The King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, made unique, revolutionary remarks - for an Arab leader - about the Holocaust.
On the country’s 10th anniversary under his reign, he stated that the Holocaust was “one of the most tragic chapters in modern history.” He then added, “Amnesia has no bearing on my perception of the Holocaust, or on that of my people.”
The speech was read out at a ceremony launching the “Aladdin Project,” an initiative of the Paris-based Foundation for the Memory of the Holocaust, which aims to spread awareness of the genocide among Muslims. The project involves translating key Holocaust texts such as “The Diary of Anne Frank” into Arabic and Farsi.
The King’s remarks came in sharp contrast with the stands that are now commonplace in many parts of the Muslim world, where denial and distortion of the Holocaust have become widespread. At a time when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s dismissal of the Holocaust and his call for the destruction of Israel are making the biggest headlines, this courageous act by the Moroccan monarch to acknowledge the historical truth and universal significance of the Holocaust is especially remarkable. His call to educate Arabs and Muslims around the world over this issue is also noteworthy and there is no doubt that this task will not be easy at all. I doubt that his example will be followed by other leaders in the region.
Morocco has a longstanding tradition of tolerance and coexistence between Muslims and Jews. King Hassan II - father of Mohammed VI - even appointed as his main counsellor a Moroccan-Jew, AndrÃ© Azoulay, who still retains this charge under the present king. Morocco has also pioneered peace efforts to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and, in 1977, it hosted secret meetings between Egyptians and Israelis in preparation to Anwar Sadat’s historic trip to Jerusalem.
But Morocco is also a country where anti-American and anti-Western feelings have made their way through in many strata of its society. Speaking to a taxi driver or to a government official, after having previously gained his confidence, the tune is always the same: Americans and Westerners are accused of occupying Muslim territory and of waging a war against Islam. Even though the recent parliamentary and local elections have represented a setback for the Islamists of any shade.
The King is working hard against anti-Western feelings. For the 2008 New Year, the Moroccan State channel, RTM, recorded its program in Washington DC. The host showed how the US was welcoming Moroccans, and how the hotel hall, from where the show was aired, was decorated with American and Moroccan flags. Among the King’s brave stands, we should also not forget that last March Morocco cut diplomatic ties with Iran, and has distinguished itself in the fight against terrorism.
Actually, Moroccans were able to react passionately when Islamist terrorism hit their country. After the terrorist attacks of 2003 in Casablanca, where 45 people died, the whole country was plastered with writings that read “Matkich Bladi”, (“Don’t Touch My Country”), a very decisive stand against whoever intends to destabilise the country.
However, the King of Morocco has to be very cautious and must “walk over the eggs,” to use the expression of a French political analyst, when dealing with such touchy subjects as the Holocaust; this recognition will not gain him many friends in the Arab world. His courage must be appreciated in affirming a simple but hard to swallow (for many Arabs) truth: that the Holocaust is a historical fact, and not a Western fabrication for justifying the existence of Israel.
On his way back from Paris, where he delivered his speech, he did not find the frenzied adoring crowds that Turkish PM Erdogan found in Turkey when he came back from Switzerland after a harsh argument with Israeli President Peres. Insults have begun pouring on King Mohammed on the Internet, where he is described as the Zionist king and accused of being of Jewish descent; an innocent blessing that he recently received from a rabbi in New York becomes the evidence that he is indeed Jewish and a Zionist.
In the West, King Mohammed’s speech was highly appreciated, even though it did not get the attention in the media that it deserved. US President Barack Obama sent him a message that stated: “I hope Morocco will be a leader in bridging gaps between Israel and the Arab world.” Obama has also commended both the King’s and the Moroccan government’s efforts “to build the relationships we need to face today’s serious challenges.” One of the major challenges will certainly be to convince the masses in the Middle East that the real fabrication is not the Holocaust, but all the conspiracy theories of their leaders that poison the political environment.