The Moorish Wanderer

Open Society Project. Part II: The Social Fabric

Part of the Open Society project is to achieve a secular, tolerant and individual-oriented society for Morocco. There are ways to achieve these objectives by means of designing adequate social engineering programs, but the essential feature of this project is that it needs to rip out the pungent effects of a policy implemented some 40 years ago.

It is true Morocco stands out as ‘Moderate’ in terms of religious observance, and many well-documented commentators do consider our country to be much more liberal -in its laws or its tolerance to social deviance– and, up to a point, this is true. But the trouble is, Morocco cannot be reduced to the Kenitra-Casablanca axis and a few urban centres around. There are parts of our country were fellow citizens are living miles and centuries away from Morocco Mall. And as it happens, talking about sexual freedom and de-penalising homosexuality might appear insulting to villagers in the Middle Atlas who die of frostbites whenever heavy snow blocks the roads up there.

I take the argument that we need economic development before we start addressing issues like gender equality or other items of individual rights and freedoms. A seemingly sound argument, but it betrays a static view of society. Humans living within organized communities do not mute their social background, nor do they shed away their education as soon as their material status improves; Though there is no distinguishable pattern to have a definite statement, it can be argued that, as far as Moroccan households are concerned, there is a certain amount of decorrelation between social status (and ensuing wealth) and professed social values. I always stand amazed at the way socially conservative acquaintances of mine can justify some of their own deviant behaviours (deviant with respect to the values they pretend to uphold, and frequently derail me for my own straightforward deviance) that, I guess, might be one of the numerous features of Moroccan genius, or sheer schizophrenia.

First off, and however thick it was laid, the veneer of national unity should not abuse the observer: the Moroccan society is deeply divided, and it will not heal it any time soon. It is divided on matters of race and ethnicity, on wealth distribution, on values and norms, it is divided, in my opinion, because it has been robbed of its history, and constrained with a straitjacket alien to all that made it what it is. We need to go beyond the dividing lines, and create a symbol of strength out of these differences, not perceived weaknesses.

Indeed, with 1956, we have been first robbed of Amazigh heritage when Istiqlal and UNFP nationalism decreed Morocco to be solely an Arabic-speaking country, and embraced Pan-arabism regardless of a substantial population’s own roots. Such pan-Arabist nationalism was marshalled by the monarchy too to enforce its hegemony and later on, to stifle Amazigh dissent. The current outcome is now a mess: yes, there is some official effort to rehabilitate Amazigh heritage, but there is political cowardice, or plain hostility in pushing further, and there are many who perceive this rehabilitation as a threat to our Arabic heritage.
The unbearable pressure for Arabic hegemony built up an equally radical Amazigh activism, and both sides settled on a cold war that heats up from time to time; In good times, such entrenched positions would have feed a passionate debate on our identities, but it seems not to be the case, each side refers to the other as the enemy: the invader or the traitor, make your pick.

We have been robbed of our present history: the Islamist lobby wants to impose on us an ideological version of Islam alien to the ‘local version’ that mixed up with pre-Islamic pageantry. A double curse as it is, Nasserist pan-Arabism gave way to the Islamist Internationale with a clear totalitarian agenda for the Apostate and the Unfaithful. ويل to whoever tries not to strictly observe the Islamic dogma. Begone the Jewish heritage, begone the numerous instances of gender equality in many of the Moroccan mountains, enter Wahhabi-style Islam.

The Moroccan society is ailing from the dividing lines because it has been deprived of its intrinsic wealth; Diversity has been stifled in the name of social cohesion and the ‘5th column’-style conspiracy theory. It is high time we addressed these wrongs.
The Social Project might be referred to as Grand Design, and it might be, by nature at least, but it is no burning vision of a holy city, nor is it a megalomaniac project for Übermenschen. Its primary internal logic is simple: put the individual as the nexus of social interactions, and abolish all intermediary entities between them and the State. Ambitious indeed, but not a contre-courant of the long-run trend as observed and recorded by various studies.

