Rabat - This section is to be read as a synthetic report by the author of a number of seminars on the issue of tolerance which were attended by participants from different backgrounds.
Rabat – This section is to be read as a synthetic report by the author of a number of seminars on the issue of tolerance which were attended by participants from different backgrounds.
An idea which seems to be always lurking in the minds of the participants is that Islam is not tolerant. When the issue comes out, I try to orient the discussion first to understanding what is meant by tolerance. I, of course suggest my own bias concerning what I take tolerance to be as a person who has grown up in the Moroccan Islamic tradition, which I would like to insist is a tolerant culture.
By tolerance, I tell the participants, however, that I do not understand that one has to give up one’s convictions, compromise everything, deny one’s ideals, abandon or weaken one’s political or religious positions, submit to the will of others, adhere to the options others would wish to impose on one, accept the other’s beliefs without question and critique, convert to another religion or another faith nor accept any form of injustice and inequity.
Likewise, I insist that tolerance should not be taken to mean any form of neutrality towards what one takes to be unjust or contradictory to one’s values and ideals, substituting one’s convictions with those of others, that all ideas, convictions and values are equally good, nor should it mean that one has to agree with the opinions of all other people and take all their ideas and opinions as true.
On the other hand, I suggest that the Islam I grew up with takes tolerance to refer to one’s ability to listen, discuss, negotiate and solve intellectual, ideological and religious conflicts peacefully and in such manners that guarantee justice, human rights, equal opportunity and respect to all. This means that just like I accept that other people are entitled to their opinions and ways of life as long as they do not impede those of others, I, too, should be entitled to my opinions and way of life on an equal footing. In this sense, tolerance also refers to valuing other people’s rights equally as I value my own including the right to hold different opinions, to have different convictions and to make different social, cultural, religious and political choices.
In fact, while holding one’s judgment while accepting and valuing difference is a high form of tolerance in the Moroccan Islamic tradition, an ideal form of tolerance is to be appreciative of the difference of others and letting them know of your appreciation. In fact, while one cannot expect everyone else to share one’s ideas and convictions, diversity in a society should be based on the principle not only of peaceful coexistence, which laws have to enforce anyway, but also on that of working towards the construction of a convivial environment in which everyone contributes to the safety, the freedom and the happiness of everyone else. In fact, pursuing one’s own happiness while making it possible to others who might be different do it as well implies that you not only recognize and respect their values but that you promote the conditions that make practicing them possible.
However, when after the presentation of these principles cases of specific situations are brought up, ideals are brought to face the test of intellectual coherence and of sound analysis. In fact, being tolerant as I have endeavored to define it does not mean to condone violence or to pretend not to see the various forms the violation of Human Rights can take under the cover of freedom of speech, respect of difference and tolerance or the promotion of democracy or other political options. One such case that has come up to the discussion quite often is the attitude and the resulting decisions of some European countries that banned wearing the veil or covering their hair at school for Muslim female students. Moroccan participants tend to introduce the issue as an example of the intolerance of Europeans and of their double standards. Regardless of the validity and the soundness of the participants’ opinion and not withstanding exclusion motivations and/or forced integration policies underlying these policies, the argument becomes more complex very soon during the discussion.
In fact, the gap between the diverging attitudes of Moroccan and US participants becomes narrower as I suggest a different but possible interpretation of the current issue of the veil. The interpretation I suggest, which I invite participants to think about, to assess and criticize, is based on a longitudinal observation of the recent forms of the phenomenon of the veil.
When I was very young, my mother as well as most women her age and older wore a jelaba and covered their faces with a veil. In some other parts of the country, such as Essaouira, women wore a hayk in which they kept all their bodies concealed. In the countryside and in the mountains, as well as in the fields and in the workshops in which women had to work, neither veil nor hayk were very frequent. Immediately after independence and at the instigation of late Mohamed V, however, Moroccan women started dropping jelaba, hayk and veil. My mother for one, dropped the veil but not the jelaba. The spirit of independence gained women who started understanding that the veil, the jelaba and the hayk contributed to perpetuating their status as somewhat inferior individuals who had to be always submitting to some man. This new awareness grew rather fast as more women had access to education, gained more freedoms and were called upon to contribute more to the economic wellbeing of the household.
