Boston / Morocco Board News--The stuffy meeting room in the pricy brownstone building of the affluent Back Bay section of Boston was an early reminder of the dog days of August. Despite my intolerance of the heat, I was willing to endure it for a chance to finally meet Moroccan journalist Ahmed Benchemsi who was making a brief visit to Boston. Mr. Benchemsi was exactly what I had envisioned him to be; a warm, bright and very well read man with a firm handshake and an apparent interest in people and their ideological propensities.
Benchemsi had just written a piece for Time Magazine
probing an alleged power struggle between the two main ideologies that are supposedly calling the shots for the direction of the February 20th
movement. The article, in my humble assessment, was more of an indictment of the so called Islamists
and their supposedly latent intention to eliminate their current secular bedfellows. Mr. Benchemsi was asserting that these Islamists ought not to be trusted for they are in a pouncing position for a Stalinist style power grab as soon as the revolutionary dust is settled. Making such a claim would require the Stanford scholar the necessary intellectual integrity to leave no stone unturned, and interview enough people who represent both sides of the story in a way that separates bonafide journalistic work from tabloid waffling. Having personally been trained in the muckraking tradition, my Journalism professor insisted on the primordial importance of the rigor and diligence in fact checking, and his favorite thing to say was:” in the event that you interview your mother, ask her about the correct spelling of her name”
I am sorry to say that Mr. Benchemsi’s bias drowned his reason and clouded his judgment making it hard for those who value fair and painstakingly researched journalism to stomach the idea that the Islamists and the seculars are at each others throats. The article was a failed attempt at fomenting strife and instigating discord between two groups whose visions are pretty divergent but are still willing to shelve their differences and engage in a strategic retooling. Opening the article with an unnamed person whose rank and file was completely unchecked or purposely left out asking the crowd to make a prayer on the soul of Bin Laden is exactly the kind of yellow, garishly sensationalist, Glen Beck like journalism that is often practiced by mercenary media to alienate those of us who insist on consuming organic, additive free facts only.
Mr. Benchemsi has a first hand knowledge of that bitter vitriolic feeling of being portrayed as the enemy, and the belligerent traitor whose expression of dissent must be bankrolled by those who want harm to inflict Morocco. The economic asphyxiation of Benchemsi’s magazine Nichan should have taught him a thing or two about the state’s unscrupulous dealing with competing ideologies. He was quoted saying that: “they [the Moroccan Government] pretend to like democracy, but they are not willing to bear any cost of it”
In an attempt to gauge Mr. Benchemsi’s commitment to Democracy, I asked him if he would be willing to bear any cost of this democracy should the Islamists in Morocco prevail in an open and transparent election. Mr. Benchemsi dropped all decorum and admitted that he would not because, in his view, an Islamist doctrine is in essence akin to a utopian philosophy that can’t possibly bode well with any society looking to advance. Mr. Benchemsi believes that the Islamists’ way of thinking is antithetical to freedom, personal liberties, and all other elevating values. Mr. Benchemsi made no effort to explain the vast popular extensions that these so called Islamist groups boast. I was hoping he would try to decipher for me this irony of who he considers utopians managing to be most successful in getting people to tune in.
As it turned out, Mr. Benchemsi was again delivering a stump speech about the beauty of democracy and romanticizing about pluralism. Sadly, democracy is often celebrated when it aligns itself with our whims and wishes. However, when the applications of all electoral and democratic tools do not deliver according to our vision, we then lament the tyranny of the other. I would offer Mr. Benchemsi the same wise and taunting words of friend of mine every time he’s got me beaten in a game of cards: “hey man!! Don’t hate the player, hate the game”
History as it unfolds has a funny way of exposing those who are truly cherish democracy and pluralism and those whose commitment to this game of democracy amount to nothing more than lip service.
Only a severely uninformed person would actually believe that an Islamist agenda is actually being represented in the Moroccan political scene. Abdelilah Benkirane fiery media pronouncement are made as calculated positioning tactics to gain favors among activists and youth movements to maintain that iconoclastic sparkle that would keep the party’s relevance as not just another political party merely staging and decorating the political scene. In fact, all political parties in Morocco are known to make similar media splashes to compensate for their severe political impotence induced by a neutering constitution where the role of a politician in Morocco is no more productive than that of a piece of furniture in a government building.
I fault the so called Morocco’s Islamists equally as I fault the seculars for what I see as a disingenuous double talk where religious innuendos are evoked to appeal to emotions of the populace on one hand, and by holding a liberal posture, on the other hand, to pander to the western world inflated paranoia. I happen to think that both religious and political reforms are needed in order for Muslim societies to progress and catch up.
The Islamist, the seculars have managed to get people to tune in and turn out despite indiscriminate state violence. They have put their difference aside and sat at the same table letting their galvanizing issues unite them. They are having a pretty interesting honeymoon. Mr. Benchemsi is putting himself in a compromising position where he is viewed by many as the typical home wrecker.
 I use the term for its wide journalistic use not its loaded ideological connotation
Hello everybody. Ahmed Benchemsi here.
Always glad when a public talk or an article of mine triggers debate. I usually don’t intervene in such discussions, but I have to make a little exception here, for the sake of factual accuracy.
Firstly, I thank Mr. Brahimi for his kind comments. I precisely remember the question he asked me in this Boston conference—a question he faithfully reported in the essay above. I have an utterly different memory of my answer, though.
What I recall saying is: I would evidently accept it if Islamists win elections, because that would be inconsistent on my part to claim democracy and not be ready to abide by its rules. And I added: of course, I would keep on fighting their ideology and exposing its core, inherent contradiction with what I believe the philosophical basis of democracy: freedom of thought (religion being one thought among others). And I concluded: another beauty of democracy is that majorities switch—so, as a democratic opponent of the Islamists, I would obviously have an agenda: defeat them at the ballot box when their term is over.
Thanks and keep up the great debate.