By Freddy A. King
By Freddy A. King
Rabat – It is clear when reading though the ‘Opinion’ section of websites such as this or when conversing with young passionate Moroccans that the issue of Islamophobia is at the forefront of the minds of many social justice activists in this country. The Anglophone population here in Morocco has been especially inspired to stand at the aid of their co-religionists in the United States due to the rhetoric of American presidential candidates Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson. They are completely right in doing so as the statements made by each of these candidates is terribly bigoted, ignorant and dangerous.
Fortunately, within the U.S., people of all races, religions and political parties have criticized these individuals for their fear mongering and lies. Contextually, over the last several decades, Muslim-Americans have organically integrated themselves into American society by religiously unifying themselves into organizations such as the Islamic Circle of North America, serving in public office (as seen by the presence of two Muslims currently elected to Congress), mobilized to protect their human rights in organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations and have politically organized themselves into organizations such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council. International Muslim support for those victims of prejudice is vital, but it is important for young Moroccan social justice advocates to understand that there is a strong infrastructure for fighting human rights threats in the U.S. and that the response to Islamophobia in the U.S. has to be one that is American in nature.
Even the worst forms of prejudice in American society will never be able to retract the constitutional rights provided to Muslims and all Americans. The U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” (Amendment I), which means that Supreme Court has the responsibility to void any attempted law at discrimination against Islam (which it did most recently to protect a Muslim woman’s right to wear her headscarf in the workplace) and that all Americans have the right of conversion to and from any religion (such as basketball legend Kareem-Abdul Jabbar who was born Catholic and chose to convert to Islam as a young man or President Barack Obama, whose birth to a Muslim father had no legal impediment on his desire to become baptized in a Christian church as a young adult).
Refocusing our attention on the voices of young activists here in the kingdom, we must acknowledge that their anger is just, but that there is a massive overlooking of the non-Islamophobia that exists here in Morocco. It may be difficult for many passionate youth in this country to take up the views of those with minority religions in Morocco, seeing as 99% of the population is officially registered as Sunni Muslim. However, a consulting of international human rights law and Moroccan national law displays that non-Muslims in Morocco are deprived of some of the most fundamental human rights protections that Muslims in the U.S. enjoy and prosper in that country under.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the following relevant articles to the field of religion:
Article 16 (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution …
Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
When applied to Morocco, it becomes increasingly obvious that this country is performing poorly in protecting the human rights of religious minorities and that any Moroccan activist angry over Islamophobia abroad should be just as equally stirred to action by Non-Islamophobia here in his homeland.
The violations to Article 16 were covered in detail in my last article and so I will refer readers to that for my opinions on Moroccan marriage law and its violation of human rights by prohibiting interreligious marriage between non-Muslim men and Muslim women. Focusing more on violations of Articles 18 and 19, we see that there are many. Available information on Moroccan citizens shows an immeasurably low number of Bahá’í and Shia Muslims, approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Jews and between 4,000 to 8,000 Christians.
In violation of Article 18, the latter group has their freedom of worship severally restricted to house churches as Moroccan Christians were discouraged from worshipping in Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant denominations with international ties because their presence in such institutions raises concerns that these foreign religious groups are violating the law by proselytizing to Moroccan nationals. Moroccan Christian residents have also reported harassment and acts of intimidation from state authorities.
There are current violations of Article 19 as well that need to be made note of. The sale of Bibles in Arabic is restricted to only a small number of booksellers and many were actually seized by authorities under the auspices of anti-proselytizing laws. Non-Sunni Muslim religious materials were also prohibited from being distributed for free.
Although an important center of Jewish history and culture, there have continued to be incidents of anti-Semitism and the government has much progress to make on King Mohamed VI’s commitment towards education of the holocaust and the combating of anti-Semitism.
Now, returning to our main question, why should young Moroccan social justice activists take up the cause of defending the human rights of non-Muslim Moroccans? First, Muslim Americans and their organizations support many of the freedoms not present in this country. However, the lack of protection of religious minorities in Morocco, a close friend of the U.S., actually helps perpetuate American fear of Muslims.
Second, a human rights activist must be concerned with the human rights of all people in all countries. This means that empathy must be at the center of activism and the causes of all persecuted peoples should be taken up by activists around the world in a spirit of solidarity. A Moroccan activist who criticizes Islamophobia abroad while not advocating for rights for religious minorities at home is not a human rights activist, but rather a triablist only concerned for protecting his own social group. Lastly, this is Morocco and Moroccan human rights activists have a responsibility to not only focus on abuses and threats abroad, but also to focus on improving the human rights record of this country.
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