In fact, the more women assumed financial and social responsibilities and generated income for the household equally as men did and the more they contributed to the education of the kids, the more they cultivated the awareness that being socially and economically responsible had also to go through being at least equally educated and politically responsible as men. The awareness of the tight relationship between the economic and political status of women and the political dominance of males through the cultivation of an ideology that justified and called for the total submission of women to men and the reduction of their status to that of being an appendix to a man grew also into a social power. This newly gained power brought women closer together in NGOs and in other political formations. The culture of emancipation, of equal rights and opportunities and of gender equity was very quickly subordinated to ideological awareness and to critical approaches to all ideological media including religion, literature, social organization and political claims and agendas.
On the other hand, forty years after independence, the alternative political system which was established to mark a break between the colonization and the independence eras failed to deliver the promises of economic wellbeing, of democracy, of freedom of speech and of equality which it had promised. It also failed to build a modern coherent and strong national and cultural identity. Likewise, the other promises which other alternative ideologies could have brought through revolutionary or political action throughout the sixties, the seventies and the eighties have also failed to deliver especially after the bankruptcy of the USSR and the subsequent loss of hope in all socialistic alternatives.
The disappointment of the elites with the nationalist movement as well with all the political oppositions, and the lack of rational alternatives to create economic opportunities, employment and income generating activities revived extremist ideologies which had kept low profiles for decades. The revival was the easier that it makes promises that cannot fail and that do not cost more than submitting all one’s responsibilities to an elite which is willing to substitute to one’s thinking and one’s decisions. The veil is therefore an eloquent symbol which attests to the failure of a set of rational alternatives to the creation of a just and equitable society in which all can live happily. It also attests to the failure of the ideologies which were available for the construction of a modern state that could guarantee the conditions for a respectable and honorable life for all citizens.
In other words, the modern veil could be interpreted as another attempt to recover hope and to make the promises of a better life more possible to come true. Because of the failure of past rational attempts to install a state in which both men and women could live as equal citizens all equally responsible for their own wellbeing, the alternative can be only irrational and based on giving up one’s own responsibilities, that is; submission to some higher authority. This is how the veil, which is part of a collective belief that requires total submission and resignation of all one’s social, economic and political prerogatives came up again to the front scene. The veil is part of an ideology which makes life and happiness easier for women as long as it denies them responsibility for their own social and economic conditions. As such, the veil is a symbol which is part of a coherent value system in which women do not possess their own bodies nor dispose of them freely. It is the first external manifestation of a whole system which requires the total submission of women and which moves gradually in its claims of other rights and prerogatives. Other steps could be not to talk to men, not leave the husband’s house without his permission, not to travel alone, not to work, not to be involved in politics, not to have an opinion different from that of the husband’s. Actually, these steps are not theoretical nor are they hypothetical. They have been witnessed in many cases.
The same arguments seem to stand for the basis of the analysis in European countries. In fact, the failure of European countries to guarantee equal cultural, social, economic and political statuses to Muslim minorities through the various integration policies has resulted in the rise of resistance strategies one of which has been the return to the traditions of the forefathers. Just like the first case, the veil became the symbol of an irrational search for solutions in a context that has failed to favor the success of rational alternatives. In both cases, the return to an idealized past for the solutions of current problems is a negation of reason, of rationality and of any promises of a better present and/or future that are rational. In both cases, the theory that the oppressed tend to tyrannize those next to them in the oppression chain is verified to be true. Men who fail to gain respect of others, to achieve their own freedoms and who have to show submission to others, turn against their women – daughters, wives and sisters, cousins – to apply the same tyranny on them and to claim the same submission from them.
