1.24.2006

Hope Springs Eternal: Just Not in the US


With all the crap building up and surrounding and smothering us poor folks here in the US, it's easy to overlook some of the good stuff that's happening on the planet.

Evo's election in Bolivia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf victory in Liberia, and Michelle Bachelet's win in Chile are all heartening.

Pakistan's loud rebuke to the US about that idiotic airstrike, as well as Mohamed ElBaradei's refusal to be bullied by The Axle of Evil on Iran nukes . . . good stuff.

Here's one I really like, from Der Spiegel, "The Quiet Revolution: Morocco's King Aims To Build a Modern Islamic Democracy". Excerpts:
Morocco's 42-year-old King Mohammed VI has discovered religion as a means of modernizing his society -- and progress through piety seems to be the order of the day. By granting new rights to women and strengthening civil liberties, the ruler of this country of 30 million on Africa's northern edge, which is 99 percent Muslim, plans to democratize Morocco through a tolerant interpretation of the Koran.

Morocco's 350-year-old dynasty, the world's oldest next to the Japanese imperial dynasty, claims to be directly descended from the prophet Mohammed. And as "Amir al-Muminin," or leader of the faithful, the country's ruler enjoys absolute authority.

The Conseil Supérieur des Oulémas, or council of religious scholars, which the king installed a year and a half ago, has been issuing fatwas on the most pressing questions of the 21st century -- and, surprisingly, they've been well-received by both young people and hardened Islamists. If the king's reform plan succeeds, Morocco could become a model of democratic Islam.

Five decades after his country declared its independence from its French and Spanish colonial rulers and six years after the death of his father, Hassan II, Mohammed VI is trying to achieve a delicate balance between thousands of years of Islamic tradition and the demands of a globalized world.

Eight weeks ago Mohammed VI, as Morocco's "citizen king" and "first servant," addressed his "dear people" during festivities to celebrate the anniversary of his grandfather's return from exile. "The path we have irrevocably chosen," said Mohammed, "is to strengthen civil rights for the benefit of all Moroccans - whom I view as equals, regardless of their status." The foreign dignitaries in attendance, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, praised the course that the government of Prime Minister Driss Jetou has taken under the king's leadership . . .

The king's newest initiative, which calls for allowing women to be trained as imams in the future, has also met with the Islamists' approval.

Traditionally women are not permitted to speak out during prayer, so as not to "provoke" the men, explains Fatima al-Kabbaj, a graduate of the time-honored Islamic theological University of Karaouine in Fez and the first woman in the 16-member Council of Religious Scholars. Kabbaj instructed the king and his siblings in the laws of faith. She says that the monarch has recognized that women are better able to gain the trust of the illiterate, most of whom are also women. Besides, says Kabbaj, devout women are also more effective with the rural population and Morocco's four million poor than inaccessible imams . . .

Another tool in Mohammed's battle for the souls of his subjects is the "National Initiative for Development." Although officially more than half of the government's budget is spent on social projects, Morocco is still ranked 124th on the United Nations Human Development Index. With a budget of just under €25 million in immediate aid and another billion euros between 2006 and 2010, the government hopes to reduce poverty by half within the next five years.

If the king has his way, Moroccans will liberate themselves from the slogans and handouts of radical Islamist preachers. Although they may represent a threat to Mohammed VI's reform policies, the only Islamist party seen as capable of succeeding in next year's parliamentary election is the Justice and Development Party . . .
As the poverty of Americanism is exposed, it's good to know that some other humans are struggling to construct, rather than destroy.