Interview with Nadia Yassine

"The System Is Blocked"

Nadia Yassine is the leader of "Justice and Spirituality", Morocco's biggest Islamist organization. She belongs to a new generation of Islamists: western-educated but not westernized. Alfred Hackensberger interviewed her

Nadia Yassine (photo: Alfred Hackensberger)
Nadia Yassine: "We are not completely against capitalism. Islam, however, can provide it with a human and just dimension"

​​The new Moroccan family code, the "Modawwana," has been praised as an historic step towards equal rights for women in the Arab world. Are you in favor or against it?

Yassine: We were already out on the streets six years ago calling for changes to the "Modawwana," as it has long been clear to us that women must enjoy a better role in society. There are many women in our movement running projects and institutions. Take me, for example. I am the spokeswoman for our movement. We support changes, but the necessary ideas don't have to be imported from the imperialist West.

Do you regard the new law as good or bad?

Yassine: Of course, it is good and important. There is no doubt about it. I will try to make our position clear in another way. If the "Makhzen" (the governing elite in Morocco) had not been sure that we supported the new law, they wouldn't have pushed it through. We gave them clear signals of our approval. Yet, the law does not go far enough and also ignores the realities of life in Morocco today. I'll give you an example. In the countryside, there are many unregistered marriages. People there younger than 18 continue to marry, although this is forbidden under the new law.

What should be done differently?

Yassine: It is all fine and good when you tell women that they are now free. But what about unemployment, which makes it impossible for women to be independent? Economic changes are not the only thing we need. There has to be a restructuring of all sectors of society. Only then can we truly achieve something positive.

Then you want to totally change everything. It sounds like an impossible undertaking.

Yassine: It's not as impossible as it might seem. The system is blocked by the current constitution.

You mean the system of constitutional monarchy?

Yassine: Yes, as soon as this is changed, there will be economic and social progress. You can't solve individual problems without looking at the whole picture, which includes women, the economy, and education. It is all one system. Movement can only come about through a change in the constitution.

So you get rid of the monarchy, you come to power, and all the problems are then solved?

Yassine: No, it is not as easy as that. We do not want to take over power. It is a much too heavy burden to carry alone. We have to work together with all political parties and all of the other forces in society. We need each other and only together can we solve the difficult problems of our country. And this can only take place through democracy, free elections, a multi-party system, the division of powers, and an independent judiciary. The people of Morocco have a right to democracy. But first, all forces in society must work together to change the constitution.

Many don't believe you.

Yassine: I know that quite well. They'd prefer to hear that we want to set up an Iranian republic and force all women to wear headscarves.

Then you wouldn't shut down all the nightclubs and bars?

Yassine: No, bans don't work. Prohibiting alcohol won't work. You only have to turn to the USA to see that the prohibition of alcohol only brought problems. You can never achieve anything through compulsion. In contrast, you can achieve much more with democracy and education. It is better to convince people that it is in their interest not to drink alcohol and visit nightclubs.

And when education doesn't deliver the desired effects?

Yassine: We'd have to see first, but I also don't think that it would be so tragic. I simply want a just society in which people are the main concern.

Do you have a paradigm? Perhaps back to the past, to the society at the time of the Prophet Mohammed?

Yassine: The society at the time of the Prophet comes very close to how I image things. But I also find the Swiss model very interesting. It would be difficult, however, because we don't have a culture of democracy here in Morocco. We have to first develop one. And this we can only achieve together with all of the other groups in society.

Many refer to what is currently going on between East and West as the "clash of civilizations," while others call it a North-South conflict. Is it a matter of politics or religion?

Yassine: Of course it is all about politics. What takes place in the Muslim world is directly related to American imperialism, which has no interest in our religion, but in our resources, our oil. It most certainly has nothing to do with a clash of cultures, differing ideologies, belief or non-belief. We are living through a new phase of colonialism, which nowadays is referred to as the search for new markets. Oil is a curse for many countries with a majority Muslim population. This is an anti-imperialist struggle against neo-colonialism. It doesn’t matter if one is Muslim or Christian – this is a universal problem.

Imperialism and colonialism are catchwords. In concrete terms, what is it that you find so reprehensible about the politics of the West?

Yassine: I think that imperialism is based on the desire for economic supremacy and on a materialist philosophy – a vulgar Darwinism that believes only the strongest must prevail. We want to build bridges between the North and South on the basis of civil society. Today, poverty is no longer only a phenomenon of the South. There is also poverty in the North. If things continue according to the law of the jungle, then we will end up with a future marked by a universal struggle between rich and poor.

Is there an Islamic economic model – an alternative concept to capitalism that could make the world a better place for all mankind?

Yassine: I think that Islam is more all-encompassing than any other ideology. Islam is a way of being. For us, as Sufis, Islam is a spiritual state that has nothing in common with the currently prevailing capitalism. At its very beginning, Islam ruled with sense of justice over a simple merchant capitalist society. It was an economic order that cannot be compared in the slightest to today's wild liberalism, which has created a system with the hyper-rich on one side and masses of poor on the other. We are not completely against capitalism. Islam, however, can provide it with a human and just dimension.

Interview by Alfred Hackensberger

© 2006

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

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