Let us first be clear about one thing: in its broad range, the Moroccan society is not ideologically conservative. If, and When the proposed policies below are implemented, the vast majority might feel hostile towards them, but actually a few activists will take to the street. And in any case, when the values of democracy, free speech and reasoned debate are upheld, there isn’t much to worry about, is there? Let us go forward and explore opportunities that would arise from an Open Society.

1) Ethnics: whether we like it or not, and whatever the level of mix-ethnicity in Morocco, there are strong self-identification patterns to be observed: It is almost impossible -and a bit racist- to claim, or to prove it, that such and such are pure ‘Aroubis, or Chleuhs or an Imperial City’s denizens. And yet, there is regionalist pride among say, young Riffis just as self-centred as that professed by inhabitants of Fes. Obviously, we cannot overrun these differences (it was the case for the last half a century, and it did nothing by to exacerbate the mutual defiance and transform them into open hostility) and any attempt to do so will at best weigh in hegemony from one side over the other, if not outright totalitarianism.
Why not recognize these differences as they are? Why is it such a perceived threat that moving from a ‘One Identity, One Nation’ would lead to the destruction of national unity? Is our society that fragile to constantly re-assure itself?

Let us consider the language issue: It would only make sense to cast aside Arabic as the Official Language, and put all three national idioms (plus Arabic because many Moroccans do speak the language) and elevate them to the position of National Languages? The argument of administrative cost is idle (and can be addressed by accelerating education reform and changing curriculum in local administrative school, if it is not already done. The Ecole des Cadres teaches local administrators an idiom, which can be useful when a Caid is posted in some remote Rif village) When human resources do master the language material, administrative procedures do not suffer from this hypothetical burden; Both arguments are shallow in fact, because they use the traditional bureaucratic inertia to block a legitimate aspiration, that of carrying everyday administrative procedures in one’s mother tongue. Is it such a onerous shore to print up forms in Soussi or use in the Agadir region?
Diversity comes first from ways to express it; in this case, languages are the main vehicle to consolidate this diversity the Open Society is set on protecting and nurturing.

We are De Facto living in a divided society, and the younger generations are no better than their elders in picking their choices; A constitutionally recognized diversity takes away the hegemonic position some ethnicities (or, to be more precise, some few families from a few Imperial cities) have abusively held for too long a time; It also defuses any future tensions between communities; By abandoning a monolithic norm, Morocco finally makes the right steps toward the essential feature of a democracy: diversity in all its forms.

2) Social Deviance: The word deviance here is used in its Durkheimian sense, i.e. behaviour that deviate from the perceived set of norms the majority of members identify as theirs. A refusal to observe Ramadan is considered to be a deviant behaviour, and it is highly disapproved of. Walking the street hand in hand with one’s significant other is frown upon. And yet, the Moroccan society acts as though these things do not exist, a bizarre enforcement of a rules that goes by : “What I don’t see doesn’t exist”. So there it is; as a whole, the Moroccan society, as noted on the Values’ Survey (50th Independence Anniversary Report) is not ideologically conservative, though elements of past policies have left a durable influence on the ambient conservatism, the essential feature of it is mainly due to a loss of ‘anchor values’; the Weltanschauung no longer fits the real world, thus the withdrawal to the safer and more secure conservatism, a behaviour indiscriminate of demographics or social classes.

So a couple of youngsters went on a picnic and started eating during Ramadan. Big Deal. Others did so some decades ago and none was arrested or heckled for their behaviour; Though the word might be too strong, such frenzy over the MALI operation is very close to fascistic behaviour. Indeed, a majority of Moroccans is Muslim, but how many of those are observing ALL of the Islamic pillars? How many would still be observing Ramadan if Article 222 was abolished? How many are already infringing on all articles outlawing non-marital intimate relationship?

In an Open Society scheme, individuals’ intimate behaviour cannot be subject to administrative or legislative constraints. A couple of leafs from the Code Penal will show examples of provisions that need to be abolished.

