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Debriefing Doga


Doga’s neighborhood. Labita Dar el Khmis, Fez, October 2003.

eatbees: What’s going on around you in the cybercafé right now?

doga: There’s music, people are talking to each other….

eatbees: Is there a lot of of energy? You’re surrounded by young people, the future of Morocco. Are there any revolutionaries there?

doga: Can’t you think of another way to start the conversation?

eatbees: In your article, you said we should analyze the situation with reality in front of us. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m wondering how the young people around you fit in with what you wrote in the article.

doga: Could you remind me of what I said, exactly?

eatbees: “If we ask these questions with reality in front of us, we will surely find ourselves confronted with the obstacle of ignorance, because as long as people have no understanding of the role oppression plays in their lives, and the ways in which their consent is manufactured in order to better exploit them and profit from them, no attempt at change can be useful. To start with, we need to find ways to stimulate people’s consciousness….”

Do you agree that Fez has a different spirit from the other cities in Morocco? The young people of Fez aren’t like the young people of Tangier, Casablanca or Marrakech.

doga: There are many types of young people, those at the university, and those who never went to school.

eatbees: Do the different types talk to each other? We need to construct Moroccan democracy with the material available to us.

doga: Everyone in Morocco understands the young people’s concerns.

eatbees: Tell me if the students at the university talk to unemployed young people, to hoodlums, mechanics, masons, artisans, butchers and vegetable sellers.

doga: We need to be more specific about what we’re imagining the young people talking about! If you want to know if the university students talk to the unemployed, of course they do, because they live in the same neighborhoods and they’re part of that group.

eatbees: Let’s focus on the subject of Moroccan democracy, because democracy is supposed to built by citizens talking to each other about their situation and about solutions for the future. As you suggested in your article, we need to look for ways to stimulate people’s consciousness. Young people mustn’t make the same mistake made by the previous generation, with everyone seeking his own advantage. It would be better to act in solidarity, without letting barriers of class or education get in the way.

doga: I said that young people discuss their concerns with each other.

eatbees: And then what? In the article, you said it’s time to act.

doga: In my opinion, if we’re going to stimulate people’s consciousness, it isn’t enough for people to talk with each other. People need to understand the roots of their problems. We mustn’t be like the Americans, who launched a war on terrorism without understanding their real enemy! It’s incredibly stupid to go to war without knowing your enemy. That’s a metaphor, of course. I’m saying that to engage people in a discussion on the future of Morocco might not be wise unless they first understand the source of their crisis.

eatbees: How will they understand that, unless they discuss the situation together? I would have thought that by discussing, they could understand better and learn to free themselves from their illusions.

doga: I think we need to set up organizations whose goal is to stimulate people’s consciousness and guide them in the struggle.

eatbees: Like what, exactly? Community activists, social workers, organizations like Al Adl Wal Ihsane, Marxist intellectuals?

doga: The people who abused their power are still there. If the country is ready to move further along the road to justice, then justice won’t escape us even if we have to look for it in the deepest wells. Frankly, I don’t want any organization with an ideology attached. The important thing is that they pay attention to the common good.

eatbees: What difference is there between that, and what I proposed—namely an open discussion guided by people like yourself who’ve already thought things through? Isn’t democracy built day by day, in living rooms, cafés and schools?

doga: I think we agree.

eatbees: Are you waiting for a leader to show the way, or have you already begun?

doga: Despite the ideologues, it’s clear that political power in Morocco is being handled in a more transparent fashion all the time.

eatbees: Are you hoping that as a next step, new associations will emerge that practice democracy in the social arena?

doga: Frankly, I don’t place much faith in associations.

eatbees: Then what? You said that organizations are needed to stimulate people’s consciousness.

doga: Perhaps for the moment, we should follow whoever can offer an effective social program. We could have conferences organized by professors, or by the students themselves….

eatbees: How will you get the uneducated majority involved?

doga: For that, I think we need to do away with ideologies, in order to keep public resources from being used to promote their ideas.

eatbees: That won’t be easy, because ideologues are always the first to take advantage!

doga: Perhaps we should pressure the State to open up the media to the activists, so they can speak to directly to uneducated people in a way they understand.

eatbees: What about music, like Hoba Hoba Spirit?

doga: I don’t think revolutionary music offers much to the uneducated.

eatbees: I remember a famous Brazilian singer who explained that he chose that career because in a nation of illiterates, it was the only way for his poetry to reach the ears of the people. He and his friends started a movement called tropicàlia to stimulate people’s consciousness, like you said.

doga: Jil Jilala has a song that says, “We sang to you so you would understand us, but instead you followed us with drums.”

eatbees: I think music can add something, especially in Morocco where it plays such a central role. Of course it won’t be enough, but in Morocco it’s necessary to speak with music as well as with words. Besides, you want to abolish ideology, and it’s difficult to ideologize with music!

doga: Perhaps we need patriotic music. I recall that in Rwanda once the civil war was over, local music played an important role in stimulating a feeling of solidarity among the people.

