Requiem For A Moroccan Misérable

Buddhist Monk burns for your sins

Please take a moment to read carefully the following paragraph:

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flame yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don‘t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.” David Foster Wallace.

I always found this paragraph to be the most accurate description of depressive and suicidal thoughts that I have ever read. The quote was taken from Infinite Jest, the Magnum Opus of one of my favorite writers, David Foster Wallace, a man who battled Churchill’s and Nick Drake‘s black eyed dog -depression to those unfamiliar with the metaphor- for over 20 years. On September 12th of 2008, Wallace hanged himself on the patio of his house leaving behind a wife and a remarkable career. I identify with the man greatly, I do. So when I was reading an article today on his soon to be published story, I couldnt help but cast what he said on the recent wave of self-immolations in the Arab world. Most notably, the case of Fadoua Laroui.

A single mother of two, Fadoua set herself ablaze when she was denied access to a government social housing program simply for being a single mother. Fadoua and her family were left homeless after the government destroyed their make-shift shantytown in an effort to eradicate slums from Moroccan (big) cities. Her complains were dismissed as quickly as the fire ravaged her young body, and according to her brother, “She was angry after finding out that choice land near her father’s plot would go directly to businessmen with connections, even though it was supposed to be reserved for the poor”.

Moroccans are wondering, why? After all, she isn’t the only poor and homeless shantytown woman in the country. The status of single mothers , highly stigmatized, still leaves a lot to be desired. Although the status-quo apologists will respond by claiming that the Moudawana, Morocco’s latest family code, already grants women “too many” rights. Didnt she fear Allah? Some said while regurgitating a Hadith or two condemning suicide victims to hell. But the thing is, those standing still on the sidewalk wondering in their confusion and watching Fadoua as her flesh burns will never understand why she ignited the match, for they have never felt the real flames she felt, way before she doused herself in Gas.

Fadoua gazed into the abyss, and it was frightening. As she pondered upon the excruciating pain and her “after-life” punishment, she realized that living in utter despair was going to be much more painful. Ergo, what Wallace describes as creeping fire flames, for Fadoua, it was watching her children being ripped off of what might be their only chance to a dignified life. These feelings of impending doom, helplessness and , for lack of a better word, L’Hogra (Algerian term describing government’s contempt towards the wretched) when coupled with some devastating depression-induced cognitive distortions can produce a condition even more inflammable than gasoline.

While Fadoua decided to end her pain by taking the leap, other Bouazizis are diluting the overly grim reality by resorting to the ever-alluring escapism. Now, I am in a no position to judge anyone who prefers the company of anti-depressants, hallucinogens or a bottle of cheap wine to numb the pain. Lord knows I need it sometimes. What I despise however is our alarming indifference to other Moroccans’ plight or even worse, some pathetic attempts to trivialize those unfortunate and inhumane conditions. Maybe this apathy is yet another escapist defense mechanism, who knows.

The nepotism that cost Fadoua’s children their future house runs from Fadoua’s prefecture to the royal cabinet. To make matters even worse, Moroccans’ tax money is spent on palaces maintenance, unnecessarily expensive and useless projects or on yet another dysfunctional council run by the same old saggy faces. Meanwhile, our media is shoving its “Moroccan Exception” image down everybody’s throat while silencing the critics now that international media is looking the other way.

Moments before she set herself on fire, Fadoua screamed “They stole my house. They stole my house!” as the sidewalk crowd watched, amused by the show. What disturbs me the most about self-immolations is the idea that deep inside, the victims wish for someone to help them out once their voices have been heard. And you know there’s something wrong with the country when Fadoua’s only option to express herself was by self-immolation after her complains were hurryingly dismissed time after time.

On February 23, two days later, Fadwa died in a Casablanca hospital. Not even the sidewalk crowd nor the government intervened to help, but as Wallace puts it “You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”



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The Absurdity of Moroccan Debate: Invisible hands, Fear mongering and WhatAbout-eries

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.

Le Journal was an elaborate Algerian plan to threaten our territorial sovereignty

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,

Protests are unpatriotic. Martin Luther King was America's enemy.

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


Irrefutable Logic. Problem Socrates ?

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?

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Cult of Personality and other thoughts on Moroccan Monarchy

“A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.”

“Moroccan youth are organizing a march for love to renew their pledge of allegiance to the king and to publicly express their gratitude for his reforms and development projects”. Only 3 days after its start, the Facebook group “March for love” gathered almost 25000 supporter for what some (yours truly) has called: A royal gay pride. With slogans such as “People burn their countries to get rid of dictators, we burn the world to protect our beloved King”, I couldn’t help but ask myself,  are we watching an extreme personality cult?

Probably one of the strongest dogmatic doctrines in the history of Moroccan monarchy

Moulay Ali Cherrif. First Alaouite King.

was the “sainthood” of the Alaouite dynasty. Monarchy’s claim of descent from the prophet Muhammed himself has been held by Moroccans, to this day,  in very high regard. The Sherrifian (Saint) Alaouites possess a Baraka (divine blessing) that, according to Moroccans, was elemental in helping the Sultans unite all the tribes and rule righteously over the populate.  Make no mistake, in a traditional predominantly Muslim society where “black magic” is popular even among the intellectual elite and where illiteracy is still rampant, the Baraka is a valuable concept.

