Human rights v. reality in the Maghreb

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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.”

Keene disregards clear evidence discovered and reported by others regarding Al Qaeda’s recruiting in the Tindouf as a straw man. While some will critique Keene’s failure to disclose his previous professional ties to the Algerian government, which is a fair statement because he should disclose something that colors his view — there is something more important in my estimation: fighting terror isn’t exactly his priority. While insisting on ideological purity in the conservative movement, he’s demonstrated a willingness to cozy up to terrorists. His support of trials being held in Federal District Court in New York City for terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tells me all I need to know. If you believe KSM deserves the same rights as an average American, we aren’t on the same team. I am a Republican, and if he’s a “conservative” who wishes to invoke Ronald Reagan as an inspiration, then might I suggest he take a fresh look at the lengths Reagan was willing to go to defeat tyranny.

Furthermore, all that “family values” business is bunk when you compare Algeria’s record of brutal oppression and Morocco’s embrace of the Bush-era Millennium Development goals. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said last month:

His Majesty King Mohamed VI [the King of Morocco] told me that achieving all the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 will be a major indicator of the success of his reform efforts for Morocco. I compliment the King of Morocco on his initiative. I am glad that I had the chance to see for myself the accomplishments of the first five years of his National Initiative for Human Development. Morocco’s comprehensive sectoral reforms — in education and health, agriculture and fisheries, tourism, transport and green technologies — stand to benefit all its citizens. Yet, some groups deserve particular attention to enable them to overcome social or geographic isolation, and share in their country’s achievements. I therefore commend the focus of the National Initiative on reaching the poorest populations in all corners of the country — from isolated rural communities to those on the urban fringes. I welcome, too, Morocco’s efforts to build the capacity of local governments and civil society organizations. Morocco has achieved significant results in rural infrastructure in water and electricity, and is on track to meet its development targets, although additional effort is needed in education and in children’s and maternal health. The country’s experience tells us that the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved.

Generalizations rarely shed light on the truth. Life in the Maghreb, the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa is complicated by any measure. But when we look through a lens of right versus wrong, we get to the truth via the express lane. Algeria’s stance in support of indicted war criminal Omar al Bashir, the genocidal President of Sudan, is also troubling. Paying lip-service to human rights is not a moral stance. It isn’t conservative or liberal. It is wrong. To believe in equality, to believe in the right of individual determination, is to believe in right and wrong. In defending the innocent. In preserving liberty. Family. Love. The Constitution.

Throughout human history, stories of oppressed people displaced from their homeland have marred progress. Stories of brutality, malnutrition, a lack of good medical care and potable water pervade oral and written history. Families become separated by force, sometimes by war. The universal need, and right, for freedom and individual determination should be respected.

There are as many stories supporting Morocco from Saharawis who escaped from Tindouf as there are in support of the Polisario and Algeria. The UNHCR has confirmed and many news reports have discussed how family members have been prevented from reuniting with each other. Planes have been turned away, even though visits had long been scheduled. The imprisonment in an Algerian-owned and -operated black site for dissenter Sidi Mouloud was condemned by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Mouloud is a Saharawi who, because he exercised his right to free speech and spoke in favor of Morocco, was kidnapped and held for more than 70 days.

The truth is this: Morocco continues to welcome Saharawis. Morocco has a plan for a lasting piece embraced by thinkers, diplomats and other nations. Algeria and the Polisario continue to hold thousands of people hostage in refugee camps, refusing them access to the outside world but happily putting them on display for political tourists. Dissenters like Sidi Mouloud are held in Algeria’s black sites.

Richard Miniter’s reporting for the New York Post and the Hudson Institute revealed what had been a quiet secret for years: Al Qaeda recruits — by force — from the Polisario and Algerian camps where thousands and thousands of Saharawis are hostages. If the Polisario believed in freedom, they would allow a UNHCR-administered census in the camps and they would allow Saharawis to return to their homelands in the Western Sahara.

Keene is not alone. The Institute for Liberty’s president, Andrew Langer, is live tweeting his trip to Algiers and the refugee camps in Tindouf this week. His delegation includes other conservatives, who are being sold a story that Algeria, a country of brutal oppression, is the good guy when it comes to the Western Sahara. Morocco is not a Shangri-la, but it is an open society. It is a country that hosted the ladies of Sex and the City when they filmed their second movie. I hope Langer’s delegation will also visit Morocco and meet Saharawi people and families who escaped the iron grip of Algeria. I hope that all who wade into the complicated sands embrace liberty and justice for all, not just for Al Qaeda, the Polisario and Algeria.

Elizabeth Blackney is best known as a media & communications strategist, political emissary, confidante and commentator. Perceptive and quick on the draw, she served as Political Director for BlogTalkRadio’s 2008 election coverage, and as a a writer for the AOL News Hot Seat. Now a full-time opinionista, and Twitter maven, her targets are anti-war liberals, entrenched feminism, moral relativists and solipsistic elected officials and academics. Blackney authored Sex, Lies & Politricks. Read her latest columns at www.medializzy.com, or follow her on Twitter @MediaLizzy.