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Letters from an alumni about Morocco today

October 29, 2002

As a Muslim and as a Moroccan citizen, I was very concerned by some of Prince Moulay Hicham ’85’s comments.

The main idea of the article, as it has been summarized, is that Morocco needs a change. This is a statement no one contests in Morocco, where it has become one of Moroccans' favorite discussion topics. The point is to know what kind of change the country needs.

The last four years we've had a new government, a new king, new governors, and a new civil society, but no real change, except for the fact that things are getting worse. This means that the only real change Moroccans can effect is immigration. (One study has revealed that 70 percent of Moroccans dream of leaving the country). This also explains the high score of “Islamists” in the latest elections, as they appear to be the only opposition to the actual situation. This fact was well explained in the conference by Moulay Hicham, but it was explained from a secular point of view.

I think that more than any human explanation or political manipulation what makes people choose the Islamists path is faith. People face very hard times, and they are turning to the only force that seems to be able to help them: God. And in Arabic lands God is reachable trough Islam.

The problem is that most of these people are ignorant (60 percent of Moroccans can not read) which makes them the ideal victims for those who use Islam to achieve their own goals. Using ignorance to manipulate is something the monarchy has been doing for more than 40 years.

And here is where universities and schools should concentrate their efforts: teaching what Islam is. Teaching is of utmost importance. Keep in mind that the first verse that has been revealed to prophet Muhammad (peace on him) was ‘READ’.

Maria Aissaoui
West New York, N.J.

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The piece in PAW on Moulay Hicham paints him as a Moroccan moderate looking to democratize the Arab world. This excited me so I looked further in PAW plus online to find any mention of the Arab-Israeli conflict to see if this prince was a spokesman for truth in the Arab world. I found nothing there.

An online search reveals the following:
Middle East Quarterly, article by Martin Kramer: 

"More from Old Nassau. When Israelis and Palestinians clash, the academic tribes rally. It’s happening once more across America. Activist organizations spring into action. Faculty members speak out. All of this is legitimate. What is illegitimate is when the very institutions of a university — academic units such as departments, centers, and institutes — turn themselves into blatant partisans of one side or the other. This is just what happened at Princeton in the spring of 2001.

"Background: in 1994, Prince Moulay Hicham Benabdallah of Morocco, a Princeton alumnus, bestowed a hefty gift on the university to establish something called the Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. Princeton, of course, has a renowned department of Near Eastern studies, the oldest in the country. But the prince wanted something all his own and was prepared to pay for it. A Moroccan anthropologist, Abdellah Hammoudi, directs the vanity institute. It organizes conferences, many of them outside the country, and passes out a couple of fellowships each year.

"This past spring, the Institute for Transregional Study announced a lecture series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When genuine academic units organize lecture series, the usual approach is to recruit speakers who will represent diverse views. After all, diversity is the mantra of the American university. In fact, what one often gets are identical views expressed by people of diverse backgrounds. Call it false diversity. The Institute for Transregional Study, in its spring lecture series, produced what must be regarded as the textbook case, the purest form, the ideal type, of false diversity.

"The nine-lecture series brought together a truly broad collection of supporters, sympathizers, and apologists for the Palestinian cause. Celebrities? Edward Said and Richard Falk addressed the "end," the "collapse" of the peace process, and who could doubt where they would lay the blame? Journalists? Inveterate Israel-basher Robert Fisk, of the London Independent, delivered his usual indictment. Sylvain Cypel, international correspondent of Le Monde, analyzed the approach of the French press, with its predictable sympathies. (Notice: no American journalists.) Academic experts? Palestinian professor Salim Tamari and Lebanese writer and militant Elias Khoury demanded the "right of return." Sara Roy, perpetual "research associate" at Harvard University, once again explained Israel’s "political economy of dispossession."

"Israelis? Of course there were Israelis. After all: diversity rules the university. There were two. Ilan Pappé, the zealous anti-Zionist at Haifa University, a man for whom even the post-Zionists are Nakba-deniers, described what he thought would be a "fair settlement." (Pappé thinks it must be based on Israel’s total and abject acceptance of all responsibility for the conflict and all of its consequences.) Amira Hass, the very engagée Palestinian affairs correspondent of Ha’aretz, now a resident of Ramallah, lectured on "The Israeli Policy of Closure: A Means of Domination and a Form of Neo-Occupation."

"And that was it. This was the entire line-up of the institute’s semester-long lecture series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"No doubt this would pass for diversity at the Mohammed V University in Rabat, former home to Professor Hammoudi. Perhaps it would pass for diversity in Moulay Hicham’s palace. It shouldn’t pass for diversity at Princeton. The question is whether Princeton will continue to ignore the abuse of its name for blatantly political purposes or will affirm the basic neutrality of its academic units — even a cash cow like the Institute for Transregional Study."

So there you have it: the Prince sponsors an Institute that presents a biased perspective on the conflict. I guess it's the same old Arab worldview of hate and propaganda, this time sprinkled with a touch of democracy.

David Schechter ’80
Los Angeles, Calif.

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