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Dialogue to Morocco challenges preexisting perceptions

Morocco may be a pre­dom­i­nantly Muslim country, but its his­toric rela­tion­ship with Europe—primarily France, which col­o­nized it from 1912 until 1956—and its loca­tion in Africa make it a nation with a cul­ture that’s far from monolithic.

“Morocco presents an oppor­tu­nity for our stu­dents to see what it’s like to live in a Muslim country, and then to take it a step for­ward and get to know the people who live there,” said Peter Fraun­holtz, a lec­turer in the his­tory depart­ment who leads an annual Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram in Morocco.

“It’s an oppor­tu­nity to find out first­hand what life is like for Moroc­cans and for the stu­dents to chal­lenge their ideas of what Islam is like, how it’s prac­ticed, and what it does and doesn’t permit,” he continued.

For the first time in pro­gram his­tory, the dia­logue began in Paris, where the stu­dents exam­ined the con­nec­tion between Morocco and France, which like coun­tries across Europe, has expe­ri­enced an influx in immi­grants from Muslim coun­tries. That pop­u­la­tion surge has led to some of the most sig­nif­i­cant social and polit­ical shifts in recent Euro­pean his­tory, Fraun­holtz said.

While in France’s cap­ital, the stu­dents vis­ited the U.S. Embassy in Paris as well as neigh­bor­hoods pop­u­lated by immi­grants from Morocco and non­profit orga­ni­za­tions ded­i­cated to improving the lives of France’s newcomers.

“I wanted to focus on eco­nomic devel­op­ment,” Fraun­holtz said, “and it’s hard to talk about that in Morocco without looking at the rela­tion­ship between Morocco and France and why Moroc­cans now flock to the country.”

From Paris, the stu­dents trav­eled to the High Atlas Moun­tains of cen­tral Morocco. There, they lived and worked along­side res­i­dents of a small vil­lage, walking cows, building walls, and har­vesting wheat.

“It was a great way to get an idea of what life is really like in these vil­lages,” said Vic­toria Hanau, a soci­ology major who grad­u­ated from North­eastern this May and served as Fraunholtz’s teaching assis­tant during the dialogue.

The experiential-​​learning oppor­tu­nity also included a retreat to Marrakesh’s Center for Lan­guage and Cul­ture, an Eng­lish school in which North­eastern and Moroccan stu­dents con­vened to dis­cuss the role of Islam in modern society.

“A lot of stu­dents come in with a sense that Islam is mono­lithic, that everyone fol­lows the same rules,” Fraun­holtz said. “I think they walk out the door with a new under­standing about what it means to be a prac­ticing Muslim.”

The oppor­tu­nity to interact with Moroc­cans proved to be a valu­able learning experience.

“It was ful­filling to dis­cuss deep issues like the role of women in society,” said rising second-​​year stu­dent Rebecca Sirull, a com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies and lin­guis­tics com­bined major. “It def­i­nitely opens your eyes to expe­ri­ences and views you might have never encoun­tered before.”

– by Matt Collette

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