This, however, does not mean that the veil cannot be an individual religious choice in Islam, Judaism or some forms of Christianity. In fact, a woman can choose not to expose her body or parts of it to others because of religious or social convictions, but when this decision is associated with the woman’s giving up her fundamental human rights, this woman needs to be protected against the exploitation and manipulation of a man or a group of men. Furthermore, a man who requires a woman to give up her rights and to submit to his will just like the man who claims the right of disposing of the freedom of a woman needs to be prevented from the manipulation that results in convincing the woman. No person should be able to give up his/her freedom whatever the reasons, the motivations or the convictions. Tolerance should not include witnessing the exploitation of men and women, reducing their freedoms, abusing of their integrity, hurting them and pretending not to have seen. This is not tolerance but being the active accomplice of the violation of Human Rights which the basic principles of all religions claim to respect.
Terrorism: a component of the Western stereotype of the violent Arab
Another issue which comes up to reveal and support a component of a typical trait of the Arab and Islamic stereotype, namely violence, is terrorism. In fact, a general trend among the US participants is to associate terrorism with Islam and the perpetration of unlawful violence for political purposes with Arabs. Suicide bombs, bombings in the Palestinian occupied territories, and the various blasts in the Western capitals and attacks of symbolic targets in Arab countries are evoked to justify the apprehensions that originate in the stereotype. When, however, the participants are asked to define terrorism and to think about what international law as expressed in the Charter of the United Nations takes to be legitimate action to protect one’s land and to resist to invasion, participants start having doubts about where terrorism begins and where it ends. The question of how much tolerance should be reserved to an occupying power that takes over the homeland of others through violence and to the populations it imports to populate occupied lands increases the participants’ awareness of the complexity of the issue. When the debate brings the problem closer to individual participants through illustrations from their own history or through simulations and hypothetical examples that involve them, they start questioning what they should take as terrorism or as legitimate self defensive actions.
To what extent can the decision of sending a standing army to a country that had no incidence of AIDS without making sure that the troops were HIV free be considered an act of biological terrorism? This question was intimated to me by a participant who took part in the seminar more than one time. It seems, according to some reports that the UN had sent troops from some African countries to Cambodia which were infected. A few years later, AIDS was found to have progressed dramatically in Cambodia. The objective for having sent the troops was, by the way, never attained. How would the definition of terrorism apply to this situation?
In fact, a critical awareness of the conceptual references on which the convictions of the participants related to terrorism are built becomes more acute as they are invited to categorise a set of actions within the framework of the concept of non active or non fighting which some applications of the definition would like to use to subtract both armed and trained occupying populations and stationed troops from the legitimate actions of resistance. The process of making this decision makes the judgment of what should or should not be covered by the definition of terrorism more objective. While the condemnation of all violence especially that which is perpetrated against civilians has always been an important trait of how the participants – both Moroccan and US – perceive themselves, these discussions help them reassess their own attitudes independently on the basis of a sound and duly informed analytical process.
The conclusion reached by all the participants is that terrorism is a global phenomenon that targets the stability of areas and regimes that are undergoing fundamental changes through the application of violence to any party that supports or promotes such change. It is, therefore, the violent opposition of a group, which can be a state, a coalition of states or a minority, to the collective decision of a community to live according to some principles of its own choice which are contrary to the interests of the community. It is of two types; one seeking to maintain a status quo and one seeking to establish a new order or a hegemony which the community does not accept. As such it is different from violence applied to occupying forces and populations and to whoever supports them in their invasion which is, by law, a legitimate form of self defense and of resistance. Some forms of violence are to be expected as a natural reaction to injustice and to spoliation of homelands. When the spoliation cannot be met with standing armies, it will be met by some type of guerrilla, underground organizations, and individual acts of violence against symbolic institutions or persons, against the interests of the occupier and against any person associated with the occupying power. Armed resistance and armed liberation movements are not forms of terrorism; they are legitimate forms of self defense. The acts of the French Liberation Army against the interests of the Nazis as well as against anyone associated with them under German occupation were celebrated as heroic acts after the Liberation.
