Morocco is not the problem

By Menachem Z. Rosensaftprofessor, Cornell Law School I take no position on whether countries should prohibit religious proselytizing. Over the … Continued

By Menachem Z. Rosensaft
professor, Cornell Law School

I take no position on whether countries should prohibit religious proselytizing. Over the centuries, Jews, especially Jewish children, have far too often been the victims of proselytization. During the years of the Holocaust, desperate Jewish parents in Poland smuggled their children out of the ghetto for safekeeping by Christians only to discover after the war – I am speaking, of course, of those who were fortunate enough to survive the death camps – that the children had been baptized and indoctrinated to reject their Jewish faith and identity.

I am far more concerned, therefore, with the presence or absence of the freedom of different faith groups to worship according to their respective beliefs.

The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim nation where Jews and Christian are able to practice their religions openly. Synagogues and churches stand alongside mosques, and the Moroccan government is a rare beacon of tolerance in an otherwise mostly religiously xenophobic Muslim world. Both King Muhammed VI and his late father, King Hassan, have publicly placed the Moroccan Jewish community under royal protection. As Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, reminds us, “during World War II, when Morocco was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco .” Moroccan law simultaneously guarantees freedom of religion and criminalizes proselytization. Morocco has also been a stalwart ally of the United States and the West.

Anti-proselytizing laws are common in Muslim countries. Proselytizing is illegal in Afghanistan, as is conversion from Islam. Earlier this year, a Christian shopkeeper in Pakistan was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly desecrating the Qur’an. Last year, nine Christians were arrested in Malaysia for attempting to convert some Muslim students at a university near the capital of Kuala Lumpur . In Saudi Arabia , according to the U.S. State Department’s 2009 International Freedom Report, “Conversion by Muslims to another religion (apostasy) and proselytizing by non-Muslims are punishable by death under the Islamic laws adopted by the country, but there have been no confirmed reports of executions for either crime in recent years.”

In 2006, according to the Catholic AsiaNews.it, A Catholic Indian priest was expelled from Saudi Arabia after he “was discovered by the religious police as he organized a prayer meeting in the lead-up to Easter. . . . On 5 April, Fr George had just celebrated mass in a private house when seven religious policemen (muttawa) broke into the house together with two ordinary policemen. The police arrested the priest and another person. The Saudi religious police are well known for their ruthlessness; they often torture believers of other religions who are arrested.”

It is in this context that one must consider the Moroccan government’s essentially benign expulsion earlier this year of five American Christians accused of proselytizing at a Moroccan orphanage. The Moroccan Penal Code specifically prohibits the “seduction in the aim of undermining a Muslim’s faith or of converting him/her to another religion, either by exploiting his weaknesses or needs, or through the use, to this end, of health or educational establishments, as well as shelters or orphanages.”

A group of Republican members of Congress have taken up the cause of the expelled Christian missionaries, which is, of course, their right. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Cao (R-La.) recently convened a hearing at which they urged Morocco to allow the deportees to return.

At the hearing, some of the rhetoric turned ugly. Rep. Wolf called for the suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Morocco and compared the Moroccan government to the repressive Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the 1980’s. Rep. Pitts went further and likened the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities to “some of the tactics used by the Nazis.”

These comparisons are over the top and betray either an ignorance or a disregard of history. Non-Muslims enjoy far greater freedom of religion in Morocco than in most other Muslim countries, and Americans who go there are fully aware that proselytizing is prohibited. There are no allegations that the Americans involved were tortured or physically mistreated. They were simply expelled from Morocco for refusing to abide by its laws.

As His Excellency, Aziz Mekouar, Morocco’s Ambassador to the United States, emphasized, “The repatriation measures were taken against the concerned parties not because of their Christian faith but because they committed criminal offenses, proven by an investigation conducted by the Crown Prosecution Office, following formal complaints by parents and close relatives of the children concerned.”

Once again, we should all refrain from making Nazi or Cold War analogies for rhetorical effect. The above-cited comments by Reps. Wolf and Pitts were as unfortunate and out of place as Newt Gingrich’s recent claim that the Obama administration’s policies represent “as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.”

Someone should remind Reps. Wolf and Pitts that our government regularly deports foreign nationals who are deemed to have violated U.S. laws.

Representative Pitts’ comments are also in stark contrast with his praise for far more repressive Muslim countries. Back in 2004, he commended Saudi Arabia for “working closely with the U.S. to root out al-Qaeda” and Pakistani forces for “rounding up terrorists on their border.”

In fairness, it should be noted that earlier this year, Reps. Wolf, Pitts, Frank, Smith and Cao appealed to the President of Uganda to reject legislation that subjects homosexuals to life imprisonment.