eatbees: It’s clear that music is essential to the Moroccan spirit. Since you want to eliminate ideologies from the public space, I assume you’re opposed to both Al Adl Wal Ihsane and Marx?

doga: I won’t take sides with either one, because I think they’re each pulling in only one direction.

eatbees: Do you believe that religion is the opium of the people as Marx says? Isn’t having the light of God in your soul quite different from rolling up your sleeves to make things happen in the world?

doga: That depends. I don’t know much about other religions besides Islam, but the way I look at it is, God has no patience for weak people, especially those who know the Truth and don’t follow it.

eatbees: So you love a militant God.

doga: I love a God who loves fighters for the Truth.

eatbees: Is understanding the Truth difficult or obvious?

doga: The Truth is obvious when it’s in the presence of injustice.

eatbees: That’s like saying a light is more visible when you’re standing in darkness. It’s a paradox, isn’t it, because in approaching the light, in perfecting ourselves, the path becomes less clear.

doga: The light of Truth illumines the spirit, it doesn’t make it darker.

eatbees: You said the Truth is obvious when it’s in the presence of injustice. But if we begin to eliminate injustice, the area will fill with ever more light, until a moment arrives when we are no longer able to distinguish clearly which path is best, because the contrast between injustice and Truth will be less obvious than before.

doga: With the light of Truth, there’s no point in searching for the right path, because it presents itself spontaneously.

eatbees: But in a democracy, there are times when legitimate interests conflict. Imagine that a city wants to develop a port that will create new jobs, but to do this, they need to tear down a neighborhood where people have been living for generations. Figuring out what to do in a case like that isn’t like fighting a tyrant whose evil is obvious.

doga: The Truth is wise by nature, and doesn’t need to calculate.

eatbees: Perhaps in a democracy, the Truth is found in equilibrium, as my friend Xoussef pointed out. I want to quote for you what he wrote me in an e-mail. We were talking about people who limit their own vision, what he called “selective perception.” I asked him, why does this happen? Is it a survival mechanism that allows us to focus on the information we need most? He said that’s fine if it happens “naturally,” but it can be dangerous if we deliberately train our minds to block out information, “because we no longer control it.” Then he applied his idea to society as a whole.

    Maybe a system of government works the same. A political party is supposed to be composed of people who share the same goal and think basically alike. We can assume they would be likely to choose to ignore the same things. The opposition is there to pick up what the government ignored, deliberately or not, and dissidents are there to reveal what the whole established system chose to ignore. It’s all about equilibrium. In a healthy democracy, as long as it works well, there is hope that things will improve. The risk is greater in a place like Morocco.

doga: When we talk about government in Morocco, there’s no point in wondering if it’s effective or not, or if it has opponents or dissidents, because only a narrow segment of society is involved in it.

eatbees: Exactly.

doga: So there’s no risk if we change it. We have nothing to lose.

eatbees: I think you agree with Xoussef, you just don’t understand him yet. He’s saying that since only a narrow segment of society is involved, the government doesn’t have the equilibrium it needs. There are too many forces excluded, too narrow a range of proposals.

doga: He said, “The risk is greater in a place like Morocco.”

eatbees: He meant the risk of things going from bad to worse. Because in one way or another, equilibrium always reestablishes itself.

doga: Things going from bad to worse? I think he’s naïve.

eatbees: Then I’m naïve, and so are you!

doga: Do you think that pressuring the political elite to modify the constitution would make things worse?

eatbees: He’s saying that when it becomes impossible to adjust the balance smoothly, there is the risk of a catastrophic adjustment like an earthquake. Another friend of ours, Hosni, said the same thing, only he used the image of an engine. An engine works according to the principle of pressure and release. If there was no release valve, pressure would build up until there is an explosion. What I want you to notice in Xoussef’s idea is the importance of equilibrium in a democracy.

doga: I understand that.

eatbees: So in what sense is he naïve?

doga: We can also find equilibrium in the various proposals being offered by reformers to stimulate development in Morocco. They don’t all have the same approach, so they balance each other out.

eatbees: In your article, you said that because of ignorance and the history of police repression, there is a risk that the road to change will turn violent in Morocco.

doga: I was saying that’s a bad road, and we musn’t use those methods!

eatbees: That’s clear. So tell me, how is your naïveté different from Xoussef’s? I think you have similar ideas, except Xoussef can’t read the PJD newspaper without an allergic reaction. I guess you have a stronger “intellectual resistance” than he does.

doga: I think I can understand his perspective on reform.

eatbees: He says he can accept a PJD victory as long as it’s the decision of the people, although he wouldn’t like it. He doesn’t want to put the brakes on democracy in Morocco. The problem is that debate has been blocked for so long, it won’t be easy to find the spontaneous balance you both want.

doga: Can you tell me the difference between the PJD and the other large political parties?

