Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: June 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Poor Alternatives

Anne Applebaum, liberal-ish Washington Post and Slate correspondent, former-USSR expert, and wife of the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, recently published the most ridiculous op-ed of all time, entitled “Morocco, an Alternative to Iran.”  On Slate, it was published as “Morocco Makes Peace With Its Past” (perhaps even more proposterous), and I perhaps wouldn’t have noticed it had it not linked to a piece of mine on Global Voices which, quite neutrally, reported on the recent election of Marrakesh’s first female mayor.

Applebaum’s piece is problematic for a number of reasons aside from the obvious (which is to say that, while shooting protesters and clamping down on free speech are fundamentally wrong, the elections themselves are still contested).  From the opening paragraph, in which she invokes the all-too-common cliché of non-headscarf wearing Muslims “[not looking] out of place in New York or Paris” to her claims of Morocco entering a new era of democracy, Applebaum demonstrates her total ignorance of the Maghreb and the Arab world on the whole.

Take this sentence, for example:

“…unlike most of its Arab neighbors, the country has over the last decade undergone a slow but profound transformation from traditional monarchy to constitutional monarchy, acquiring along the way real political parties, a relatively free press, new political leaders—the mayor of Marrakesh is a 33-year-old woman—and a set of family laws that strives to be compatible both with sharia and international conventions on human rights.”

Anyone with an iota of knowledge on Moroccan politics can see the flaws in this paragraph; from the recent elections, in which the newly created Modernity and Authenticity Party, or P.A.M. (dubbed the “King’s Party”), closely linked to the royal palace, managed to sweep 22,158 seats to the three journalists arrested and fined for insulting the tyrannical leader of Libya, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Morocco is not a prime example of democracy, nor a model for Iranian reform.

In fact, Morocco’s own human rights record is deeply flawed.  Despite substantial changes from the “Years of Lead,” Morocco continues to oppress Saharawi citizens (be their true nationality Moroccan or Saharawi, it should be relatively undisputed that they are not treated well by the state), suppress Amazigh activists by outlawing their language in schools and requiring their children be given Arab names even abroad, and persecute converts to other religions.  Furthermore, Morocco almost certainly harbors CIA rendition sites, as has been testified by former Guantanamo inmates, and almost always turns the other cheek to Israeli and United States imperialism.

Applebaum also brazenly suggests that perhaps, had the Iranian revolution not occurred, perhaps Iran could have followed a similar path to Morocco, saying, “One thinks wistfully of the shah of Iran and of what might have been.”  It’s as if she forgets, or is completely unaware, of the human rights violations and general atmosphere of oppression under Pahlavi.

Lastly, Applebaum’s assertion that “the Arab world lacks the political will to change” reeks of Obamania.  Doubtless there are a number of Arab countries in which rigged elections, oppression of citizenry, and lack of freedoms are rampant, but the meme that democracy and capitalism are the only way (not to mention the United States’ hypocritical views toward democratic elections in the Middle East) is getting old.  Change, if it is to happen, needs to come from within, and will not occur thanks to Western journalists, nor Twitter users changingtheir icons green, nor United States imperialism.

A Step Forward for Women?

As Hisham notes here, the Moroccan elections were significantly overshadowed on the world stage by those in Iran, and no wonder – no matter the outcome, they would have been met with little protest anyway.  What was notable this time around however was a rise in the number of female candidates, as reported by MAP: 20,458 women ran for 2009 local elections; 15.7% compared to only 4.8% in 2003, according to the Interior Ministry.  Even more notable is that Morocco’s second ever – and third – female mayors were elected…Fatima Zahra Mansouri was elected mayor of the growing city of Marrakesh (population of a little over a million), and Fatima Boujnah is the new PAM Mayor of Tizeght, at only 21 years old.

Now, as my friend Anas points out, she is backed by the newly formed Party for Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), dubbed the “King’s Party” by the blogoma, and is therefore perhaps just a royal pawn.  On the other hand, the ascendancy of a woman to a role that has almost exclusively been held by men since its inception (Asmaa Chaabi was the first female mayor in the country, elected in 2003 to Essaouira’s city hall) can’t be a bad thing.

On the other hand, the influx of women into candidacies is not a coincidence: a number of U.S. governmental organizations helped train female candidates, and party leaders are certainly aware that, in order to keep relevant, they must cater to the new voter demographics (young, and often female).

In a country where the literacy rate for women still lingers under 50%, it would seem that any step forward for women is a good thing.  But when those women are played as pawns by the governing elite, is it really a step in the right direction?

On Admiration

I am surrounded by writers. Every morning when I wake up, one of the first things I do is scan my RSS reader for something to bring meaning to my day. I scan the loads of Moroccan blogs I subscribe to, I scan those of my Global Voices friends and colleagues, I read up on the Syrian blogosphere (to which I became addicted when covering for Yazan a couple of years ago), and then, or even if I have time for nothing else, I read through my small folder of favorites, parsed from the aforementioned categories and added by hand. My favorite writers are mostly like me – transient, global individuals with a penchant for parlaying minutiae, for expressing the daily suffering of being hyper-aware, for sharing their most intimate feelings in such a coded way that it would take the likes of Babbage to decipher them.

With some of these writers, I have an intimate relationship – with some, it involves through commenting on each other’s posts or sending behind-the-scenes e-mails; with others, it goes far deeper. And then there are those whose work I read as a stranger, just another anonymous IP address lurking in the shadows. Given that half of the time, I’m using Tor, my identity remains safely hidden from view.

What all of these writers have in common is that each of them intimidates me with their talent and insights. You see, I am a writer – and I rarely doubt my ability in that for a second. But what I lack is the introspection that so many of my compatriots possess. I am, or so I’m told, a wearer of masks, and I must only re-read my own blog to know the truth in that statement. It’s not as if I don’t try – but somehow, the ability to look inside myself was lost through years of containing my feelings so tightly that they spread throughout my soul and covered every inch of self-awareness.


In the so-subtle process of forming our identities, we are rarely aware as one thing changes to the next. Only after the fact are we ever able to look back and determine formative moments – at least most of the time. Occasionally, some such moment occurs and momentarily, you are able to pause the world around you and realize, at least in a very basic way, that that moment is something that will later define you.

It takes two hands to count the number of moments like that I’ve had in the past year.

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