Morocco's Progression, U.S. Regression

In the United States, we pride ourselves on our freedom, and one of those liberties is religious freedom. Certainty, the United States is religiously more tolerant than many other countries, but the growing islamophobia since 9/11 has really revealed how intolerant of another faith we can be. In the US, we have a presidential candidate stating that a Muslim cannot be president, 40% North Carolina Republicans thinking Islam should be illegal, and a Party that demonizes religious minorities such as the recent target, Muslims. On the contrary, Islamic countries like Morocco have been progressing in religious tolerance.

The new Moroccan constitution rewritten in 2011, gives the right of religious freedom. Even though Morocco’s state religion is Islam, the tolerance given to certain communities has been progressing. Morocco has consistently encouraged Moroccans of Jewish descent to run for office and play a role in politics, leading to Serge Berdugo and Andre Azoulay to serve as Ambassador at Large and Counselor to the King, respectively. Morocco is also the first Arab state to formally acknowledge the Holocaust and it’s tragedy. The Government provides protection to Jewish members, visitors and institutions, as well as the foreign Christian community in Morocco. Another recent positive development was the authorization to hold a public funeral for a Shia cleric (in a Sunni society) this past March. However, no country is perfect, and the converted Moroccan Christians still suffer societal discrimination and often neglect or persecution on the basis of proselytizing (converting or attempting to convert someone from one religion, belief, or opinion to another) by the police. Societal discrimination and harassment has led many Moroccan Christians to practice behind closed doors and fearful to attend masses held by foreign operated churches. Before we criticize Morocco, we have to realize that this constitution was only rewritten four years ago. We have to also realize that this discrimination stems from a minority of Moroccans, and since 2011, there has been considerable progress.

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It is the largest mosque in Morocco.

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It is the largest mosque in Morocco.

Just last week, I was taking a train from Tangier back to Meknes and had a discussion about religion with a Moroccan family (one of many similar discussions). Their responses were very comforting on how far religious tolerance has come. They asked me if I was religious at all, I told them that I am a non-practicing, baptized Catholic. They then went on talking about the qualities of a Catholic upbringing and the similarity it holds with Islam. The husband, Hassan, even mentioned the stupidity of religious fighting, stating “It’s so ridiculous that we fight over faith, when we all share a commonality, Abraham, if anything this should unite us.”  He then went on talking about American view points and also stated “I wish more Americans understand that radical Islam is a small minority and that in Morocco, we despise ISIS, Al Qaeda and others because they are not practicing true Islam.”

We are so quick to judge Muslims and bundle them in the same corner with extremists, when we can’t even fathom learning about Islamic culture and it’s history against radicalism. Not to mention, few deem Catholicism’s Canon Law and Judaism’s Halakhah as dangers to society in the popular media. This past week, parents in outer suburb of Atlanta were livid that their middle- school children were learning about Islam more than Christianity. This is just one of many instances where American fear of other cultures and religions hold back the potential for progress. What’s worst is our ignorance on Middle Eastern culture prohibits us from differentiating a Sikh from a Muslim. Recently in Chicago, a Sikh man was mistaken as a Muslim, attacked and called a terrorist, when Sikhs most notably come from India and are not Muslim.

Catholic church which houses Cameroonian refugees in Meknes, Morocco

Catholic church which houses Cameroonian refugees in Meknes, Morocco

It can be argued that the United States’ law still protects religious minorities more so than Moroccan law, but if we really dig deeper, we find still an unfair treatment towards American Muslims. Former congressional candidate Robert Doggart was arrested for threatening to use his M-4, pistol and machete to stab, shoot and firebomb a Muslim community in upstate New York. This past summer, Robert Doggart was released on bail from prison because a federal judge determined that prosecutors failed to construct “clear and convincing evidence” that his release would pose “an unreasonable danger.”[1] The fact that the judge deemed him not a reasonable danger to society is ridiculous and to say that a Muslim in the exact same situation would be treated the same is another ludicrous fantasy.

In the U.S, there are of course people who understand the intolerance we have towards certain religious groups, and this goes for Moroccans as well. However, Morocco is continuing its progress in correcting their wrongs one day at a time, while the U.S. is still holding onto increasing feelings of islamophobia, and is reluctant to accept the full spectrum of American identities. This has only been augmented by false preaching from politicians who capitalize on American trauma, fear, and the lack of awareness of Muslim and Middle Eastern culture.

[1] Jalabi, Raya. "Release of Man Who Threatened Islamberg Hamlet Prompts Outcry." July 7, 2015. Accessed October 21, 2015.

Nicholas Hirsch is one of Roosevelt @ DU's international correspondents currently studying abroad in Meknes, Morocco. He is an International Studies major at the University of Denver.