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Victory, of a Sort

I have to take it as good news that the sentence handed down today in Morocco against the magazine Nichane and its two journalists, editor Driss Ksikes and author Sanaa Elaji, was as light as it was. Instead of sending the journalists to jail for 3–5 years and banning them from practicing their profession (as the prosecutor had demanded), judge Noureddine Ghassin gave them a three-year suspended sentence and a fine of 80,000 dirhams each (about $9200). In the same vein, instead of banning Nichane permanently, he banned it for only two months, with the first month already behind us.

The defense team is of course appealing the sentence, but given our worst fears, we have to see this as a victory. It is not an ideal victory, but at least the government has stopped short of throwing people in jail for telling jokes, thus sparing themselves further embarassment in the civilized world. Driss and Sanaa will remain free, they will keep working, and Nichane will be back on the stands in March. All in all, it looks like the internet solidarity campaign and increasing international publicity have worked to influence the decision.

Ever the pessimist, Larbi comments on his blog, “Now we’ve gotten to the stage [in Morocco] where a suspended prison sentence seems like an act of clemency. Do you see where we’ve gotten?” But the French newspaper Libération says simply, “They won.”

    The case stirred up as much indignation as it did genuine incredulity, because this is taking place in a country considered the freest in the Arab world, with its young king Mohammed VI who presents himself as a modern reformer. […] Did the authorities back down out of fear of seeing the case gain in international notoriety and take on the overtones of the Danish caricatures?

I think the expression on Driss Ksikes’ face in the photo says it all. At a time when few professional journalists in Morocco came to Nichane’s defense, the blogosphere rallied and changed the terms of the debate. In this sense, Morocco is simply replaying the experience Americans have had in criticizing the war in Iraq, or the illegal spying of the Bush administration. Eventually, “fringe” views become the mainstream. For an example of how the Nichane story has spread, just check out this article that appeared today in the Los Angeles Times.

    King Mohammed VI’s father stifled public discourse and tortured opponents for decades, but the new ruler has enhanced civil liberties, particularly for women. That Al Aji has become the first female reporter to face prison time in Morocco is a perverse sign of progress in gender equality.

That’s not your typical Moroccan-style journalism, is it? It’s probably this type of criticism that the Moroccan State was avoiding in handing down a modest sentence. Today is a day for a sigh of relief, if not outright celebration at the influence citizen bloggers can have.

Here is my earlier coverage of this story: first alert, the jokes, the petition, more jokes, the trial.

UPDATE: Sanaa Elaji, author of the article in question, had this comment tonight (#31) on Larbi’s blog:

    Thank you to all the forces and free spirits that support us… What is happening will not prevent us from continuing to dream of a freer Morocco, of constructing it and recreating it each day. What is happening will not in any way change our vision of love, truth, freedom, the sacred, citizenship, democracy, and all the beautiful values that mobilize us. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

Comments

Comment from nichani
Time: January 15, 2007, 18:02

hello
i think it’s a victory and sure, next time teh judges will gave less than 3years
the imporatant thing is that we are losing so much of that little freedom we have recent years
only the bloggers and some journalists had backed nichane ..
===
ps:the link to nichane web site you are using is not correct
the right one is http://www.nichane.ma
that url http://nichani.wordpress.com is only a solidarity blog made by a moroccan blogger
me
thanx sir

Comment from Yahia
Time: January 15, 2007, 19:28

Let’s celebrate
Eatbees, throw a party for everyone (:

Comment from Ibn Kafka
Time: January 15, 2007, 19:37

I wouldn’t celebrate – this is exactly what the authorities would like us to do, to celebrate after a couple of journalists have been sentenced to a suspended jail term for publishing some jokes. This verdict will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the independent press. No laughing matter at all, even if I rejoice at the prospect that Ksiked and Al Aji will not spend some time behind bars.

Comment from Myrtus
Time: January 15, 2007, 19:41

Let’s celebrate indeed! Woohoooo Moroccans rrruuuuule! BIG hugs! (:

Comment from Myrtus
Time: January 15, 2007, 19:50

We’re not laughing at anybody here, Ibn Kafka. We are merely rejoycing at the fact that justice has been served (at least somewhat), although not at its fullest extent….the most important thing is nobody is going to jail for practicing their freedom of speech. I for one see that as a huge reason to celebrate. Baby steps, my friend. If anything, I think the Moroccan authorities deserve a good pat on the back for taking a “moderate” stance to resolve this crisis.

