A few weeks ago in Morocco a boy and a girl aged 15 and 14 kissed as their 15-year-old friend took photos outside their school in the northern town of Nador, and they then posted the pictures on Facebook. What happens? – they were then arrested and put on trial. Yikes! So far this response is just what you might expect from an Islamic nation, even a moderate one.
Ah .. but what happened next was truly new.
The arrests immediately triggered a wave of online support, with activists posting pictures of couples locking lips and calling for protest “kiss-ins”. Now that is different, and so once again the internet is proving itself to be a truly disruptive technology.
A report here reads ..
“Social media are playing a more and more important role in monitoring both the authorities and Moroccan society, which remains deeply conservative,” said political analyst Mohammed Madani.
“Activists agitating on Facebook are a potent force because they can get media attention, sometimes abroad, and can shake the conservative values both of society and the state,” he added.
Why is it like this? Well because things have rapidly changed, now up to 55% of people in Morocco are regularly using social media (up from just 21% six years ago).
And so on 12 Oct (last Saturday) as part of the ongoing protest, dozens of Moroccans took part in a “kiss-in” outside parliament in Rabat to support three teenagers.
“It’s always the question of personal freedom that is at the heart of this. It’s like Moroccan society has been shaken by the Internet effect,” – Lachgar, a co-founder of the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties.
Least you wonder who the “Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties.” are, they are the same folks who organized a picnic outside a railway station in Rabat during Ramadan – and yes, they got arrested for that, but I must admit I do love that form of completely non-violent protest against forcing everybody to not eat for religious reasons.
Morocco is in many ways a crazy mix, their society does have a reputation for religious tolerance and personal liberty, particularly when compared with other Muslim countries, but at the same time it still remains a deeply religious culture. What is clear is that there is a growing divide between the younger more secular and mostly online generation, and the older more religious and conservative folks.
“Weighed down by religion and social taboos, Moroccan society seems to be lost and divided. It has struggled to embrace a modern world characterised by the Internet and global communication,” – Ibtissam Lachgar.
Right now the trial of the teens has been adjourned until 22 November, and so I do hope that some common sense will quickly prevail. At the moment they are still being charged under Articles 483 and 484 of the kingdom’s penal code, which relates to public indecency and indecent assault on a minor. Scary stuff because the later carries a possible prison sentence of five years.
If the trial does proceed, then what actually happens next will in reality not be not a trial of the teens at all, but rather of an entire culture. Will the more conservative religious intolerance prevail and so the teens will be found guilty of … well, being teens, or will some basic human decency prevail and see these utterly absurd charges dropped? Let’s see.
One thing however is truly worthy of applause, the response is indeed the very best way to handle this. Organizing a mass kissing protest outside the Moroccan parliament sends a very powerful totally non-violent message that beats both morally and effectively by many orders of magnitude the violent street riots that tends to be the standard tool of many Islamic thugs.