The full extent of this doctrine’s influence is better observed during the Revolution Of The King And The People. After Mohammed V’s exile in 1953 by the French protectorate, The “ruling” Istiqlal party exploited the naivety of rural Moroccans at the time to circulate a famous narrative about seeing the King’s face on the moon. The fact that Monarchy was cloaked in so much myth and mystery allowed for the rumors to spread like wild fire; Moroccans across the country confirmed that they also witnessed the sight. This state of mass hysteria and delusion, led by the nationalist Istiqlal party, eventually caused the disenchanted Moroccans to precipitate the return of the Moon king.

If you cant see the king's face on the moon then you dont love your country.

On the other hand, Sheriffian Alaouites exist today in significantly bigger numbers than they did back in the early days of Moroccan monarchy. To put things in perspective, Moulay Ismail(1645-1727), the second ruler in the dynasty, is said to have fathered more than a thousand child in a way reminiscent of Genkhis Kan’s “DNA conquests” of central Asia.  This prolific, and indiscriminate, spreading of sainthood “seeds” however, has clearly dampened the allure of the Alaouites, a title that once was exclusively associated with a small privileged elite, has now transcended the barriers of social stratification to be also claimed by the poor and the middle class.

The Sherrifian nature of Alaouite dynasty is one aspect among many of the personality cult surrounding the Moroccan monarchy. The average citizen is confronted with so many imageries during his/her lifetime that its almost impossible to escape the state propaganda. In every major city across the kingdom, billboards are plastered with portraits of his majesty and slogans glorifying and idolizing him. Newspaper often allocates entire pages for corporations to praise the king every national holiday. Ministers, governors, ambassadors and even regular Simos are paraded in front of the royal throne kissing the king’s hand and renewing their allegiance’s pledge. And who can omit the overdramatized Mustapha Alaoui’s TV commentaries filled with , often nonsensical, adulations of the king during every little official outing of his.

Speaking of TV, A powerful tool also used by the monarchist propaganda machine is portraying the king as the sole inaugurator of developmental projects across the kingdom.  For the naive minds and the politically oblivious, his majesty takes full credit for all the newly built hospitals, universities, orphanages, mosques, water purification stations etc… Hence the popular argument: “the King is doing a good job because he’s building the country”.

In the Moroccan collective consciousness, the young Mohammed 6 instantly assumed the not-so-bad cop role in a lame Good Cop/Bad Cop routine after the end of his father’s repressive regime. Hassan II , his father, ruled the country with an iron-fist and eradicated opposition with all means necessary in an era plagued with blatant breaches of human rights. And what better regime to enforce a cult of personalty than a police state of a megalomaniac monarch?  Nonetheless, most Moroccans, like a low self-esteem girlfriend in an abusive relationship, exhibits (while looking over their shoulder) a deep respect for the old king whom they view as a father figure who governed using “tough love”.

Monarchy however was able to reinvent itself post-Hassan II by introducing the Equity And Reconciliation Committee to make amends with the violent past, without really pointing any fingers. The rosy period was, alas, only temporary after the Makhzen (government) started cracking down again on journalists, activists and dissidents. As the Moroccan proverb goes, “Hlima went back to her old habit”.

Allah, The country, The King. What if Im only loyal to the country ?

Imagine growing up around these imageries. Singing the national anthem every Monday before class and screaming, in harmony with every student at the school, its last part at the top of your lungs

Make the world witness,

That we here live
With an emblem of:
God, homeland and king.

The indoctrination starts at a very young age by teaching kids to pledge allegiance to God, the country and the king, as if they were inseparable entities. Three principles considered as sanctities by the Moroccan law which deems “insulting” them a criminal offence. Even the very fact of questioning this “holy trinity” is a recipe for an oncoming legal trouble.

The powerful propaganda tactics exerted over Moroccans since birth serve one purpose: to fortify the image of infallibility that the monarchs hide behind and to make criticism a thoughtcrime. The self-censorship exhibited by Moroccan journalists and the overly naive herd mentality behind the youths of the “march for love” show that so far the propaganda is unfortunately a great success.

I remember watching a documentary about North Korea where National Geographic’s Lisa Ling went undercover with a Nepalese doctor who specialized in cataracts surgeries. The most striking scene in the documentary was when the patients started removing their bandages.

“…immediately after regaining their sight, rather than thanking the doctor, people started crying and bowing and giving thanks in front of pictures of the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung as hundreds clapped and cheered in unison. I never saw such an extreme personality cult before.” Lisa Ling

Sounds too familiar…

Further reading:

Of saints and Sherifian kings in Morocco: Thee examples of the politics of reimaginning history through reinventing king/Saint relationship. By Fatima Ghoulaichi (PDF file).

A Monarch Oriented To the West. By Joseph.R.Gregory

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