Comment from Liosliath
Time: January 15, 2007, 20:17

Oh, thank god. Is anyone taking up a collection to cover part of the fine?

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 15, 2007, 21:25

@nichani—Are you the person who maintains that site? If so, congratulations, it’s been a great source of information. I linked there as a good place to learn more about the case. The Nichane site is down except for their communiqué and petition.

@Yahia—First we need to decide if we’re celebrating, as you can see from some of the other comments!

Let me remind everyone that several Tunisian blogs are still censored, blogger Kareem is still in jail in Egypt, the Egyptian police are still torturing people, and of course the situation in Iraq isn’t getting any better. This is a small step and is only a “victory” because it isn’t a tragedy! Still, I think that bloggers did some good here.

@Ibn Kafka—I agree with Myrtus, “baby steps.” The problem is, interpretation of these laws is so subjective, it’s hard to even know where the red lines are! They need to be tested little by little, sometimes through sacrifice. We have a saying, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” This isn’t as bad as I’d feared or as good as I’d hoped, but I remain an optimist in the long run.

@Myrtus—We agree again. This is getting weird!

@Lioslath—Our friend Adel suggested the same thing you did, a collection to pay the fine, in a comment on Larbi.org. I’m not sure if anyone’s taken it on themselves to organize that. Someone let me know if it’s happening, and I’ll post an update.

Comment from ayoub
Time: January 16, 2007, 05:02

Actually, I don’t agree with you eatbees nor with Myrtus.

I don’t think it’s a sigh of relief that the two journalists didn’t go to jail.
The consequence of this trial is that the other journalists may not have ‘the courage’ to write whatever they wants. It’s a warning for the two journalists and all their colleague.
Do not forget that this case was about Jokes…

I am quite sure that it would be far more iniquitous if the journalist wrote about the Monarchy or something else.

Comment from adel
Time: January 16, 2007, 05:53

So so is good, very good, very excellent good: and yet it is not; it is but so so. — William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”

Comment from Yahia
Time: January 16, 2007, 06:14

Well, sorry to maybe disappoint someone, but I didn’t really mean my 1st comment, and am still undecided about Nichane’s case. That’s my two cents

Comment from Jill
Time: January 16, 2007, 06:14

I’m thankful that they won’t be serving prison terms, and hopeful that some good has come out of this (the hopefully upcoming change in the 50-years-outdated Press Code).

Thanks again for covering this so well and for all of the new links!

And please keep us posted if you hear of a collection – I’ll throw in 500dh.

Comment from nichani
Time: January 16, 2007, 07:48

yes it’s me !
well thank you too sir !!

Comment from Myrtus
Time: January 16, 2007, 07:51

A collection sounds great! I’d personally vote for Larbi to do it, but I’ll be happy to do it myself if no one else wants to take on the resposibility.

Eetbees, you are great company indeed! :D

And BTW centrists and libertarians do usually agree on many things, it is on matters of government where most of their disagreements occur, no?

Comment from Cat In Rabat
Time: January 16, 2007, 07:54

I have to reiterate Ibn Kafka’s comments.

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 16, 2007, 08:22

To those who think we shouldn’t be celebrating:

I admit it, maybe “celebrate” the right word. But I’m an optimist by nature. If I didn’t think blogging could make a difference, I wouldn’t be doing it. I was inspired by the way bloggers turned public opinion around in America, and quite possibly helped the Democrats to win control of Congress two months ago.

When no one else came to the defense of Nichane, bloggers did. The story began to get more circulation, not just in Morocco but worldwide. This must have played some role in the government moderating its stance, so that we got a less-than-worst-case-scenario yesterday.

In no way do I think that Morocco’s problems are now solved! This case does nothing for press freedom or an independent judiciary. Maybe, as some suggest, it was even a step backward. And let’s be clear, Driss and Sanaa should never have been brought to trial at all! But why are we squabbling over whether the glass is half empty or half full? There are many more “good fights” still ahead :)

Comment from Cat In Rabat
Time: January 16, 2007, 18:11

Well said but perhaps this is more of a victory for bloggers than for journalism in Morocco. It feels like a milk sop thrown in everyone’s path.

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 16, 2007, 18:28

Let’s not trip over it then! (or stop to eat it—whatever one does with a milk sop).