eatbees: For me, the PJD has voluntarily kept itself out of power until now because they want to play the game in a more transparent and serious way, and that demands certain reforms. I don’t think there will be a huge change if they win, but it will introduce more competition, and a greater openness of debate.

doga: Do you think Moroccans have a lot of choices in this year’s elections?

eatbees: I think there are three choices. Stick with the political impasse you have now, vote for the PJD and hope for the best, or refuse to vote and stick your heads in the sand.

doga: You only offered one good choice.

eatbees: I offered one choice that’s less bad!

doga: We aren’t aiming for perfection here!

eatbees: I think a PJD victory would open up more possiblities, but as soon as the elections are over and the old guard is out of power, it will be necessary to push as hard as possible for progressive reforms. Let me give you a quote from the blog of Bouba, a Saharaoui. He explains what worries some people about the PJD.

    Now that most of the political parties in this country have been “tried enough,” people are looking for other alternatives. People in low classes, the poor and the very poor are not even in the picture. […] The middle classes have a tight passage to economical stability. They are losing everyday, as more and more space is provided for free zones and international big businesses. The Makhzenian, sherifan and Fassi aristocracies are almost losing grounds for more radical groups that are thought to have finally found the dream and every one will be saved. PJD in its initial form had a unique approach to politics…. In 1992 Abdelilah Benkiran, one of the founding fathers of the PJD ideology, said that “democracy is a necessary evil,” “democracy is a bida’a (bad invention) made by the West to rule the world.”

In 1992, Benkiran was ready to use the “necessary evil” of democracy to gain power, after which his party would install shari’a law. That still scares people, because they wonder if the PJD has revised its goals, or just put on a new mask. You asked me before to give you examples of what bothers people about the PJD, and this is it. Still, I reminded Bouba in my reply that a lot can change in fifteen years. I’m sure the PJD has learned something from the negative example of Algeria, and from the positive example of Turkey. If today’s PJD thinks anything like Tariq Ramadan, I might even celebrate their victory.

doga: In 1992, Abedlilah Benkiran was earning his doctorate. At the time, he was interested in a theory called “true significations and adaptation.” It’s clear that what he was saying in that quote is that when democracy is exported to other countries from the West, it brings with it certain hidden evils due to its lack of adaptation.

eatbees: So you’ve researched this!

doga: Not really. I came across the quote a couple of months ago.

eatbees: I think the important thing to ask is, does the PJD still want to install shari’a law? Do they think the law should be interpreted by judges, or by imams with their fatwas?

doga: You know, imams are forbidden to join the PJD.

eatbees: Really?

doga: You need to understand the PJD’s ideas about reform. Most people who talk about the PJD claim they take their ideas from the time of the Prophet, 1400 years ago. That’s rubbish.

eatbees: Xoussef had an interesting point. He said the real problem isn’t that the PJD will create more repressive laws, but that there are lots of bad laws on the books already. All the PJD would have to do is to enforce them seriously, instead of in the lazy and hypocritcal fashion we see today. Of course, Xoussef isn’t arguing in favor of hypocrisy. He wants to eliminate the bad laws altogether, without having to feel their weight. For that to happen, the PJD would need to be more progressive and tolerant than the current system.

doga: At this point the PJD hasn’t even decided if it will try to form a government, or if it will remain in opposition like it is now.

eatbees: I told Xoussef that until a few years ago, there was a law in Texas like there still is in Morocco, saying that two men caught having sex can be thrown in jail. This law had been around for years and its opponents had been unable to change it, until one day, more or less by accident, police found two men in the same bed and decided to press charges. A journalist asked the police chief why he was harrassing these two men who hadn’t hurt anyone, and he replied, “I’ve always felt that the best way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it.” And he was right, because the case made its way to the Supreme Court and the law was overturned. But Xoussef doesn’t want to go through all that just to get rid of bad laws. He wants to see them elminated, not enforced. He wants to leave the choice to the individual as we do in the West. The problem is, I don’t see any political party that has the courage to say that.

doga: Courage to say what?

eatbees: That laws against gays, or banning the sale of alcohol to Muslims should be eliminated. Or that the constitution should be changed to remove the phrase that says Morocco is an Islamic state.

doga: There are people with the courage to say we shouldn’t arrest people for buying alcohol.

eatbees: That’s not the same as eliminating the law. Having a law on the books that you don’t enforce is the very definition of hypocrisy.

doga: There are people with the courage to say we should remove the phrase that says Morocco is an Islamic state.

eatbees: Usually the answer I get when I suggest that is, “We are Muslims here. We are an Islamic nation!” Which may be true on a cultural level, but I don’t think it belongs in the constitution.

doga: When we talk about reform, we need to take into account all the different proposals that are being made, otherwise we won’t make progress and we’ll spend our whole lives repeating the sort of examples you’ve mentioned.

eatbees: One thing is clear, the debate needs to open up.

doga: There already is a debate, but it’s invisible for the most part.

eatbees: That’s why blogs are ahead of the crowd. They help to expose the debate even if the media are afraid to do it.

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