The Corner

Don’t break out the champagne quite yet on the new Moroccan constitution

Roger Kimball has beaten me to the punch in reacting to Jen Rubin’s post in praise of King Mohammed VI’s new constitution for Morocco. The constitution appears to transfer some important powers from the monarch to a democratically elected legislature and chief executive. Further, it ostensibly guarantees equality under the law for women, as well as freedom of religious practice, conscience, and speech — all under an overarching commitment to protect human rights.

Jen effuses that the constitution and the king’s speech announcing it “explode several myths: diversity isn’t possible in a Muslim country; tribal and ethnic divisions make a nation state problematic if not ungovernable; Islam and the secular rule of law are incompatible; and human rights will inevitably be sacrificed if democratic reforms expand in a Muslim country.” I wish it were that simple.

Morocco is not just a “Muslim country” in the cultural sense. It is a country proudly adherent to sharia law. Since 1969, Morocco has been a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, whose Islamic member states proclaimed, in 1990, the “Declaration of Human Rights in Islam.” The rationale for this proclamation — which is also known as the “Cairo Declaration” — is that the signatory nations do not accept the concept of “human rights” as it is understood in the West and outlined in such instruments as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the Cairo Declaration is a rebuttal.

Islamists always lard up their proclamations with sweet sounding guarantees like “human rights,” “equality,” “justice,” etc. They do it precisely to beguile the West, and they have no small number of champions who will dutifully tell us to take it all at face value. (To be clear, Jen is most certainly not one of these, although I fear she is giving Morocco too much credit on this one.) You always have to read the fine-print, though — and it’s usually not too difficult to realize that you are being played once you understand the game.

So here we have the king’s preamble: “The first pillar is the commitment to the Moroccan nation’s immutable values, the preservation and sustainability of which is entrusted to me, within the framework of an Islamic country in which the King and Commander of the Faithful ensures the protection of the faith and guarantees the freedom of religious practice.” Jen italicizes the bit at the end about “protection of the faith and guarantees the freedom of religious practice.” The salient passages, however, are the references to “the Moroccan nation’s immutable values” and to how everything happens “within the framework of an Islamic country[.]“

Jen selectively construes the passage to mean Islam is relevant only in the sense that it is the source of the king’s legitimacy, making the king “the highest religious authority”; she cleaves off the guarantee of “freedom to practice other religions” (her italics) as if it were somehow not controlled by Islam but by some universal understanding of religious liberty shared by all of mankind. But, as the king himself makes clear, everything must happen within the framework of an Islamic country and consistent with the Moroccan nation’s immutable values – which are Islamic values. That means sharia — Islam’s all-encompassing law. The fact is that the king is not Morocco’s “highest religious authority.” Islam is not a religion; it is a comprehensive system regulating not only spiritual life but every detail of life. (My weekend column discussed this crucial distinction.) The king is the highest authority in the sense that he is ultimately responsible for the enforcement of Allah’s law, which is not religious but totalitarian. 

According to the Cairo Declaration signed by Morocco, “the Islamic Ummah, which Allah made the best nation . . . has given mankind a universal and well-balanced civilization.” The “role” of the Ummah is “to guide” humanity away from “the chronic problems” of “materialism” and “affirm [mankind’s] freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah.” Everything – every right, every duty — is qualified by sharia. That is not just my interpretation. It is made clear throughout the Declaration, and it is made emphatic at the conclusion — in Articles 24 and 25, which Roger quotes in full: All rights and freedoms are subject to sharia, and when there is any doubt, sharia is the only permissible “source of reference for the explanation or clarification.”

This is the necessary context for understanding what the Moroccan king has done. We have to grasp this or we will forever be surprised — forever, like the State Department, fawning over constitutions (like Afghanistan’s) that purport to safeguard human rights, then being shocked when some Christian convert is given a death-penalty trial for the capital “crime” of apostasy from Islam. When Islamic authorities speak of “human rights,” “equality for women,” “freedom to practice religion,” “freedom of speech,” and so on, they do not mean what you think you are hearing.

“Human rights” are the rights that humans have under sharia law — and no others. “Equality for women” consists of the rights women are granted by sharia, which we in the West see (quite rightly, I think) as being grossly subordinate to the rights of men (in particular, Muslim men). In stark contrast, Islam considers them merely different from the rights of men — more suitable, sharia scholars will tell you, to life as Allah intended women to live it, in light of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of their natural condition. As the Cairo Declaration puts it (in Article 6): “Woman is equal to man in human dignity, and has rights to enjoy as well as duties to perform[.]” Yes, she “has her own civil entity and financial independence” — but only within the framework of what sharia permits. Indeed, Article 19 pronounces that not only women but “All individuals are equal before the law, without distinction between ruler and ruled.” But again, this notion of “equality” is not the Western notion; when the law is sharia, to be equal “before the law” is to be saddled with sharia’s very different treatment of men and women, and of Muslims and non-Muslims. 

Similarly, “freedom to practice religion” comes with the severe restrictions sharia imposes on non-Muslims. Yes, they are “free” to practice their religion in the sense that they are not compelled to convert to Islam (Article 10 makes that explicit), but there are considerable legal and financial disadvantages to being a non-Muslim in a sharia state. And “freedom of speech” does not include the freedom to utter statements that cast Islam in a poor light or that sow discord among the ummah — regardless of whether those statements are true. Observe Article 22′s weighty caveats (my italics):

Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari’ah. Everyone shall have the right to advocate what is right, and propagate what is good, and warn against what is wrong and evil according to the norms of Islamic Shari’ah. Information is a vital necessity to Society. It may not be exploited or misused in such a way as may violate the sanctities and the dignity of Prophets, undermine moral and ethical values, or disintegrate, corrupt or harm Society or weaken its faith

Is it possible, as Jen maintains, to have diversity (by which she means different groups with truly equal rights) in a Muslim country? Of course it is, but it will have to happen despite Islam, not because of Islam. It will require a ruler who will suppress sharia. Were that to happen, it would not “explode the myths” that “Islam and the secular rule of law are incompatible” and that “human rights will inevitably be sacrificed if democratic reforms expand in a Muslim country.” It would confirm that these are not myths at all. It would be an instance of a ruler suppressing sharia so that his country can thrive.

Like Jen, I hope that Mohammed VI turns out to be such a ruler. But I’m not nearly as optimistic. Not only is the constitution filled with sharia caveats. As Roger notes, we have neither seen nor heard anything to suggest that Morocco has renounced the Cairo Declaration. Nor am I aware of Morocco’s having separated itself from the OIC’s ongoing campaigns to criminalize criticism of Islam and to spread sharia in the West. Absent such steps, I would not celebrate the new Morocco constitution until we see how it actually operates.

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