It seems the invoked legislative argument, ‘trouble a l’ordre public‘ is not because a particular behaviour contradicts the commonly-held values, but because there is fear some religious fanatic would carry out themselves punitive sentence. In effect, the Code Penal protects the liberally-challenged from modernity, thus comforting them in the idea that ‘these are our values’. The rule of law, in this case, abdicates before religious and bigoted lobby so as to avoid any confrontation with them. And yet here they are, terrorizing, censoring, excommunicating and declaring  anathemas in the name of religion on whoever tries to practise their freedom. religious Fascism at its rawest.

The Open Society project therefore seeks the abolition of the following articles:

Art 222. “Celui qui, notoirement connu pour son appartenance à la religion musulmane, rompt ostensiblement le jeûne dans un lieu public pendant le temps du ramadan, sans motif admis par cette religion, est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à six mois et d’une amende de 12 à 120 dirhams”.
Art 489. “Est puni de l’emprisonnement de six mois à trois ans et d’une amende de 200 à 1.000 dirhams, à moins que le fait ne constitue une infraction plus grave, quiconque commet un acte impudique ou contre nature avec un individu de son sexe”.
Art 490. “Sont punies de l’emprisonnement d’un mois à un an, toutes personnes de sexe différent qui, n’étant pas unies par les liens du mariage, ont entre elles des relations sexuelles”. (Penal Code)

And an amendment is required  on Articles 497, 498 and 501 so as to de-penalize prostitution, while increasing deterrent punishment on child prostitution and pornography. De penalization should encompass abortion (Articles 66, 446, and 449 to 458) and propose a fully-fledged law detailing recess and cooling-off periods, deadlines and medical conditions to be met, as well as the recognition of  principles of anonymity and free access to teenagers and rape victims.

Furthermore, mediaeval punishments, like death sentence should be abolished and replaced with perpetual imprisonment (Article 19) just like the tolerance of castration as an expeditious punishment  (Article 419) [Yes, the penal code allows for special circumstances, no pun intended…]

In addition, discriminatory dispositions should be lifted on married women (as they contradict the constitutional principle of gender equality) in this spirit, articles 495 to 496 assume married women to be submitted to their husband’s will, in flagrant contradiction with the principle of the status of co-head of household as specified in the 2003 Moudawana reform.

One of the characteristics of a democratic society is its tolerance to social deviance when it comes to contradiction with its census values. We need not be coy on these principles, and a radical shake-up of legislative texts like the Penal Code are more than needed to achieve this aim.

3) Protecting and Shielding the Weak and the Misfit: even though more and more women are contributing to society outside their homes, and whatever achievements the official line can boast about the reformed Moudawana, the fact remains, there is some resistance from influential lobbies, even within the administration itself; The tragic example of Fadwa Laroui should not delude us on the hardships that lay ahead.

There are conservative pundits that warned against a (relatively modest) increase of divorce court suit, and yet do not express similar outcry and turn the blind eye when judges indulge in generous dispensations for under-age marriage (but when Feminists care about the issue, it is swiftly dismissed as ‘typical feminist razzmatazz’ . As mentioned before, women are increasingly (and future projections are unequivocal on that issue) becoming breadwinners in their households, but those who do not fit within the social norms and are unfortunate to sustain themselves financially are cast aside. There are, following official figures, about 500.000 single mothers and divorcées, many of whom cannot sustain themselves or the children they are left with to care. The introduction of a Universal Benefit, for this population and for many others, is the most direct contribution of society to sustain them and help them to re-insert themselves in society.

This, in my opinion, is the difference between the social conservative and the radical reformer: the former couldn’t care less about the underdog, the latter tries to find ways to help them get through the rough patch. A radical social planner cares about society and individuals, a conservative one only about values and façades of social decorum.

I referred in another post to the idea of introducing Unemployment Benefits. I would like to devote the next ‘Open Society’ post to try and make up an comprehensive scheme that would go beyond that: a Universal Benefits scheme targeting the 5 to 10% of the less well-off of our citizens with enough resources to get them rolling before they join back in their productive contribution to society.