Proselytizing is a complex issue which deserves serious consideration. In December 2009, for example, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that a Milwaukee , Wisconsin , sheriff was constitutionally prohibited from proselytizing his fundamentalist Christian beliefs to his deputies at official staff meetings. Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. had brought members of the Fellowship of Christian Centurions to address his deputies, and indicated that he would base promotions on the whether or not the candidates were “people of faith.” Specifically, the Court held that Clarke’s proselytizing had violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

I assume that Reps. Wolf and Pitts would not compare the 7th Circuit ruling to Nazi or Communist oppression, however much they might disagree with it. They and others who take up the cause of the American missionaries who were expelled from Morocco would be well advised to similarly refrain from introducing such inappropriate analogies into a dispute with a valued ally.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the Syracuse University College of Law, and Vice President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

  • vagabond2

    Saying Christians are allowed to practice their religion openly in Morocco shows a lack of understanding. Part of Christianity is sharing that belief with others. That is simply not allowed in Morocco. It is illegal. Christians are most definitely NOT allowed to practice their religion openly in Morocco.

  • samuel-lary

    What do Vagabond2 and Hwinva want to mean by “practising religion openly”?

  • nhauger

    I don’t think that you realize the devastation this has caused the families that were torn apart. I don’t know if you saw this or whether it would change your mind, but it gives a better picture of the actual families that were affected.

  • Jewmoroccan

    I am wondering how much did the Moroccan gov paid you to write this article…If you haven’t got paid..Just tell them you wrote a nice article in Washington Post…You’ll be surprised what they will give you…property..money and women too…

  • samuel-lary

    And what if JEWMOROCCAN were paid by Xin order to tarnish the image of Morocco as oasis of tollerence; many ennemies, led by some Spanish parties, have begun to express their hatred, out loudly, they still could not accept that one of their colonies has been recovered by Morocco that they call “Western sahara”; many lobbies, often paid by Algeria, are still working in that sense! No wonder if JM belonged to such categories!

  • samuel-lary

    Much ado about nothing!

  • howieb

    Mr. Rosensaft when you write an editorial it is important to first get your facts straight. There have been over 120 foreign Christians expelled from Morocco in the past four months. Nearly half of those are Americans which is more than five. So, this is not a “benign” issue. Do you understand that the majority of these families had legally lived in Morocco for more than 10 years and had no previous problems with the law? They were expelled with no due process afforded them nor presentation of proof of the crimes they allegedly committed. They lost their jobs, friends, possessions and in some cases families were split apart merely because they were foreign Christians. Certainly Morocco is free to govern their country as they choose but they are not free to deceptively give the impression they are a free and tolerant nation that governs by the rule of law. This simply is not true and foreign Christians looking to work or invest there need to be warned that they too could be expelled on a whim with no proof or due process and have their lives turned upside down and lose everything they have invested there. It’s a shame that certain people are making these outrageous comparisons to Nazi Germany but at the same time its a shame that others are calling these gross injustices and major shake-ups of families lives “benign”. I’m grateful that the congressional hearings were held and that someone is standing up for injustice and not allowing Morocco to continue to deceptively give the impression to the rest of the world that they are a country of tolerance and justice.

  • samuel-lary

    You certainly confuse “Practicing a religion,freely” to “The proselytizim ” of poor orphant children, which leads to the kidnapping of innocent little creatures and take them for products to meet the logic of supply and demand and thus meet the needs of those who are ready to give a lot of money for adoptions! The ink used in the case of the Haitian children has not been dried yet!

  • postster

    I grew up in Morocco, and I have always passed by a church and synagogue on my way to school. Back then, proselytizing was not a problem, but it has emerged as a big issue only recently with the wave of evangelical movements from the U.S. targeting more and more less fortunate people in Morocco such as orphans or people living in poor rural areas.These people are either not educated enough to make a proper judgment, and look up to Americans (whom they might expect some kind of reward from them), thus they are easy to be dubbed into a new ideology. Of course this infringes on their right of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Side note: Not only evangelical people are starting to proselytize, but also Shi’a prolysetization has emerged. These emerging phenomena undermine greatly the stability of Morocco and if continued will certainly create a lot of unrest to an otherwise calm region of the muslim world. So please keep off my country or at lease don’t prolecitize in it, don’t force your religion on people whose fathers were muslims for 14 centuries before. We want to keep it tolerant and peaceful the way it always was. If some one wants to become a Christian they’ll know where to find you trust me. Thank you.

  • marcdelare

    Here is the deal, I come to your country and proselytize and you let me do it freely, or i talk trash and mess up your image. Typical “evangelical”. I see them all over NYC in the union square area holding meetings on microphones yelling at everyone how everyone is bad except them lmao. Morocco, ladies and gentlemen, has a law thatn not even Israel has for its jews. The government takes off taxes off every single employee, splits it and sends it to churches, synagogues and mosques on a yearly budget! Go be a racist in morocco towards a christian or jew and see what the Royal Palace will do to you. “let me slap you on the face or i scream “rape!!” This is what this whole story is about. Morocco has been a deffendant and ally of the US and the American people in the region for centuries, even before america became a power and started helping out. God Bless America, God Bless Morocco, and god bless the american and moroccan people! Of any race or religion!

  • samuel-lary

    Just render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s!