My Interview with Saharawi Voice

While I was in the Dakhla Sahrawi refugee camp, I had the privilege of meeting up with the folks over at Saharawi Voice. We had a little chat about various issues surrounding knowledge production on the Western Sahara. Below is a brief snippet from the interview. Special thanks to the Saharawi Voice team. Visit their Facebook Page here, and support them through a donation if you like the work they’re doing.

(An anecdotal side note: we did this interview while there was an intense sandstorm outside. Below the video is an image of how it looked outside when this was recorded.)

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The Illegal Kiss

teenage-moroccan-couple-arrested-for-kissing-in-facebook-photoDuring the beginning of October 2013, two teenagers from the northern city of Nador were arrested for uploading an image of them kissing one another. The two teenagers and a male friend who took the picture, faced charges of “public indecency.” After they were held in a juvenile detention center, the teenagers’ trial was postponed from 12 October 2013 to 22 November. The defense attorney cited the pursuit of “an inquiry into the social circumstances of the teenagers” as the reason for the trial’s delay. In reaction to the arrest of these teenagers, netizens launched a solidarity campaign entitled #FreeBoussa on social media. The campaign included images of couples kissing one another and calls for a sit-in, which ended up taking place in Rabat on 12 October 2013. Following the widespread media coverage of the case, the judge acquitted the teenagers, who would have otherwise faced jail sentences of up to five years.

The multiple layers of political authority, morality, and gendered norms of public decency embedded within this case and the reaction that followed merit a deeper reading. Firstly, the arrest of these teenagers was, first and foremost, a grave violation of their right of expression. With the public prosecution citing laws relating to “public indecency,” the case demonstrates the role of the state in policing social norms and defining morals along conservative lines. Secondly, the state’s moral arm in its role as the “social” police is bolstered by its socioeconomic policies that have marginalized the northern Rif region, where the arrest of these teenagers took place (specifically the city of Nador). Moreover, the selective enforcement of rigid moral codes fits into a broader pattern of the Moroccan regime’s ongoing repression and marginalization of politically contentious actors. While the teenagers targeted in this case did not explicitly engage in political expression, the fact that they come from a region that has been the site of broader dissent directed at the palace raises questions about the political implications of this case.

Thirdly, the solidarity campaign that grew in response to the arrest of these teenagers has succeeded in gaining wider media attention and drawing more scrutiny to the case. To the extent that the #FreeBoussa campaign acted as a societal disruption, such as the public kiss-in that took place in Rabat, aspects of the campaign uncritically embrace liberal views on individual freedoms. Such an approach, which fails to address the fact that the arrest of these teenagers is beyond the simple act of kissing, opens the window for more state oppression. Continue reading

The perks of being a white-passing, undergraduate, study abroad student in Morocco

**Update Feb. 3: This post is sort of irrelevant now since, as of the evening of February 3rd, the original article in question has been deleted from Morocco World News. Click here for a link to the Google cached page (courtesy of @Karim_EH).**

[The following is a satirical post based on the article initially entitled “The perks of dating a Moroccan man while living in Morocco,” which was been changed to “On dating a Moroccan man while living in Morocco.” The article initially listed Morocco World News‘ assistant editor, Katrina Bushko, as the author–but her name has since been dropped from the article’s byline without any explanation.]

Not in a million years did I think I would get to exude my privilege while studying abroad! Not being able to stand out at my Ivy League university, I had no expectations that going to Morocco would reveal the deeply embedded hierarchy I would later find myself situated in. But life has a funny way of handing you surprises, and this was definitely one of them.

[Image of Talitha Getty on a rooftop in Marrakech, Morocco. Image via Jezebel.]

[Image of Talitha Getty on a rooftop in Marrakech, Morocco. Image via Jezebel.]

Being a child of a multi-cultural marriage has instilled within me an appreciation for flat multiculturalism and to know what to expect when I interact with people who are less privileged. Of course that only got me so far. I have a great appreciation for Moroccan people: the Orientalist tropes about hospitality were totally on point and because Brazilians are close enough to Moroccans, and I love Brazilians, it makes sense that I absolutely adore Moroccans…broadly speaking though. (This obviously excludes the disenfranchised and marginalized classes of Moroccans who scare me with their poverty). So I guess that puts me one step closer to being involved with a Moroccan.

However, what really intrigued me about my exotic and (now ex) boyfriend was the fact that he recognized how my white-passing skin resonates with dominant representations of beauty inherited from a colonial era and sustained through the socioeconomic and political expansion of Western hegemony. On any given day, I could walk through the souq in Fez or in the streets of El Jadida and be stared at, called to, and generally harassed–I understood this as being a manifestation of how Moroccan society defines beauty through common images in media and advertising until I realized that this treatment toward women is not exceptional and that sexual harassment on the streets of Morocco is a serious endemic that merits more than a sentence indicating self-worth. I had written off most Moroccan men as being in either one of two categories: they are sexually deprived animals who prey at the closest thing to a vagina or they want to exploit my position as a white-passing non-Moroccan who is visiting from a country associated with the proliferation of neoliberal policies that have essentially reduced Morocco’s economy into a market dependent upon IMF and World Bank loans and has made Morocco reliant upon tourism as a major source of capital, as such, I must deal with various Moroccans trying to sell me things. But, I luckily found one (I choose to say “one” as a benign expression of my privilege because I see this Moroccan man as a continued manifestation of my objectifying gaze that engenders the way in which I see brown men from a non-Western country). This gives me hope that there is, in fact, a third category of genuinely good Moroccan men who are willing to build a relationship with me based on the power imbalance I have illustrated above without questioning why is it that I have reduced the entire Moroccan male race into 3 mere categories that mirror the ways in which colonial powers created categories to reduce the populations they dominated over  and blur over any nuance that could have broken down the premises on which their exertion of power was based upon. So that was definitely a pro of dating this “third category” Moroccan: submission. Continue reading