MONTREAL — For Mahdi Ziani and Jérémie Tapiero, it hasn’t been easy to watch the turbulent fallout of the Arab Spring unfold in Morocco, the country of their common heritage.
The country is in the midst of being caught up in the tides of history, Ziani, a Muslim, and Tapiero, who is Jewish, acknowledge.
Morocco has seen the unsettling rise of Islamism in the form of the Justice and Development Party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In March, David Saranga, an Israeli envoy on a working visit to Morocco’s capital, Rabat, left quickly when tens of thousands protested his presence at a massive pro-Palestinian rally.
Ziani and Tapiero believe those incidents merely underscore the essential need for the fledgling group they are active in, Mémoires & Dialogue.
Launched locally about seven months ago as an outgrowth of informal exchanges that had been taking place among like-minded local Moroccan Muslims and Jews, Mémoires & Dialogue’s terms of reference are to affirm in Quebec – through meetings, conferences and other events – the common and enduring “singular place” Morocco continues to hold in the hearts and minds of its Jews, Muslims, Berber population and other minorities.
“Everyone knows about the problems, but we are together to show how Morocco has, during its history, been a place of tolerance and pluralism for Muslims and Jews,” 34-year-old Ziani, an auditing and training co-ordinator at Concordia University, said in a recent interview.
“The purpose is to reach out, to show that dialogue is possible.”
“We represent all segments of Moroccan society,” noted Tapiero, who, at 36, has worked as a professional in the Jewish community and joined Ziani for the interview. “We are not naïve about what’s going on. But it is also a reason for Mémoires & Dialogues to go on.”
Indeed, both made it clear that while the main purpose of their group is to reinforce common ancestral bonds and to build local bridges of rapprochement and coexistence among Jews, Muslims and others of Moroccan descent, political discussion within Mémoires & Dialogues – whether about religion or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – is neither avoided nor discouraged.
The group’s French-language website, memoiresetdialogue.com (an English-language link is being worked on), expresses a “cri du coeur” to uphold the Morocco where King Mohammed V refused to impose Vichy laws during World War II, where King Hassan II hosted Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat for peace talks, and where King Mohammed VI defined the Holocaust as “one of the most painful chapters in human history.”
It also quotes from Morocco’s constitution: “Our Morocco is guided by the values of openness, moderation, tolerance and dialogue for the mutual understanding of all the world’s cultures and civilizations.”
Mémoires & Dialogue’s board of directors therefore includes, in addition to Ziani and Tapiero, a number of other Muslims and Jews, among them president Amine Dabchy, a former president of the Concordia University Student Union; Maurice Chalom, a veteran advisor in the City of Montreal’s police and security department; Rabia Chaouchi, a community development advisor for the City of Montreal; and Elie Benchetrit and Daniel Amar, both well-known figures in the organized Jewish community.
The honorary president is Yehuda Lancry, who was born in Morocco and served as Israel’s ambassador to France and the United Nations.
So far, the group has organized several events, including a “rencontre” with interim Liberal party leader Bob Rae, and an evening of comedy called Tajine de Rires (tajine is a North African stew). Its next major event, called “Canada-Québec-Maroc: questions d’avenir,” is an all-day conference on June 3, with a number of local and international experts, at the Le Sporting Club du Sanctuaire, 6105 Avenue du Boisé.
The event’s honorary co-chairs are Quebec cultural communities minister Kathleen Weil and Morocco’s ambassador to Canada, Nouzha Chekrouni.
For Ziani and Tapiero, the event will mark an ambitious milestone for Mémoires & Dialogues. But both also pointed out the continuing need to “promote the message better,” a task that would be facilitated by more public and corporate involvement and support.
They also said the group plans to eventually take more “specific positions” on “difficult” issues.
“This will be the future,” Tapiero said.
For more information on the June 3 event, call 514-823-5060, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.