Furthermore, terrorism and violence may take many other forms. They can be economic, cultural, psychological, political and ideological. Each of these forms of violence and terrorism should be expected to raise legitimate resistance and self defense mechanisms which can vary in nature, in intensity and in spread. Like the other forms of terrorism, these target populations and socio-economic and cultural structures and institutions which, in some way, promote some hegemonic intention. In fact, a foreign intervention in the restructuring of the economic and political structures of a population can be a form of terrorism when it seeks to make these structures more pliable and accessible to the interests of the foreign intervening power. Likewise, pushing for the principles and values of a foreign culture in a different country, for example, can also be a form of terrorism when the intention is to remove the aptitude of a community to identify to is own history, its own civilization and its own origins. In fact, it is this type of identification which provides communities with the necessary solidarities and endogenous mechanisms to develop naturally, to change according to their own specific values and to act collectively on the environment to create optimal conditions for their happiness and for that of their individual members. In fact, any action that does not take into account the harmony of the environment and of future generations can be categorized as a form of terrorism as it is violence against the interests and the lives of unarmed, non-fighting, and yet-to-be-born human beings.
In the recent past, the world has witnessed attempts to criminalize actions, writings and ideas that claim entitlement to cultural authenticity, to specificity and to identity. In like manner, acts opposed to spoliators of one’s own homeland and to protect one’s own children are criminalized by leading extremist new conservative religious and non religious movements alike so as to justify further oppression and further spoliation. Palestinians are often condemned for using force to drive occupiers out of their lands which were occupied unrightfully and in violation and defiance of all International laws. They are simply denied the right to oppose the resistance they can to their oppressors. Calling them terrorists is itself an act of international terrorism and of high jacking international law and legal concepts to justify the unjustifiable and to condemn right.
As to political terrorism, it can take the form of imposing a political system, a way of life or an ideological system of values on community operating on the principles of other ones. In fact, political systems have nothing universal in them. Expecting other communities to adopt one’s own political system is a dangerous case of self-righteousness and a denial to others the freedoms of choice which one may advocate. A political system is an endogenous approach to the management of human relations within a community and it is this community alone that is entitled to defining it, to making it change and to adapting it to its own needs and interests based on its own moral values. Of course, no community can live in complete autarchy. However, it is to the community alone to make the choices of how to integrate itself within the global relations of other communities. Any unilateral dictation of laws or any use of one’s powers to impose behavior on other communities is an act of hegemony and should be expected to raise resistance and self-defensive behavior.
The imposition of sociopolitical and economic models : a case of terrorism
A case of political intolerance, in which many have seen a form of terrorism, is the implementation of so-called development policies that impose new ways of life to unwilling populations. Some sociologists and anthropologists describe communities, for instance, either as essentially preventive in nature and others as reactive. In fact, while some communities will adopt long term predictive approaches and will tend to anticipate problems and crises, including those affecting the natural environment or resulting from it so as to develop preventive mechanisms and to control the environment and to subdue it, other communities will tend to adapt to the environment, to subdue to it and to move out when it becomes unable to satisfy their needs. Notwithstanding the validity of this theory, it seems that communities will tend to judge each other against criteria relating to how each deals with constraints and how it goes about solving similar problems. Nomads, for instance, who drive their herds to follow pasture react differently to water constraints and to the invasion of sands from other communities who seek to maximize the use of water or to build wind shields to protect their lands from being covered by sand. The two communities develop different ways of life, different values and different attitudes towards the environment, towards space and time and towards work and life in general.
The problem, however, is that these differences may very well result in contrary interests, which in turn, may result in conflicting demographic, economic, political and cultural situations. The issue of tolerance gains thus more currency than in any other example, perhaps. The definition of frontiers, of territory, of the concepts of “state”, “power”, “property” and of “residence” which is essential in many ways of life as well as the definition of language and of its social functions take meanings which are contrary to other definitions and which go against the principles of stability and of control on which other communities have built their institutions.
