Who’s Your Daddy, Jesus or the King?
Two days after the abrupt and discourteous expulsion of 16 Christian aid workers and their biological dependents, Morocco’s communication minister Khaled Naceri described the government’s action as enforcement of the country’s adoption laws and not an attack on their faith. The deportees, who were overseeing an orphanage known as the Village of Hope (VOH), located not far from Ain Leuh in the Middle Atlas Mountains, are accused of exploiting the distressing situation of the 33 Moroccan waifs in their care to preach the gospel and convert them to Christianity. Khaled Naceri warned that proselytizing by followers of any denomination will not be tolerated and reiterated the government’s official statement that all faiths are respected and freely practiced in Moroccan cities.
In a statement on their website, the staff of VOH-Ain Leuh declared that they never veiled their devotion to the Christian confession from local authorities; they have been fostering abandoned children in the region of Ain Leuh for ten years with total transparency. Just recently, the facility has been recognized as a childcare institution by the Moroccan government. They denied any evangelism – overt, clandestine, or covert – ever took place on the premises of the orphanage; in fact, they had a standard operating procedure specifically designed to prevent proselytizing; all visitors to their orphanage were required to sign a statement acknowledging the prohibition of such practices and
pledging to adhere to the laws of the host nation. They described their work in Morocco as purely humanitarian; they strived to foster an environment of love and compassion in which the children, some of whom are babies, were cared for by a staff acting as parents rather than dispassionate social workers.
I do not doubt the benignity of the VOH staff, but I must admit that I find it difficult to believe that its fount is anything other than theodicy. As “confirmed” Christians, the group must have taught their protégés catechism and involved them in Sunday mass; they may not have “holy orders,” but like any good Christian, they must have introduced the children to the seven sacraments and instructed them on how to recite “Our Father,” “Glory be,” and “Hail Mary.” Before tucking the kids in, they must have read them children Bible stories and helped them pray “now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep” – maybe disguised as a lullaby; before the communal meal they must have held hands with the children and gave them turns to say grace and thank “Lord Jesus Christ for the food thou hath blessed.” No doubt that VOH was providing these kids with a second chance at a dignified life, but in conforming to their Christian belief, the staff must have sought to save the children ‘souls by making them “accept Jesus Christ as their savior.” In fact, the abandoned children would easily identify with Jesus for he too thought he was forsaken by his father. The urge must have been great.
Morocco’s (and Islamic) laws, of course, forbid teaching non-Islamic (Sunni-Maliki) tenets to Moroccans born to Moslem parents – even if those parents conceived them out of wedlock and have forsaken them. The government never presented any proof of wrong doing against the staff of VOH. I suspect they didn’t have any; I reckon they acted on hearsay; one of the local villagers must have seen a child from the orphanage cross himself or heard him/her say something to the effect that “the Bible is God’s word and Jesus Christ is his son.” When the gendarmerie personnel came to the orphanage on March 8th to order the staff to vacate and had them escorted under arms, the execution of the deportation was irrevocable.
The government’s recent deliberate campaign against Christian missionaries – overt or otherwise – is not a contention over who has the best invisible friend. In fact, it’s not even religious. It is politically motivated. The conversion of Moslem Moroccans to any other faith is corrosive to the authority of the King as the Amīr al-Mu’minīn – Commander of the Faithful. It diminishes his flock and tarnishes his images in the eyes of international Moslem leadership. Christian missionaries – mostly Americans from the Bible belt and British– have been intensifying their efforts to spread the word of God since 9/11. To mitigate what they perceive as a serious threat to Christianity, Christian fundamentalists have sought to convert as many Moslems as possible; they mainly target street children and they operate under the banner of charities and humanitarian associations. They succeeded in influencing the military and, by virtue of their electoral strength, have established strong alliances at the highest political spheres.
The Moroccan government, through its security services, has grown sensitive to the threat of evangelizing Christians – a political threat to the ideology of governance in Morocco, an ideology deeply ingrained in Islamic thought. The increasing numbers of Moroccan neophytes who believe that their commitment is not to “Sidna,” but to Jesus worry the authorities. The deportation of those Christian foreigners who have been accused of proselytizing has made the news, but the arrests of Moroccan apostates have been deliberately kept at a low profile and resolved surreptitiously. The Moroccan government is desperately trying to prevent an international scandal by preventing such cases from going to court. But it is only a matter of time before a convert challenges the country’s prohibitive laws and clamor publically through mainstream outlets the right to embrace a different faith.
I think it should be allowed if we are to truly claim religious openness and tolerance.
The true victims in this whole affair are the 33 children. The quality of care they will receive from now on will certainly be of a lesser quality than that they’ve been receiving the past ten years from their surrogate parents. Social programs addressing the issue of abandoned children in Morocco are not spearheaded by the government, but by private organizations such as the 2009 Opus prize winner Aïcha Ech Channa’s Solidarité Féminine and citizen pro-action. Children conceived out of wedlock are often entrusted to compassionate families in hospital hallways. Even Aïcha Ech Channa’s Solidarité Féminine was initially started as a citizen pro-action in 1985; the association survived thanks to foreign donations and was not officially recognized by the Moroccan government as a charitable enterprise until 2002.
There are thousands of children aimlessly roaming the streets of Moroccan cities. We see them shooed off by waiters or haggardly trudging along, their faces ashen, their brains dazed in a haze from sniffing glue. They sleep in alleyways like rabid dogs and rummage through trash for rotten food. They’re raped and physically beaten; they’re subjected to prostitution and crime. They are constantly tormented by small-time drug dealers, security guards, parking lot attendants, and the police. They have no education and no future. We look at them as pugnacious outcasts and they bask in our total indifference as they silently bemoan our lack of compulsive curiosity and craving for human compassion. Did we ever care they are Moslem? Did their Moslem status ever conjure our compassion and heighten our awareness of their plight? These foreign missions are filling a vacuum created by the government’s inadequate or non-existing measures when it comes to abandoned children. Considering the authorities’ bovine reaction to their predicament in the past decade, would you rather see them wither and die of hunger or disease, humiliated, and alienated than to see them as Christians, or Buddhists even? In a country so replete with anti-Islamic symbols from alcohol and gambling to prostitution and social injustice, a country where the government allowed the filming of Jesus of Nazareth and other Bible based movies, it would be hypocritical and selfish not to choose the latter.