Rabat - Is it right to boycott Saad Lamjarred’s songs? Does boycotting blur the lines between the artist as a person and his art? To what extent should an artist be boycotted?
Rabat – Is it right to boycott Saad Lamjarred’s songs? Does boycotting blur the lines between the artist as a person and his art? To what extent should an artist be boycotted?
The old debate about separating the deed from the doer has resurged in many Moroccan circles in the past weeks as Saad Lamjarred, the 33-year-old Moroccan singer, awaits trials in a French jail for two rape charges.
For a large number of women’s rights activists, trying—or eventually convicting—Lamjarred is not enough to quell the “rape culture” that he embodies. They argue that the singer’s songs should be boycotted to ensure a “meaningful step” towards ridding Morocco of its predominantly patriarchal culture.
Boycotting Lamjarred, they hope, will deter many other men.
And so critics are now venting their outrage on various platforms on social media, using the hashtag #Masaktach (I will not be hushed) to call on Moroccan radio stations to join the boycott initiative.
Calling Lamjarred a “serial rapist,” former Reuters journalist Samia Erazzouki suggested to Moroccan radio stations on Twitter that boycotting Lamjarred was a necessary step in the fight against “rape culture” and the silencing of women.
“Which side are you on?” Erazzouki asked confrontationally in her tweet, framing the issue in terms of a zero-sum game between those who value women’s rights and those who condone the misogynist culture that Lamjarred is believed to represent.
The wave of online condemnation eventually prompted Hit Radio and Radio 2M, the country’s leading radio stations, to chime in with critics. Both radios announced their decision to stop playing the accused’s songs, citing their concern for women’s rights and dignity as their motive.
Despite the online boycott and the seriousness of the charges Lamjarred is facing, some of the singer’s loyal devotees do not seem to have been impressed. Unencumbered by the sustained call-out targeting their talismanic star, their love for and devotion to Lamjarred seem to have doubled as a result of the web of accusations and condemnation he now finds himself in.
“Saad Lamjarred, the Moroccan pop star, needs the help of Maitre Dupont-Moretti,” read a petition launched by the singer’s fans. They hoped to garner enough public support to convince Moretti, the “illustrious” French attorney, to “come back and save [Lamjarred’s] future.”
(Moretti had earlier announced that he was no longer part of Lamjarred’s defense team. The French lawyer claimed that the Moroccan singer was deaf to his numerous warnings about public exposure.)
Short as only a desperate cry for help can be, the fans’ petition presented him as a victim who, having fallen in a “trap,” probably set by “haters,” now more than ever needs the “heartfelt” support of his fans and the “illustrious” services of his former attorney.
Call-out Feminism and Collective Hypocrisy
But there is a third group that has emerged out of the Olympian social media feud opposing the singer’s boycotters and his saviors.
Proponents of the emerging ‘third way’—let’s call them that—are now venting their frustration at both groups. They lash out at the singer’s fans for their cultish tendency and their sheep-like readiness to support a celebrity no matter what. But they are equally disapproving of Twitter critics, whom they portray as hypocrites and circumstantial condemners calling out a culture they helped to sustain and perpetuate in the first place.
“Some of my friends who are very sensitive about anything feminist promised to boycott me—it is fashionable now—if I ever said something on this sacrilegious topic,” read the opening sentence of Naim Kamal’s article in L’Observateur’s September 28 issue.
Kamal, who by “sacrilegious topic” meant the ongoing Lamjarred affair, voiced his disappointment at the decision to boycott the artist’s songs. He emphasized the presumption of innocence principle, writing that however grave the charges, “only the court has the legal mandate to decide.”
Arguing that Lamjarred, even if found guilty, should not be confused with his songs, Kamal continued, hammering home his point about call-out culture and collective hypocrisy:
“This is mob justice. It stems from the crowd, the mob, and [social] conditioning. Nothing can be more execrable.… We danced, we sang; we even loved to the sound of Lamjarred’s music,” he wrote. He ironically asked how everyone readily celebrated the person they are now cursing, conveniently failing to notice all that time that his lyrics were in fact “misogynist and a bad example for Morocco’s youth.”
Some may welcome the fact that people are actually talking about salient social issues that require social dialogue.
However, it is debatable whether there is any novelty to this Lamjarred episode, and whether the whole thing is not merely another temporary online storm after which things will go back to normal, as if nothing ever happened, as if some lives are condemned to be mildly spoken about on Twitter and Facebook.
In the aftermath of the Khadija affair, a group rape allegation that stirred another social media storm, Moroccan novelist Abdellah Taia remarked: “This is unfortunately a matter that may be forgotten next week. Or perhaps next month. We will pass on to something else. There will be another cause for collective uproar. Nothing will be done. Society will not even try to find a solution.” And indeed: Who is now speaking about Khadija?
Taia may have slightly exaggerated; he may have been carried away by the urgency of the moment. Or, as a writer, he may have deliberately given in to his writerly inclination towards linguistic theatrics, choosing to bring emotion and engagement to the page in order to galvanize his readers.
But beyond the slight writerly slide into the emotional, Taia’s lines ring true and relevant in this Lamjarred affair: Morocco is still undecided about its men.