Ben Jelloun to Le Pen Voters: Pack Your Bags

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.

Recommended Reading

A couple of months ago a friend of mine — a poet and a broadcaster — asked about novels set in Morocco, since her work was taking her there for a roughly two-week working tour of the country. She’d read Paul Bowles and excluded Hideous Kinky. I did have a couple of suggestions, but my friends had many more. Here’s a rough list, in no particular order:

  • Mohamed Choukri, For Bread Alone
  • Tahir Shah, The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca
  • James Michener, the Drifters
  • Jeffrey Tayler, Glory in a Camel’s Eye (nonfiction/travel)
  • Linda Holeman, The Saffron Gate
  • Laila Lalami, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
  • Laila Lalami, Secret Son
  • Gavin Maxwell, Lords of the Atlas (nonfiction, formerly banned in Morocco)
  • Elizabeth Fernea, A Street in Marrakech (nonfiction)
  • Peter Mayne, A Year in Marrakech (nonfiction)
  • Abdellah Taia, Salvation Army
  • Abdellah Taia, An Arab Melancholoy
  • Abellah Taia, Infidels
  • Tahar Ben Jelloun, The Sand Child
  • Tahar Ben Jelloun, Leaving Tangier
  • Lawrence Osborne, The Forgiven
  • Fatima Mernissi, Dreams of Trespass (nonfiction)

Without mentioning specific titles, people also recommended books by Driss Chraibi, Walter Burton Harris, Leila Abouzeid, Mohamed Zefzaf, Abdallah Laraoui, Bensalem Himmich, and Abdelhak Serhane,and Mohammed Mrabet’s collaborations with Paul Bowles and Mohamed Choukri. It looks as though I have my reading cut out for me.

New work by Laila Lalami, author of the Moor’s Account

Acclaimed Moroccan-American author Laila Lalami has announced the completion of two new books, a new novel entitled The Other Americans and a work of nonfiction entitled Conditional Citizens.

Although best known for her Pulitzer Prize shortlisted novel the Moor’s Account, Lalami is also the author of Secret Son and Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, in addition to her wide-ranging commentary in such publications as the Nation and the New York Times. (I had a short take on Secret Son and the Moor’s Account when they came out.)