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Petition to Defend Nichane

Thanks to Ibn Kafka for pointing the way to this petition in defense of Nichane, the Moroccan magazine that has gotten into hot water for publishing a collection of popular jokes. If anyone still needs to know the “backstory” to this, I have written about it here and here.

The petition is not just a statement of support for Nichane, but a call to change the laws governing the press in Morocco.

    We…strongly condemn the unlawful ban imposed on Nichane…and the legal proceedings started against the editor and a journalist working for the magazine…. We maintain that the ban is illegal and…reinforces the extra-judiciary repressive measures already in force. While we express our full and wholehearted solidarity with Nichane…we reiterate our plea for the amendment of liberticidal laws regarding freedom of the press and freedom of opinion and thought.

Like putting blank posts on our blogs in solidarity with censored blogs in Tunisia, this is a symbolic gesture that isn’t likely to put any real pressure on the Moroccan government, but it may serve to let a few more people know what is happening. As Ibn Kafka put it, “I’m not sure this is of much concrete benefit, but in any case it can’t do any harm.”

NOTE TO READERS: I know it’s counterintuitive to a lot of you, but does anyone have evidence of Islamic political groups defending Nichane’s rights in this case, or the broader right to freedom of opinion as expressed above? If so, I would love to hear about this.

In case you’re wondering why I ask, it’s because the same principle that defends Nichane’s right to tell jokes also defends the rights of Islamic groups to call for alternative forms of government in Morocco, or to express themselves in Europe where they are in the minority. “What goes around comes around,” whether tolerance or oppression. Free speech must be defended even when we don’t agree with it. Are there are any Islamic groups progressive enough to grasp this principle?

UPDATE: Ibn Kafka has responded to my plea with the following quote by PJD official Mohamed Yatim, from an interview with Al Jazeera. The quote is referred to in the editorial A Horrible Misunderstanding in TelQuel, the sister publication of Nichane, explaining their side of the controversy.

    “Even the Islamic party, while pointing out that it disapproves of the publication of these jokes, shows that it understands the situation, and gives assurances that it is in no one’s interest to unleash a spiral of terror and fanaticism that could prove uncontrollable.”

I also heard from a friend that the PJD is prepared to accept the written apology Nichane has prepared, and sees no reason for criminal prosecution, but until I see confirmation of this it has to be considered wishful thinking. To balance out the (admittedly slim) signs of accommodation, this is from the same TelQuel editorial cited above:

    Voices are raised here and there all over, in Moroccan (and sometimes foreign) religious groups, official or underground, to call for “washing away the odious offense done to Muslims” by taking “the most extreme measures” against Nichane and its journalists. These last now feel, with good reason, that their physical safety is in danger because of the excessive publicity given to this controversy.

Indeed, someone wrote into the website Refusenik, a supporter of Nichane, asking that a picture of Sanaa Elaji, author of the article in question, be taken down in order to protect her safety. This is no children’s game. Inflammatory statements about “taking extreme measures” have been taken literally in the past, and should be clearly condemned by responsible religious leaders.


Comment from hum
Time: December 27, 2006, 14:57

c’est une situation bizarre
liberté d’expression ou liberté d’impression
car nichane se defend en disant que ce n’est pas son expression il faut savoir !

Comment from eatbees
Time: December 27, 2006, 15:42

Alors ces blagues-là  sont glissées dans leur journal par hasard…? :)

Comment from jilal
Time: December 27, 2006, 17:31

Le journal nichane je ne connaissais pas auparavant mais d’aprés la blogsphére marocaine,il me semble que ce journal est ecrit par le peuple lui mé represente quelque part la vie quotidienne du citoyen marocain..comme le canard enchainé par exemple ..à mon avis on devrait pas interdire ce genre de journaux..
j’ai signé la pétition.;
Merci eatbees..

Comment from Ibn Kafka
Time: December 28, 2006, 08:47

I read in Tel Quel’s editorial on the Nichane prohibition (available here) that a PJD MP, Mohamed Yatim, had shown great restraint when commenting upon this on Al Jazeera. Apparently, PJD’s leadership was keen on not inflaming the situation further: “Même le parti islamiste, tout en signifiant qu’il désapprouve la publication de ces blagues, se montre compréhensif et assure qu’il n’est dans l’intérêt de personne de déclencher une spirale de terreur et de fanatisme qui pourrait s’avérer incontrôlable”, writes Tel Quel, never a great fan of the PJD. This shows, I think, the great value of having a legal islamist party, well integrated on the political scene, for whom shows of political or religious extremism will be counterproductive. But this moderation does not always trickle down to the individual islamist sympathisers, some of whom have really gone over the top on this issue.

