moroccan parliamentary elections, way before good Ole Naciri gave the newspaper a taste of their own medicine. Incidentally, the phrase “Tunisian Miracle” was also coined by France’s Jacques Chirac refering to the country’s “exceptional” socio-economic situation. Because of this uncanny resemblance, 30 milion Moroccans knocked on wood; Lmrabet, Jamai and Moulay Hicham however, didnt.
When the contrarian self-exiled trinity came out to the Spanish media with alarmist analyses on the possibility of turmoil reaching Morocco, all hell broke loose. Ordinarily, in a country that claims to be an “isle of democracy and freedom of expression”, reactions consisting of smear campaigns and Ad Hominem attacks are to be expected in parallel with reasonable criticism and healthy debates. What’s surprising however is for the former discourse of response to be most orthodox and prevailing amid the populate and, even worse, the entirety of mainstream media. Evidently, when the minister of youth himself, Moncef Belkhayat, accuses those peacefully exercising their constitutional rights of being “enemies” who target our territorial sovereignty, the possibility of a constructive discussion is eliminated. A cheap appeal to faux patriotism in all its glory; exploiting the country’s most treasured cause to dissuade Moroccans from non-conformist political views. Its no surprise that this type of overly incendiary rhetorics prevails and trumps rational debate; Reductio Ad Sahara is Moroccans’ Reductio Ad Absurdum.
“Reductio Ad Sahara: A fallacy that can be better represented in the form of a slightly modified “Godwin Law”; As a discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Sahara or Polisario approaches 1.”
This false dichotomy of political landcape, ingrained into the Moroccan cultural heritage, is most detrimental towards the people in the first place. Back in the 19th century, the country was divided into Blad Lmakhzen (land of government) and Blad Siba(land of dissidence) which consisted of tribes who refused adherence to central government. Today in contemporary Darija, Moroccans with unorthodox views are accused of trying to incite Siba in the Bled on behalf of the”invisible hands” threatening our sovereignty. As a result of this aggressive rhetoric, opposition ,even when mild, is associated with dissidence, Siba and violence as opposed to L’Makhzen who’s synonymous with (illusory) stability. And people still wonder why is opposition nonexistent in this country.
Moncef Benkhayat’s misinformed comments represent Arab culture’s lack, until recently,
of a strong protest tradition driven by civil society. History has shown that political rallies, not revolutions, do actually spark major changes: MLK’s Wachington March, the Suffragettes movement, the Anti-Vietnam protests etc. But it seems as if no matter if you’re pro-demonstrations or not in Morocco, there’s already a consensus on the paramount need for major constitutional reforms, a concern that in lights of ineffectual parliament and political parties, can only be expressed through peaceful protests. The predicament we have at hands is the fact that major political parties have held monopoly over peaceful “manifestations” in the past: Palestine cause, Casa terrorist attacks, latest Sahara events. Consequently, anything that’s not government-approved would be deemed Siba-inciting and will be responded to with excessive force, perpetuating the stereotype that a non-Makhzenist protest cannot be peaceful. For those afflicted with a nasty case of Makhzen syndrom, a little fear mongering goes a long way towards preserving an ill-functioning status-quo, especially when your neighboring countries experienced civil war, a succession of coups and revolutions.
Which bring us to another fallacious yet popular rhetoric; the Whatabout-eries, formally known as Tu Quoques. After Guardian journalist Johann Hari published his article The Dark Side Of Dubai (powerful longform piece of investigative journalism), a staggering amount of the responses he got simply criticized him for targeting Dubai specifically and not other countries. Sounds absurd doesn’t it? Well, chances are that you too have used this argument in the past. From his article “How To Spot A Lame Argument“
“As a rhetorical trick, it is simple. Anyone can do it, and we are all tempted sometimes. When you have lost an argument – when you can’t justify your case, and it is crumbling in your hands – you snap back: “But what about x? You then raise a totally different subject, and try to get everybody to focus on it – hoping it will distract attention from your own deflated case.”
In this video, TV “anchor” Mustapha Alaoui bashes on Aljazeera for their coverage of the Sahara and the
2006-2008 Afengou incidents. A remote village where dozens of infants died due to harsh conditions and an unresponsive government. Al Alaoui argues: “But what about Qatar ? Why doesnt Aljazeera mention the 1994 Qatari coup? Why doesnt Aljazeera shifts its focus to the gulf instead?” As you can see, his tirade was very well received. Oddly enough, AlJazeera was probaby the only channel keeping Moroccans in the loop considering the shameful absence of Moroccan media, funded by Moroccan’s tax money. A more relevant variation would be the “What about Algeria? How about you try living there instead” whenever a criticism of the “Moroccan exception” arises. Superstar columnist Rachid Nini also blatantly resorts to a similar fallacy trying to refute Moulay Hicham, Aboubakr Jamai and Ali Mrabet’s statements to the media. The list of examples is endless, but going back to Johann Hari who puts it best:
So whenever you hear the cry “But what about?!”, you can reply: what about we ignore this crude attempt to change the subject, and focus on the subject in hand?
This complete disregard of basic rhetoric principles is what makes the difference between, say, the British house of commons and the Moroccan parliament, between Oxford Debates and Aljazeera’s Opposing Views(Itijah Al Mou’akiss). 2011 seem to be the year for breaking Arabic stereotypes, and while I realize that “curing” this particular affliction can be a bit more challenging, I think we can manage to alleviate its repercussions. Why stop for example at only teaching logical and quantitative reasoning in Math classes? Rhetorics should also be taught alongside Arabic or Philosophy classes. A nation of great conversationalists and problem-solvers? what a dream. Can I get my Nobel prize already?