Comment from Hashmat Moslih
Time: January 18, 2007, 09:55

“freedom of speech” really means the right to attack. So please expect the right to defense too.
It all begins with “demonizing” the “other” and to do so you must first ridicule and trivialize it, make it not worthy of life and death. People take and find comfort in things, be it tangible objects or an ideas, the more they find it comforting the more they hold it dear, it reaches to a point where one find meaning through that thing and they are ready to die for it. So when one find the thing of the other not comforting, they try to say it is not worthy of admiration and it should not be held dearly to die for. (remember dying for something is a level in the many levels of how much something is dear for you) And the best way to illustrate its unworthiness it is turned into jokes.(jokes also need to be categorized as neutral and non neutral which again depends on ones opinion) They do not realize that the issue for others is very important, or some times they do realize but would like to cause pain, so they make fun of it and claim the right to free speech. This creates conflict. The role of the government has been in theory to bring about harmony, that which the majority agree upon says democracy. Freedom of speech ferments the seeds of action that is where the fear comes from. This the reason why you should not make jokes about the jews, because it will lead to a state of mind where a jew is seen unworthy and killing 8 million would be of no consequence. This is happening to the Muslims today. The blood of a Muslim, depending on how much he is practicing, goes down in price. A Muslim is a illogical dogmatic person often with a beard and their women cover their heads with a towel. They must be of an inferior genetic pool, if not, how could they believe so dearly to some thing so wrong, so lets fire our logic guided missiles of “freedom of speech” at them in order to free them or perhaps free ourselves of them, they are illogical and therefore pose a threat to our logical way!

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 18, 2007, 15:39

@Hashmat — I think I understand where you’re coming from, and I will be the first to join you in defending Muslims against those who demonize them as the “other.” I will also defend gays, Jews, women or poor people against those who demonize them as the “other.” Indeed the whole point of this blog is to show that Muslims are not the “other” and the West is not the “other” but we all share the same space, the same rights and responsibilities as human beings, the same intelligence!

That said, I think your argument falls apart for the simple reason that the jokes Nichane published are told by Moroccans (i.e. Muslims) for other Moroccans (i.e. Muslims). Nichane didn’t invent anything, these jokes and others like them have been part of Moroccan culture for centuries. Their “sin” was to bring what had been private into the open. I would argue that this is the price of being a modern society, which Morocco aspires to be. Modernity = transparency and that means a certain vulgarization of the public discourse. That’s a huge subject in itself!

So the question here isn’t non-Muslims mocking Muslims, but rather, Moroccan Muslims making fun of themselves. When Jewish comedians make fun of Jewish culture, or when African Americans “use the N word,” this is not the same thing as when someone from outside the community does the same thing out of hate. So while I understand your sensitivity about people who see Muslims as inferior, or illogical, or as nothing but “beards and veils,” that isn’t what is happening here.

Comment from Hashmat Moslih
Time: January 22, 2007, 10:18

eatbees-
first of all there is a need in defining who is a Muslim. this is a question that i find very difficult to work with and yet i realize it is a very important one. you see, if i were to say A is a communist who believes in privet ownership of land and factories he also happen to believe that Marx and Lenin as well as Trotsky and not to forget Moe all had it wrong. would you say that my analysis of A being a communist is correct? or if i were to say B is a capitalist and believes that no one should have the right to privet ownership, would you still regard B as a capitalist? on the other hand anyone who claim to be a Muslim regardless of their action and beliefs is regarded as a Muslim!
On the issue of tolerating homosexuals or for that mater fornicators adulterers child molesters and etc are all condemned by Islam and Muslims have no choice but to accept that, not accepting is a sin that puts one outside of the fold of Islam. Now weather this is right or wrong is a different mater but the fact is, this is Islam. There is no compulsion in religion and certainly it is not a Buffet where you pick and chose what you like to have, in Islam one does not get to pick and chose another words Islam is not a liberal democracy. It is a case of take it or leave it. Those who say -but we do pick and chose and we can pick and chose, I say, surly you can do what you like, just like the person who says I am a Republican and believe in Monarchy. No one can make him not to believe in such a theory. But the question remains- is that person a Republican? Bush says he loves humanity and freedom!

