Baltimore and the American Dream: A View From North Africa

As a Moroccan national who visits the U.S. often, I have grown attached to the American people, their country, and the values they aspire to live by. And so it pains me to hear of incidents of police brutality, which violate the rule-of-law principles America stands for both domestically and internationally, and it pains me further when looting and assaults on police mar legitimate protests with further criminality.

I was in Washington over the past week as the disturbances in Baltimore unfolded. Descriptions of the tragic death of Freddie Gray and the TV coverage of storefronts ablaze were seared in my mind for the duration. But I was also moved by so many expressions of solidarity with the victims, and condemnation of the perpetrators, which crossed racial and socioeconomic divisions and ranged from ordinary citizens to police to the political class. And perhaps the video image that touched me most deeply was that of the mother of a young, hooded rioter yanking her son off the street. Indifferent to the camera, she showed the world what it means to be a tough-loving mother in extraordinary circumstances, and how individuals can take personality responsibility to uphold civil society and human dignity.

I was also impressed by the professionalism with which the mainstream media covered the crisis: Despite the political differences between the likes of FOX on the one hand and MSNBC on the other, the networks largely came together in reporting coolly, avoiding sensationalism or any rhetoric that might exacerbate the situation. It even seemed that some of the talk shows, in granting a platform to voices of conscience from Baltimore and beyond, might have played a role in mitigating tensions among the communities most viscerally affected by the violence.

America's strength has always been in its diversity and its pursuit of and support for universal ideals. In Arab countries and in Europe, it is mostly a nationalism born of ethnicity that brings a given population together. Americans, by contrast, only unite around a noble dream -- a country and a world of tolerance, equality, and civil peace. In the world's East and South, despite some differences in political outlook with Washington, we still rely on the American dream as a beacon of hope. We accept, moreover, that no population can always live up to its aspirations -- yet maintain the hope that Americans will come ever closer to doing so.

In the Arab world, we are not green to civil unrest: It need hardly be said that poverty, inequality, police brutality, and civil strife are in a separate league. But in Morocco, we have begun to make headway in rectifying some of these imbalances, and in developing new techniques to bring the society together. I would like to describe one that perhaps might have some bearing on the situation in Baltimore.

In sponsoring an annual international music festival known as "Mawazine" ("Rhythms") in the Moroccan capital Rabat, King Mohammed VI has brought together Western, Arab, and African music icons to share the stage, embodying the spirit of unity across divisions. It is normally quite expensive to attend a concert by A-list stars like Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey. But the festival organizers take special care to ensure that youth, in particular, from all walks of life can take part. Young people need a release -- a means by which to manifest their overflowing energy. Granted the space in which to do so, the pressures of their lives are eased to some degree -- and they are less likely to express their frustrations through violence.

The society needs much more than that, to be sure -- better education, greater opportunities, and a state system that treats them always with the dignity they deserve. But perhaps even in the United States, more can be done immediately to provide outlets for young people in the inner cities -- while they press for their legitimate rights systemically, and, God willing, successfully.