Despite the proximity to a majorly disruptive, completely alien, necessarily life-changing experience, I am calm, focused, in balance. People ask who I am and what I'm doing in Chattanooga, and when they do, the conversation almost invariably transitions into the Oh-the-Peace-Corps?-tell-me-more talk. At some point, most people ask a pretty dumb question. This question is, "Are you excited?" Maybe it's rhetorical. In any case, of course I'm excited - I'm about to go through a majorly disruptive, completely alien, necessarily life-changing experience. So... like, duh.
Anyway, I've had the chance to read a lot more about Morocco's politics and history, so here are some more FAQs:
Is Morocco dangerous for Americans? Don't they all hate Americans over there?
When somebody asks me this question, I assume that they refers to all Muslims and over there refers to the entirety of the Arab world, which stretches from Morocco all the way East across the top of Africa and over the Middle East. Or if the person is talking about Muslims countries in general, we have to push the boundaries even further east, even including Indonesia and Malaysia.
The reason I assume this is because if the questioning party knew enough about Morocco in particular to have a general idea of how that population feels about America, that general idea would almost certainly be the opposite of what their question implies.
Morocco has a long history of good relations with the West. Remember when the British subjects living in the New Land got all independent-minded-like and the King of England got in a tizzy? Who do you suppose was the first foreign country to recognize the United States of America as an independent, sovereign nation?
That's right, it was Morocco.
In fact, in 1786, sultan Mohammed III, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams signed the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship, making Morocco our longest continuous treaty-bound friend.
Okay, that was a long time ago. What about since we've been all up in the Middle-East's biznass?
And this is where the idea comes into play that all Muslims hate America. There are some parts of the Muslim world where the majority of inhabitants really hate America's foreign policy concerning the Middle-East. In fact, it's not really popular anywhere in the Muslim world. The extremists - the ones calling for terrorism - have mostly stayed out of Morocco, which has long enjoyed a reputation as a peaceful, moderate Muslim country.
After the September 2001 terrorist attacks, Morocco was the first Muslim country to express condolences to those affected, and the only Muslim country to hold a memorial service for the victims.
Oh, so they love us?
Not so fast. Mom, Dad, stop reading at this point. Skip down to the next section.
Okay, so it isn't as good as all that. Here is what you need to know: in the past 10 years, things have been heating up, even in Morocco. In 2003, a team of suicide bombers shocked the world when they killed 45 people and injured many more in Casablanca, Morocco's largest city.
The next year, terrorists attacked a bunch of trains in Madrid. You probably recall it being all over the news. That attack killed almost 200 and wounded thousands. Moroccan terrorists were linked to the attack. Again, the nation was horrified and disgusted.
You see, the vast majority of Moroccans believe violence is against Islam. Morocco's king has repeatedly denounced terrorists groups, and the government works actively to fight terrorism and crack down on extremists.
The disturbing part is that these groups are popping up in the first place. You see, the income gap in Morocco is very great. The unemployment is astronomical for young people - about 30% for those under the age of 34. Yikes. A series of reforms promised by political groups on the left have been rendered pretty ineffective by coalition governments. People are getting restless, wanting faster reforms, and the Left has seemingly let them down. There have been some protests in Rabat and Casablanca. The public are turning more and more to the Islamists political parties.
Islamist parties? What's this all about?
I won't bother you with a lot of specifics. Just know this: the King is the head of the country, the "Commander of the Faithful." He is descended directly from the Prophet and therefore possesses what the Muslims call baraka, a sort of diving grace or charisma. He is the political and spiritual leader of the country. Fun fact: King Mohammed VI is part of the oldest ruling dynasty in the world, the Alaouite Dynasty, begun in 1666.
But the people want democratically elected leaders, too. Thus, elections decide who heads the government currently in power. Ultimately, the king still retains a major amount of control over the affairs of the country. He has led many crackdowns on meetings of groups he considers dangerous, including Islamist groups that would like political power. Despite crackdowns, the parties are drawing popular support. In this last election an Islamist political party called the Justice and Development Party (PJD) won overwhelming support, and is the current ruling party.
The PJD considers itself a moderate Islamist party. It advocates a peaceful Islam, and it has always come out against the use of violence and terrorism. It has sometimes been critical of the king's progressive actions, such as those related to gender issues.
And the Jews?
Morocco historically has been a place of peaceful co-habitation. Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived together and mingled art, music, food - it was wonderful. Even up through the French protectorate, Morocco enjoyed quite a substantial Jewish population. And get this: remember when, for like four years during WWII, France was all Nazi-friendly? You know, Vichy France? C'mon, don't you guys know your history? Anyway, this was during the Protectorate, so Morocco was essentially being run by France at that point. And the Vichy government tried to issue a decree in Morocco discriminating against Jews, but Sultan Mohammed V would have none of it. He openly defied the French overlords, declared that Jews were just as much Moroccan subjects as any other, and to top it all off, invited all of Morocco's rabbis to a big royal bash.
As things have heated up between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews in Arab countries have been feeling the tension. And as Morocco was gaining independence from France in the 50's, many Jews emigrated, despite promises from the Sultan that they would be protected. Today, very few Jews live in Morocco, and there is a fair amount of discrimination toward those that do.
That seems like enough information for now. Feel free to ask any other questions either here in the comments, or on Facebook, if that's where you prefer to do those kinds of things.