Should Morocco be afraid of me?

Originally posted on January 29th 2016 on my tumblr.

Listen, America, I am the worst.

At least, if you listen to our current political discourse, I am exactly the kind of immigrant that my host country should resist and fear. “Well, you’re not an immigrant,” one might say. “An immigrant intends to settle in the host country permanently.”

So, okay, I’m a migrant worker. Is that better? You could call me an expat, but it’s the same thing. The "expat" label just affords me a nicer image because it’s associated with a specific kind of migrant worker: the relatively rich and Western kind, who moves abroad “for the culture”. Similar to how an immigrant to the U.S. might find our culture appealing or educational... Hmm.

So anyway, I’m a migrant worker, here for a job opportunity, and also because I want to experience a new lifestyle. But it gets worse. I’m a religious minority. And although I respect the local religion, I continue to practice mine, regularly and visibly.

And worse, I don’t speak the local language. I’m trying, some, but it’s difficult with my work schedule to take formal classes and make rapid progress. As a result, I mainly associate with other foreigners, or with locals who speak my language.

And worse still, as much as I enjoy learning about Moroccan culture, I have little interest in full assimilation. I have found a balance of Moroccan and American habits and values that suits me, and I don’t think it’s necessary to forsake my American-ness while I’m here. In fact, I hope that my heritage adds value to my community, instead of weakening it.

All in all, I am the opposite of a “model minority,” and if our current administration is to be believed, I am exactly the sort of person that threatens to ruin my host country economically, culturally, violently, or all three.

By our own American logic, Morocco should show me the door.

Instead, now that we’ve established that I am the actual worst, here is a snippet of what life is actually like for me in Casablanca.

Here, everyone speaks two, three, or even four languages, and often when I struggle with basic communication in French or Arabic, we can switch to English. Instead of being criticized for being less than fluent, I am praised for any efforts to speak the local language.

Here, every time I hear the call to prayer, I am reminded that I am a religious minority. However, I have never once been criticized for not being a Muslim. I am permitted to drink alcohol or eat pork, as long as I go to shops that cater to foreigners in order to get it. Here, I go to church every Sunday, and as long as we do not actively seek to proselytize Moroccan Muslims, we are welcome to worship freely. In the wake of the attack on a Coptic church in Egypt, I participated in a candlelit Christmas Eve service under the protection of a squadron of heavily armed Moroccan policemen, committed to keeping us safe.

Here, when Moroccans see the United States on the news, it’s usually about our mud-slinging election, racial conflict, drone strikes, or most recently, the vitriolic rhetoric of a new president who claims that our two cultures are at war. And yet, they also see American movies and listen to American music, and are often exposed to the same positive notions about Americans that we have about ourselves: that we’re hard-working, good-natured, and innovative... and perhaps that we eat too much McDonald’s. With these two vastly different images of the United States, I’ve met almost no one predisposed to judge me by the first body of evidence, almost no one who resents me personally on behalf of the actions or words of those who represent me politically.

Here, yesterday, as I was checking out at a department store, the clerk saw my American credit card and asked me (in English) if this was my first visit to the country. I explained I’ve been here for about six months. He smiled and said, “You are welcome in Morocco.” Since moving here, it’s something I’ve heard literally hundreds of times.

This endearingly clunky phrase is a bit of a Freudian slip: it’s used in a context where “Welcome to Morocco” would be the more natural translation to English, but it’s true in a very literal sense. I am welcome here, despite the fact that I’m a religious minority who doesn’t speak the language and I’m working a job that by its very nature is altering the culture of my host country. I am welcome here, and I wasn’t even expected to leave my Americanness at the border when I came in. I am a part of Casablanca, immersed in it but not dissolved into it. I am learning about Moroccan culture, and I am proud to be representing mine. I am being paid for a job that I am well-qualified to do, and that money goes straight back into the local economy because I live here, shop here, and eat here. I am not a threat, not violently, economically, or culturally. I am an asset to my Moroccan community, and I am welcome here.

Why are you afraid of me, America? Why are you afraid of welcoming people who have shown a great deal more willingness to integrate than I have in order to be granted permission to enter the United States? Why are you afraid of welcoming refugees, who must pass the most thorough vetting of all?

Listen, I won’t pretend that the Moroccan government’s positive attitude toward foreigners is universal, nor that it is born purely out of the goodness of hearts. Like much of politics, it’s motivated by money. Unlike some majority-Muslim countries, Morocco is not rich in fossil fuels, so instead it utilizes its picturesque architecture and sunny coastline to attract tourists. The economic need for tourism is the driving force behind the freedoms afforded to Westerners like me, freedoms that are sometimes not afforded to Moroccan citizens themselves. (An issue that needs discussing in its own right.) And when migrant workers come from sub-Saharan Africa or other countries less likely to pour money into Morocco, they face much of the same prejudice that migrants now encounter in the United States. I am privileged to be treated so well here in Casablanca because I am well-educated, relatively rich, and frankly, white.

So I make no claims that this country is perfect, but nonetheless I think Americans could learn a lot from Morocco. If the United States continues to treat foreigners so much worse than I am treated as a religious minority in a Muslim country, we need to take a long look in the mirror. Is this who we are? It’s important to be wary of terrorism, and even reasonable to be frightened of it, but who are we if we sacrifice our most cherished values in the name of security? I love my country dearly, the land of the free and the home of the brave. But come on, America. If we’re going to keep calling ourselves that, we need to be freer and we need to be braver.

I am nothing to be afraid of.

Hiking in the Ourika Valley

Hiking in the Ourika Valley

Equi-trekking Essaouira

Equi-trekking Essaouira