The Drawing Board is pleased to announce that our very own, Nakita Valerio, has been selected as a recipient for the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship (SSHRC) and Walter H. Johns Graduate Fellowship. These awards are highly competitive, and are issued by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council based on excellent academic standing, research potential and contributions to society. The award comes with significant funding which will be used to fund her studies in Edmonton and research abroad. Join us in celebrating this monumental honour.

nakita036The tentative title of her thesis is: Remembering Al-Yehud Through the Shoah: Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching the Holocaust and Jewishness Among Contemporary Moroccan Muslims

Nakita’s research topic can be read about below:

Prior to the Second World War, Morocco’s Jewish community numbered 240,000 and was one of the largest and oldest populations of Jews in the Arab world. Today, less than 3,000 Moroccan Jews remain and the memory of them is rapidly fading among the younger generations of Muslims. Historians focused on Moroccan Jewish-Muslim relations have been preoccupied with the internal politics of nationalism and Zionism. (Boum,2011; Baida,2011; Maddy-Weitzman & Ben-Layashi,2010) The historiographical silence on the role of the Holocaust in raising fear among Moroccan Jews, possibly stimulating their unprecedented exodus, is the result of current Holocaust “amnesia” among Muslims today – on whom these authors tend to rely for their ethnographic research.

Given my experience teaching in Morocco for three years, I found that Holocaust denial in private schools was a recurring phenomenon across the country – something corroborated by the Anne Frank House working towards tolerance and Holocaust education in Morocco. (Polak,2010) The current, widespread denial among Moroccan Muslim youth is at odds with growing Jewish-Muslim communication in online forums (Boum,2014), growing cultural representations of Jews (Kosansky, Boum,2012) and especially, the stance of the Moroccan State, which is vocal about distinguishing between the Holocaust and “the tragedy of the Middle East” – meaning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as stated by Jewish advisor to the King, Andre Azoulay (Daily Herald,2009).

The State is focused on reintegrating Jewishness into the national narrative, establishing festivals of Jewish-Muslim interaction and issuing a call for the Jewish diaspora to return home. (Boum,2010; Bruneau,2015) However, until private education programs which allow for Holocaust denial are assessed and addressed, the project of reviving Moroccan Jewishness will be unlikely to have the effect desired by the monarchy. For youth, the reasons to deny the Holocaust are influenced by their lack of direct experience with Jews: it is perceived as part of a Jewish world conspiracy, which they find in widely circulated translations of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I found that my own students had acquired copies of this text from their private-school history teachers who had also taught the children that The Diary of Anne Frank was fabricated. One of Boum’s interviewees, Said, affirms that the number of Holocaust deaths and the event as a whole were openly questioned by his private school teachers. (Boum, 2013)

The Holocaust, for Moroccan youth, can be imagined as a false commodity employed by Jewish conspirers to gain geopolitical favours for Israel from Western powers. The degree to which denial-legitimizing narratives are coming out of Moroccan schools (especially private ones, which are growing in number, and where programs are unregulated) remains to be explored. Thus, I ask: How is the Holocaust remembered by Moroccan Muslims today? How is this memory affected by private education and politics? How does this memory affect the overall remembering of Jews and ongoing relations between the two groups?

This research will contribute to ongoing debates on the memory of the Holocaust in general, the memory of Jews among Muslims, the role of education in shaping social memory, and the continuous rewriting of Muslim-Jewish relations in Morocco. Additionally, I anticipate that this will spark more scholarly debate regarding the representation of the Holocaust in the Islamic world and its use as a political-social tool in the era of conflict.


The Drawing Board is pleased to announce that our very own, Nakita Valerio, has been named as a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International.  The recognition comes as a result of Rotarian Jaima Gellar’s nomination in the wake of Nakita’s commitment to international development, community work in Canada and multiple initiatives focused on the status of women, Islamophobia and Indigenous rights and reconciliation.

Past and present initiatives include:

  • Political and social engagement as Director with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council
  • Muslim-Jewish Women’s Dialogue Group with Beth Shalom Synagogue
  • Muslim Women and Hijab Discussion Panel
  • Women’s Safety Classes
  • Partnerships with WRIP, Humanities 101, FGSR’s Community Outreach, Native Studies Program at the University of Alberta
  • Muslim community education on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • Representative of Islam at City Hall’s Interfaith Conference (December)
  • Public Policy development in the area of historical education with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council
  • Commitment to International Development and Global Cooperation, the building of a primary school in Morocco and various social justice initiatives in the country
  • Inter-religious Academic Historical Research aimed at Public Policy development in the area of historical education in the Kingdom of Morocco
  • Youth engagement through education programs with Edmonton Public School Board
    • and much more…


At the Top 30 Under 30 Gala on Monday night, the most common thing shared among all of the recipients in the social mixing after the speeches was a common anxiety about the recognition because of the event – an anxiety that hinged on our understanding that we had all encountered significant failures, stresses, and psychological issues from engaging in our work, that we had all made huge mistakes and encountered enormous obstacles, that we had all learned so much in our naivete about international development and had tried to adapt ourselves and our projects along the way. In this way, most of us felt very uncomfortable with this kind of recognition, especially the kind that shows only the successes of our efforts in a glossy magazine.20150202_182454_resized

What is not in the magazine are the endless nights in a faraway place questioning just what the hell you’re doing there, what right you have or don’t have to be there and just how effective your efforts will or will not be.

Particularly for those who are involved with large international organizations like the United Nations, they expressed some disenchantment with liberalist ideology, especially when it didn’t translate well “on the ground” and how they learned a lot more when they quieted their own beliefs and started forging meaningful trusting relationships with the people they were trying to help, rather than coming with a strategy and implementing it at all costs, successful or not.

It made me think of all of the relationships I developed in Attaouia with all of the local families that benefit/benefitted from education in our school so far. I remember jokes we shared in the doorframe of the school when they came to pick up their kids, I remember cupfuls of tea shared in their living rooms while teenaged siblings of our younger students tried out their English skills on me and I stumbled with my Arabic, resulting in much laughter and countless memories. I was welcomed and accepted into a community not really my own in a way I never thought was possible and might not have been possible if I had come from a big umbrella organization like the UN.

It also made me think of the people I connected with during my time at the American Language Center in Mohammedia, particularly my colleagues and my precious students, where we engaged in cultural exchange and meaningful social activism projects that were developed by them, for them and on their terms. I maintain incredible relationships with most people I met there are cherish them like I do anyone from my side of the world. These are my people as much as people from my home town are. I’ve taken their country and their cause into my heart as much as I have that of Canada.

It also made me think about the bureaucratic problems we have encountered with regards to the school and how these have still not been resolved. We are still waiting for an upgraded authorization to let us teach older students and with an uncertain future, it has led to real worry about our building of the school and what it will mean if we never get the piece of paper. It has also made me wonder if it would have been so difficult if we weren’t going at it alone but were part of a larger development agency.

20150202_182530_resizedIt’s all very complicated, but one thing that came from interacting after last night’s gala was a clear picture of a group of self-critical, self-reflective individuals who are trying to do the best they can with what they know now. And that, I think, is more important than all of the work we have done combined. Deconstructing ourselves, asking real questions about our identities, learning to listen and respond, finding similarity (but more importantly, respecting difference) – these are the real seeds of change.