Comment from eatbees
Time: December 28, 2006, 11:11

@Jilal — Bon, je ne connais pas assez Nichane pour dire si c’est le peuple Marocain lui-même qui l’écrit, en fait je crois que pas mal des Marocains trouvent que Nichane a fait un jeu enfantin avec ses blagues, mais c’est sûr que ce sont le genre de blagues qu’on écoute entre amis, et pour moi, en les lisant, elles ont l’air plutôt innocentes|||€¦

@Ibn Kafka — Thank you, this was the sort of information I was hoping for. Being an optimist, I keep hoping that the PJD, in order to govern with a broad majority, will reach out to the progressive left to find common ground on issues such as economic and judicial reform. (Given the realities on the ground in Morocco, what else is there for an optimist to hope for? Twenty more years of political stalemate?) Which means the PJD will need to rein in its extremists, as you say, and progressives should make their best effort to find reasonable people on that side, instead of always caricaturing the PJD and its supporters as extremists.

(In the U.S., of course, we’ve had our politics dominated by right-wing Christian extremists for the past several years, but we finally have a new generation of politicians like Barack Obama who want to reclaim the progressive legacy of religion in politics represented by Martin Luther King. We can’t leave the terrain of religion to the extremists…and I don’t see why the same rules don’t apply in the Islamic world.)

Comment from Nadia From Agadir
Time: December 28, 2006, 12:42

I think one’s Freedom is equal to openmindedness of people who are surrounding him/her.
I unfortunatly missed that 25th’s blank posts action for censored blogs in Tunisia, But I wanna scream outloudly that it’s a shame to strangle expression’s freedom in such countries who dare to call themselves Balad 7or! … Mon oeil..
Anyway, I think it’s a more complicated question that time won’t help me to give my whole opinion about…

I wish you Aiid Mubarak
And I send you my best wishes of a Happy, Prospere, Healthy and Succefull New Year

Comment from eatbees
Time: December 28, 2006, 21:31

@Nadia — Eid Mubarak Said and Happy New Year to you too!

You say “I wanna scream” and that reminds me of an image a blogger posted on the 25th, it shows a man screaming with another man’s hand clamped over his mouth, only his scream shows through the hand—scary!

Comment from Salma
Time: January 8, 2007, 22:04

Thank you for your intervention, i think it’s time in Morocco to think QUICKLY about changes in different aspects of the society and operate. The affair of Nichane gives us an opprtunity to do this. I stand for Nichane, the journalists working in it and the freedom of expression more especially and sollicite any help or ideas that would contribute to the resolution of this issue.

Comment from malki49
Time: January 14, 2007, 18:43

I have never heard of Nichane publication before this controversy erupted. I must admit that I was very amused by its name the first time I saw it.
Thanks to you eatbees, I have read the original article (in Arabic) and come to my own conclusions on what this whole fuss is all about. I am a Moroccan living in the US with aspiration to one day return to the Motherland, in the near future, to hopefully live the rest of my days in peace.
I am a Muslim who is very proud of my heritage, and jokes which were repeated in this article were not an attempt at demeaning my integrity nor my religion rather to point out some unnamed, mischievous person, in the abstract, trying to get over someone else.
Hence the freedom of speech, one of the most important pillars of a true Democracy. How would we be able to hold our elected officials accountable if we are not able to confront them in the public square with better ideas in how to make our lives better?
I am pleased to see that the PJD is willing to turn the page on this fiasco and let the people be the judge. The people will either support Nichane by buying it or they won’t.

I therefor would like to add my support to this Petition in defence of Nichane’s publication of a collection of popular jokes.

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 14, 2007, 21:42

@Salma — If only there was something that could be done QUICKLY as you suggest. This seems to be rather a case of three steps forward, two steps back. The story is getting more of a hearing outside Morocco now, so maybe those responsible will stop short of sending Driss and Sanaa to prison. I guess we’ll know soon…

@maliki49 — :) I’m so happy to know you see it that way. As I said in my original post on this subject, jokes like these are an expression of popular feeling, a way to express criticism indirectly, since it is sometimes hard to express openly. This is democracy, as you say, and we should support it. Best of luck to you on your return to the bled!

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