Nichane journalists fined over Islam jokes

The two Nichane magazine journalists Driss Ksikes and Sanaa al-Aji received their verdict. They have been fined for writing an article about religious jokes. They have been banned from working for two months and have been given suspended jail sentences of three years. The magazine is to be closed for two months. It was light in view of many compared to the uproar they caused among a large section of the Moroccan society. It also shows that the Moroccan government doesn’t want to be seen as stifling press freedom with an iron fist. In this context both side wants to be seen as winning as there was no effective imprisonment as there was no acquittal. .

They were lucky as they had the support from Moroccan Press Association and Reporters without Frontiers. They got world publicity as their case was tackled on main news organisations like the BBC. Driss Ksikes, editor of the magazine Nichane wasn’t convincing, when on BBC World Haveyoursay last Monday, he said that he was free to publish jokes common in Morocco and people are free to or not to buy this magazine. The question about such jokes isn’t one can or cannot read them, but the impact they can have in society. It’s true that Moroccan tell jokes about religion and monarchy. But they do so in private. When a newspaper publishes such jokes this means the Moroccans can tell them in public loud. Other newspapers can use caricatures on this issue. For the government, not to allow such gate to be widely open is to set Nichane as an example to other journalists not to follow suit.

In Morocco religion is still a sensitive issue. By trivialising it in such a way there is likely to be an open backlash between the modernists and the Islamists. A scenario will be the Islamists attacking pubs and discos in response to jokes about their religion.

As we say one’s freedom ends when the freedom of others starts, it’s better to deal with religion or anything constituting the identity of a nation objectively without seeking to unnecessarily raise emotions.

Morocco seeks to be an open society but the old traditions are still entrenched in people’s mentality despite aspects of modernity and openness. Morocco needn’t be the scene of clashes because of attitudes to religion. Moroccans still have to clash with the causes of their economic and social problems.

Nichane’s journalists know this well about Morocco. It’s true Moroccans accept these jokes but when they are publicized they consider the publisher as making fun of what they are.

Nichane journalists have now got more publicity than they need. It’s better for them in their next issues to continue with their critical, humouristic and sarcastic style of depicting Moroccan society but not to the point of falling from the sublime to the ridiculous.


  1. Pete said,

    January 29, 2007 at 2:36 am


    I have been reading your comments with interest and find your contributions to the various debates much more intelligent, restrained and logical than the majority of people who write in. I’m very interested to hear a view from another part of the world. Although we obviously both use the BBC as a principal source of news you inevitably frame your thoughts in the context of a different culture from mine, and I am always interested to try to see things from a different viewpoint.

    Until I read your blog I had heard nothing about the story of the Nichane journalists. Coming from a country where the press is under no restrictions except to avoid libel it seems a shame to me that editors can be punished for publishing jokes already in the public domain. I understand your concerns about an Islamist backlash (actually I probably don’t, because I have never understood why anyone would commit violence in the name of a religion) but at some point if Morocco is to continue to modernise it will reach a point where civil liberties such as free speech overtake tradition and religion. This process is moved forward by people pushing at the boundaries. It is because of similar people in the West over the last century that violence in the name of Christianity has become unthinkable. For example, if I committed blasphemy against Jesus Christ (I have no intention of doing so, even though I am an atheist) I would not be subjected to violent attack by fundamentalist Christians. Why? Because of people in my society, who correspond to the editors of Nichane, having pushed back the restrictions imposed on us by religion.
    By your account Morocco has moved a long way down the right road. I hope it continues to do so with the help of thoughtful people such as yourself.

  2. Abdelilah Boukili said,

    January 29, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Pete , Thank you for your comment. I agree with what you said about free speech. But in some societies it takes long for people to express their views without fear, depending on political reforms. Morocco, in comparison to the majority of Arab countries, has a free press although there are still red lines on issues like religion.

  3. Property in Morocco said,

    October 30, 2007 at 9:01 am

    Hello Abdelilah,
    Thanks a lot for your article, it is a very interesting and educative.
    In my point of view these 2 journalists had not to write an article about religious jokes.
    Of course they could write it in USA or in UK, where the state religion is not Islam, but not in Morocco or in other Muslim countries. In such countries religion is still a sensitive issue. And these journalists have to know about this. It is their fault.

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