Human rights v. reality in the Maghreb

Humanity: an imperfect creation searching for salvation, seeking atonement, or simply the result of biology. Whatever we are also defines who we are today and the next stop on our common journey. Throughout history, the struggle for equality and human rights has been plagued by malice and corruption. Occasional examples of character emerge to inspire us all. Homer’s Hector was moral and good. He was a warrior. Unlike most characters in ancient Greek tales, he was a devoted husband and father. Hector honored his father, King Priam of Troy, simply by demonstrating restraint and profound loyalty. The courage and triumph of Moses, Cinque — the slave who led a mutiny aboard the Amistad — Nelson Mandela, Stephen Biko, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the uncommon valor of our Armed Forces, especially those who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, figure prominently into the American identity and our concept of human rights.

Of course, America’s founding fathers, as imperfect as they were, also displayed a kind of courage and desire for freedom that resides in the consciousness of each and every American. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams and so many others took an idea — individual liberty — and set about making it more than a desire. More than a concept. With much toil, treasure and sacrifice, they gave us a chance. They gave us freedom. Each generation that passes takes up their charge. Success is not guaranteed, it depends on character and respect for the Constitution. Freedom is not won with hubris, arrogance, ignorance or hypocrisy cloaked as moral outrage. It is won by men and women who give the last full measure of devotion. We all have personal heroes whose dignity moves us and whose work ethic and dedication to achievement strengthen our foundation.

Unfortunately, we cannot draw a straight line to equality. Nor can we influence our allies, adversaries and enemies when leaders of our political factions claim the moral high ground and insist on purity tests. Hypocrisy undermines stability. So does cynicism. Cynical leaders, as evidenced by David Keene’s misguided piece in The Hill on human rights, often pick obscure issues or an outlying political metric to illustrate how diverse and balanced they are, when in fact their opinions are fueled by achieving goals that serve a private agenda. Whatever Keene’s motives are for wading into the Western Sahara debate, I do not profess to know.

Beirut’s Daily Star recently published a piece by El Pais‘ English language editor, James Badcock, who has far more knowledge about the Western Sahara than most. He also happens to sympathize with the Saharawi along the same lines as Keene, but his position is more studied. More nuanced. And far more realistic. Badcock notes that the Moroccan government’s “vague autonomy plan for Western Sahara should be seized upon as the only workable solution, and Morocco should be enticed toward a generous settlement along these lines. In turn, Algeria must be made to feel envious of Morocco as the euro-aid splashes in and fails to cross the absurdly closed border between the two countries.”