A major error of modern approaches to pastoral ways of life in many African countries was the introduction of Western forms of farming and the idea of range management in socio-cultural and economic systems that do not manage land and that take it to be neither a production factor nor as an economic input and for which ownership of estate is not part of the markers of a successful individual. In such systems, ownership of estate was collective and responsibility of the individual was to the community as a whole unlike in other communities where individualism results in responsibility for oneself alone.
Many analysts see the introduction of new land exploitation approaches and new land management and land tenure practices in some pastoral areas as a dramatic case of contemporary political, economic and cultural intolerance. This introduction has resulted not only in the bankruptcy of socio-economic systems and the impoverishment of whole fertile areas but in the actual systematic extermination of whole cultures and ways of life. A lot of pain and suffering ensued the smallest advances of Western forms of land reclamation in Europe. In fact, peaceful non-fighting populations have been targeted by the violence of the weaponry of modern administration, communication, economy and finance and the arsenal of global anthropological ideology and politics. These populations have been dismissed from their lands and reduced from moral nobility and dignity to the gracelessness of slums and shanty towns and from lords of their own lands to subordinates of foreign and hegemonic spoliation. From collective landlords they were reduced to a mass of wage laborers at the mercy of the whims of international capital. They have been the victims of a form of intolerance which in many ways took the form of cultural as well as of political and socio-economic terrorism. The International division of labour referred to more innocently as globalization resulted in the integration of many populations who lived in harmony with their environment outside the impact of the world market into the merciless cultural alienation processes which follow the loss of one’s mastery over one’s means of subsistence and one’s ways of controlling the environment.
Tolerance as an attitude towards or against violence should therefore be assessed within the framework of legal, cultural, economic, anthropological and political legitimacy.
As the veil and terrorism are given only for illustration, I sometimes invite participants to suggest other symbols and behaviors and apply the same analytical purpose on them. Regardless of what the participants make of this approach to understanding such phenomena, it seems that this kind of discussion contributes to heightening their sensitivity to the possibility of a wider range of interpretations which results in more caution while they are about to make judgments. In fact, the development of communication strategies as well as of the attitudes of the participants who attended the seminar more often on the one hand, and the reports and the exchanges of other participants, on the other hand, attest to the increased care which they take in approaching such complex issues as religious tolerance, attitudes and opinions of others. At times, the collective exercise of critical thinking and of disciplined assessment of the issues at hand which take place during the seminar results in an observable change in the absolute attitudes and expressions of opinion which tend to characterize many participants.
 A gown topped with a hood which Moroccan women used to wear to cover their bodies when going out. A men’s version of the same gown is still very popular and is worn in special social occasions.
 A large piece of cloth in which some women used to wrap themselves so as to cover their whole body.
 It is, however, also argued that in many cases both types tend to co-exist in the same community with one prevailing over the other.
 The same argument can be developed through the example of the violence and the intolerance by which indigenous Indian ways of life have been met in America.
To read the first chapter click here
The book, Reflections on the formation of Western opinions, stereotypes and attitudes about Islam and Arabs, published in 2005 is based on a series of reports on Cross Culture seminars the author had conducted at LangCom during academic year 2004-2005. Over two hundred participants from various American universities and many Moroccan university students and English language teacher trainees from ENS Rabat took part in these seminars.
The seminars were a rare opportunity for both Moroccan and American participants to exchange ideas, opinions and attitudes about Islam, Arabism, and the various stereotypes that have come to be associated with them especially after the 9/11 aftermath and the two Gulf wars. They have also been an exceptional occasion for the participants to share thoughts and feelings about the various concepts associated with globalization, westernization and the new challenges of the communication era. The chapters are thus to be read as reports of these seminars.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy