After false reports of the philosopher’s death went viral for the second time this year, many Moroccans are concerned about social media’s credibility and role in news dissemination.
Rabat — Esteemed Moroccan professor and intellectual Abdallah Laroui is “still alive” and “doing well,” according to a statement from his editor after rumors circulated yesterday that Laroui had died.
Laroui is a Moroccan philosopher and historian whose French and Arabic-language works focus on Islam, nationalism, and modern Arab ideologies. He ranks among the Arab world’s most widely-read philosophers.
Social media rumors
At 9 pm (GMT +1) on March 15, Moroccan social media users began disseminating false reports that Laroui had died, allegations that quickly became a “trending topic” on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It is unclear where the viral claims began.
Despite the claims being unsubstantiated, it wasn’t long before media outlets picked up the story. Leading French-language newspaper Le360 published a since-retracted article at 9:40 pm titled “World-renowned intellectual Abdallah Laroui dies at the age of 88.”
The rumors continued to fester for around two hours after the original allegations, when Laroui’s family released a statement on Moroccan television network 2M debunking false reports of the philosopher’s death.
“This rumor has become unbearable,” the statement read. “Ssi Abdallah does not even know about it. He is in the middle of watching a video peacefully at home.”
Around the same time, the Book Cultural Center in Casablanca released an official statement via the organization’s Facebook page confirming the writer was still alive.
“May God forgive you, Dr. Abdallah Laroui is in good health, may God prolong his life,” the Center wrote. “Stop your allegations.”
Moroccan journalist and broadcaster Tourabi Abdellah absconded social media users and news outlets for their hasty hysteria and for acting despite lack of evidence.
“Once again, in the name of God, it is shameful what you all are doing with these rumors about Abdallah Laroui’s death,” the journalist wrote on his Facebook page.
This is the second time in six weeks that false reports of the philosopher’s death have circulated on social media.
On February 5, users flooded Twitter with similar rumors that Laroui had died and their condolences to the professor’s family. The allegations were later debunked by Laroui’s team.
After Laroui’s second false death scandal of 2021, many Moroccans are pointing the finger at rushed reporting and a social media culture that goads users to react without all the necessary information.
“The second false death of Abdallah Laroui reminds us that not only information professionals but also all citizens must turn their ten fingers at least seven times before interacting with the online news feeds that will only continue to accelerate,” wrote Moroccan website Le1.
Abdallah Laroui’s career and works
Laroui was born in 1933 in Azemmour, a small city of around 40,000 residents situated 75km southwest of Casablanca. The philosopher split his early educational years between French institutions in Marrakech, Casablanca, and Rabat.
Upon his graduation from high school in 1953, Laroui relocated to Paris to study history and economics at the Institute of Political Sciences, or Sciences Po Paris. He later returned to Morocco to serve as an assistant professor of history at Mohammed V University in Rabat.
Laroui published some of his most notable works while working at the university.
In 1976, the professor wrote “Algeria and the Moroccan Sahara,” a 156-page book defending “Morocco’s historical and judicial” rights in Western Sahara. The piece centers on themes of territorial integrity, auto-determination, and the dissemination of propaganda.
The same year, Laroui defended his doctorate with a thesis titled “The social and cultural origins of Moroccan nationalism, 1830-1912.” The essay was published the following year.
In total, the philosopher and historian published five novels between 1976 and 1998 alongside a distinguished collection of shorter works.
Detractors of Laroui’s work have accused the philosopher of lacking “objectivity” in his writing, accusing the writer of approaching his analysis of the past with an agenda.
However, fellow historian and analyst Mustapha Bouaziz defended Laroui’s controversial methodology in a recent interview. Bouaziz maintains that no historian can be completely objective in his or her analysis, rather arguing that Laroui’s trend of leaning into his alleged biases is a deliberate component of his style.
“Abdallah Laroui is an internationally renowned intellectual. He is not only a historian but also a thinker and novelist,” Bouaziz explained. “He is a personality who is interested in cultural production and at the same time participates, through his capacity as a researcher, in the elaboration of a certain representation of the past.”
Throughout his career, Laroui has received numerous awards for his writing and has earned his place among the Arab world’s most-read philosophers.
In 2017, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award (SZBA) — one of the world’s leading literary prizes — named Laroui the “Cultural Personality of the Year” for his “well-founded thought movement and cultural momentum that spanned across the entire Arab World.” The award is the foundation’s most prestigious honor and is accompanied by a 300,000 AED (USD $735,000) prize.
Despite recurring rumors of Laroui’s death, it is clear that the author’s works are very much alive.
In explaining their rationale, the SZBA selection committee underlined the lasting cultural importance of Laroui’s writing on contemporary Arab political and cultural thought.
“His valuable contribution surpassed academic institutes and scientific bodies to influence Arab political thinking as well as inspire numerous cultural and literary practices,” the committee said.