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Pomona College

Publication Date

Spring 2009

Program Name

Morocco: Migration Studies


Human rights and terrorism are two of the most frequently invoked, powerfully deployed, and hotly contested paradigms of our time. They are, first and foremost, words. They are words that attempt to describe concepts, values and actions. Human rights are understood as the fundamental “civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights that all human being should enjoy” beyond the non-negotiable, fundamental right to life (United Nations). The concept of terrorism seeks to categorize and comprehend what has been perceived as a uniquely transnational, increasing phenomenon of violent, ideologically driven attacks targeting civilians. Accordingly, counter-terrorism is normatively understood to consist of efforts aimed at preventing these types of acts of violence against civilians, and based off this understanding, is presumed to be an irrefutable force of good and justice. It is crucial to analyze the social construction of both of human rights and terrorism, as well as the fields of meaning they encompass, if we are to understand global differences in their conceptualization and discrepancies in how they are accepted and actualized. Investigations into difference and universality are increasingly important during an era of social and political thought best embodied in Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” theory . “According to [Huntington’s] conception of international relations, there are immanent, structural differences between peoples of different religious backgrounds and cultural origins”, and these fault lines will provide the fodder for major and inevitable violent conflict in the 21st century (Gafaïti 102). The powerful impact of Huntington’s argument, both in policy and civilian consciousnesses, has still yet to be fully understood or systematically analyzed. It is the position of this author, however, that Huntington’s thesis homogenizes vastly different groups of people into cohesive “civilizational” identities that, in reality, do not exist. Furthermore, he irresponsibly and inaccurately seeks to characterize as elements of time immemorial conflicts with very specific historical, political, and economic roots. This paper seeks to explore discursive formations of terror and counter-terrorism and their impact on human rights in Morocco. I refer to discourse in the Foucauldian sense of word to account for the mechanisms (verbal, visual, aural) utilized to define and delimit a particular concept. “Discourses neither antedate nor express some truth or reality. Instead, they form regularities that emerge and become systematized in and through the articulation and reiteration of particular norms and practices, not because they are logical or true but rather because of this regularity” (Berman 47). Discourses reflect embedded power relations but also serve as sites of contestation and redefinition. Using both secondary research and qualitative data collected during semi-structured interviews, I seek to explore the local implications of the universally circulating discourses of human rights and terrorism and the ways they interact and react within the Moroccan context. Through the narratives of Moroccan residents themselves (though not citizens, necessarily), I hope to demonstrate that: 1) Despite arguments to the contrary, the discourse of human rights is invoked throughout the world in the name of justice and peace, and encompasses a set of values understood as indigenous within and common between societies of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds, 2) Terrorism remains a disputed discourse, as even those who recognize and condemn the acts of violence it seeks to describe, also condemn the stereotypes, biases, and developmental logical embedded within its rhetoric and structure, and 3) If counter-terror efforts are to succeed in pursuing the principles and objectives implied in the essence of the discourse, they must be closely monitored. The consequences of policies are mitigated by the specific characteristics of the countries in which they are implemented, and this must be taken into account. Counter-terror measures that are exploited to violate human rights will have grave repercussions, effectively collapsing distinctions between terrorism and counter-terrorism, terrorist organizations and the “legitimate” forces attempting to combat them.


Peace and Conflict Studies | Public Policy


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