On the issue of being modern and modernity = transparency I would disagree. The Arab world needs to become technological and develop its primary industries to a point of self sufficiency, this would give it the tool for prosperity but the culture to prosperity requires a just mentality a mentality of humility and piety which would function at the individual level. At the structural level power must to be decentralized and local governments must be given more power.
Modernity has its roots in enlightenment which was more of a reaction to church and Christianity. Modernity is a bi product of that allergy it has no moral heart, all modernity has is a complex against religion, it tries to distance itself from religion as much as possible and that is why in modernity everything goes, it is an all round entertainer like a colorful clown attractive to child like mentalities of goodness, however, with the difference that the children’s mentality of goodness is out of innocence and developing.
Modernity = arrogance, it is a path that will take you to become America. Is America transparent on issues when it matter to be transparent? What is the point of fact finding committees when those committees are established after crimes are committed. The war criminals who gun downed women and children in Haditha , what happened to them? Where is Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of the gang? Modernity means might is right the rest of it is just a struggle to the top. (remember that it was Modernity with its “scientific objective truth” and the age of pure reason that brought about the Doctors “scientific objective” research which concluded that being a Homosexual is a genetic things. Would you accept if Doctors did another “scientific objective” research concluding that being a pedophile is also a genetic thing?)
You mentioned that those jokes were amongst the people of Morocco all he did was to bring them to the magazine. Well, Islam does not belong to the Moroccans, you can make fun of your king as much as you like. You can make a hole in your privet boat but not in a one that belongs to all. I am sure there are jokes regarding women should they be publish? If a woman magazine published jokes on husbands beating their wives would it make it okay? I wonder what would BBC, CNN and FOX would do? And where would modernity be?

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 23, 2007, 05:50

@Hashmat — I’m glad you say the question of “who is Muslim” is a hard one, because just as not everyone can be Muslim, it’s also true that some people (Zarqawi is an extreme case) define Muslim much too narrowly. There is a wide range of interpretation of what is permissible and what is not. Just as in other religions, there are those who take a very strict view of the Qur’an and insist that nothing has changed across the centuries, while there are those who focus on the “spirit” of Islam.

I am one who focuses on the “spirit.” (I don’t think you’ll call me a Muslim, but I hope you’ll consider me a sympathizer.) From reading the Qur’an, it is clear that anyone will go to Paradise who believes in Allah, His Prophets, His Angels, His Books, and the Last Day. Why? Because it says so. From that, I think it is possible to argue that we are free to “follow the rules” or not, and the judgment is between us and Allah. I would gladly take Allah’s judgment over that of a human, because I know that Allah will take everything into account (what in court are called “extenuating circumstances”) and is ar-Rahman, ar-Rahim.

We can get into a long theological discussion, but frankly, while Islam clearly forbids certain behavior, no one is perfect and so there must be room for “imperfect Muslims” or there would be no Muslims at all! I believe that the heart of Islam, as with any religion, is tolerance. I have no problem seeing Islam exist in the modern world where drinking, or gays, or sexy clothes are tolerated. Islam is in the heart of each person, and a “sinner” can be a believer more than someone who does all the prayers but is corrupt in his heart.

So, I don’t agree with you on this one, I don’t think Islam is “a case of take it or leave it.” In fact, I think it’s a process, a spiritual path. We are always getting closer to the goal but can never say “I made it — no more work to do.” Can we as humans say which of us is furthest along the path? Can we see in others’ hearts? The Qur’an cautions us many times that we cannot know what Allah knows. So how can we judge who is “really” Muslim and who is not?

About modernity, I understand your point of view and I’ve heard it before, but I don’t agree that “all modernity has is a complex against religion.” America for example is one of the most religious nations on Earth — frankly, too religious for my taste! Humans have never given up looking for the spiritual, and a big part of the inspiration for the Enlightenment was a need to free the belief of the individual from the chains of dogma. My experience in Morocco tells me that the Islamic world too has its share of “spiritual chains.”

About science, saying that homosexuality is genetic is not a moral judgment, any more than saying cancer is genetic, which is also true. (To be more accurate about it, both genetics and the environment come into play.) I will tell you as clearly as I can that I have no problem accepting the evidence of reality in place of belief. If belief conflicts with evidence, then belief is wrong. There is something called the scientific method, they don’t just make this stuff up. Bush got us into the war in Iraq, and we are still in it, because he puts belief ahead of reality and refuses to change his mind. As we can see, that turns people into criminals or makes them crazy, which is not a good way to run a society.

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