Famed Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun, known particularly for his novels in French, had some sharp words for the 750 French expatriates in Morocco who voted for Marine le Pen: “it is time to leave.” Ben Jelloun writes, “Even though Morocco is above all a country that is hospitable, open, and generous, it otherwise demands respect.” Ben Jelloun has not forgotten that following a speech by Jean-Marie le Pen, blaming Moroccans for unemployment, a young Moroccan was thrown into the Seine. And he has not forgotten that after an admittedly horrible murder by a young Algerian man named Mohamed Merah, Marine le Pen’s comment was that “the boats, the airplanes, will soon arrive full of Mohamed Merahs.” Ben Jelloun denounces the Front National as “neither a party of the Left nor of the Right, but one that is at its base racist and violent and would have the French believe that solutions derive from barring foreigners from France.” For the sake of self-consistency, Ben Jelloun argues that people who hate Arabs and Muslims should not continue to benefit from living in Morocco. The taste must be particularly bitter when it comes from former colonizers living among the people they colonized. To paraphrase Mr. Talleyrand, they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing since 1956.
Ben Jelloun’s description of the Front National has an eerie familiarity to anyone who has been subjected to the racist ramblings of Donald Trump over everything from “bad hombres,” to building walls, to banning Muslims. It is the language of hatred and fascism. The same dynamic of blaming supposedly criminal immigrants for subverting society, stealing jobs, and committing crimes applies both here and in France.
And yet, loathsome as I find the le Pen’s Front National and Trump’s Republican Party, I am reluctant to call upon people to quit the country — recognizing that our situation and our history are not the same as Morocco’s. We have had too much of “love it or leave it” in this country. And we have too much of a tendency to apply our exclusionary instincts to the people to whom we should be most welcoming, whatever our fears. Supposedly, Syrian refugees “do not share our values.” This is not a sentiment or a paradigm we want to encourage.
We are are the nation that allowed the Nazis to march in Skokie, recognizing that they are the soul of evil and yet — for just so long as their demonstrations were peaceful and their conduct within the bounds of the law — giving them the same right to express their views — however hateful — as anyone else. The Republic will survive. We are in far more danger from those — like our current president — who would shut down free speech in this country and eviscerate the First Amendment.
I admire Mr. Ben Jelloun tremendously. He probably has more important things to worry about than 750 French Fascists disporting themselves in Morocco.