In 1976 I made Morocco my home for a number of months. As someone who loved and still loves Arabic, North African, Middle Eastern and non Ashkenazic Jewish music in general, I felt I had landed in musical paradise.
Every day I heard different styles of Moroccan music playing on the radio. Living in a large house in old Marrakech, I met both Moroccan and expatriate musicians, played music with them, photographed and recorded them and just hung out, as musicians are wont to do. Our housekeeper was a traditional Moroccan Muslim woman who served up that marvelous regional cuisine on a daily basis. I have never eaten so well in all my life, and I am by no means a “foodie.”
I had come to Morocco to experience and understand a foreign culture and its artistic traditions. I spent two days at the Marrakech Folklore Festival watching and hearing a myriad of ensembles representing almost every ethnic group in the country, many of whose mother tongue is not Arabic.
In addition to touring the country, talking to people and playing music, I read the history of Morocco and the growing number of studies of its complex ethnography. It did not take me long to understand that there was a deep and long standing ecological and ethnic dynamic to the country that divided it into three ecological and ethnic spheres. In the past, each sphere had been home to communities of Jews, now gone to Israel and the Western democracies. When I lived in Morocco as a member of the Arab League, it was officially at war with Israel. Deep in my heart I longed for the day that that would no longer be the case. I still live with that desire.
The first of Morocco’s three regions is the Arabic speaking coastal plain, which includes the main royal cities-Rabat, Meknes and Fes whose populations largely think of themselves as Arabs, for Arabic is their mother tongue. In Arabic they call this area “bilad al makhzen” the land of the administration, implying that this is the territory of the Arabic speaking Sultans of Morocco, who have claimed authority over the country for the last four centuries, due to their assertion that they are direct descendants of the family of Muhammad.
Then there is the Saharan south and West, a land of Arabic (and some Berber) speaking nomads who are the mixed descendants of the invading Bedouin tribes that poured into North Africa, not only in the 7th century, during the first Islamic conquests, but during the 11th century, when oral tradition and chronicles describe the invasion and widespread destruction caused by a group of Bedouin invaders from the east, the Banu Hillal.
In between the desert and the coast are Morocco’s famous mountains, the Atlas and the Anti Atlas, home to the non-Arab peoples called the Berbers. In their own non-Arabic language they call themselves Imazighen, the free people. The coastal Arabs always called the Berber lands the bilad as sebih; the land of dissidence, for they often rejected the authority of the Sultan, with its implied hegemony of Arabic speakers.
Converted to Islam centuries ago, the Berbers have maintained and to some degree still maintain, a version of Islam where local holy men or saints, are thought of as curers and leaders and whose tombs are the place of colorful annual festivals where gender restrictions are loosened and men and women often flirt, feast, dance and sing together.
In 1976 I went to one of these pilgrimages in honor of the Berber Saint, Setti Fatma in the Atlas Mountains near Marrakech. I felt that I had gone to a medieval European fair. I then went trekking in the Atlas Mountains with CAF (Club Alpiniste Francais) in the heart of Berber territory, and found the people there to be upright and hospitable, living in their multi storied architecturally remarkable, rural apartment blocks or “kasbahs” as seen in this photo.
Since Morocco gained its independence in 1956, its leaders have pushed a pan Arab and Islamic cultural and religious agenda that has unfortunately morphed into a growing support for ISIS among young Moroccan Arabs. At the same time, given the growing turbulence in North Africa and the Middle East, the Berbers of Morocco and Algeria are increasingly advocating that their language, traditions and equal rights as citizens be recognized and facilitated. The Islamists do not like this, for along side this Berber ethnic nationalism, there is an interest in women’s rights and secularism.
For those of us who know and love Morocco we should not be surprised when we discover that its latest Berber dissident is a young female poetess (published in Arabic), who is a strong supporter of Zionism and the Jewish state and, who is an eloquent, demonstrative critic of the Arab chauvinism which has permeated North Africa and the middle east since the founding and now the floundering of the “Arab League” decades ago.
Here is how she starts her interview with a male Moroccan journalist by saying,
Zionism is a global movement of the Jews who strived to establish their homeland and gather their people from all over the world…They came to Palestine because of their historical link of the Jews to the land of Palestine, as acknowledged by all religions…
She then goes on to defend Jews and Zionism and the State of Israel and criticizes the Arabs for their expansionist imperialism. You can watch and hear the whole interview at the following link:
Malika Mazan is quite something. And so, inspired by this almost saintly woman from the Atlas mountains, I ask the question, “Why is the Jewish community of Canada (and the USA) not quoting her, celebrating her and bringing her to speak at churches, synagogues and institutes of higher education throughout Canada and the States? As she is also a French speaker she would be able to tour Quebec as well.
The reason is that those who support Israel in Canada and the States have not yet understood or learnt to speak the language of its most vocal critics. That language comes from the political left and from anthropology, believe it or not, the two movements having become fused during the last thirty years.
During the last thirty years most of anthropology has turned Marxist, feminist, Islamist, anti Zionist and post modern (they are all related). The field of anthropology itself when doing its duty, has studied what one could only call “the unconscious” nature of group formation-families, lineages, clans, tribes, bureaucratic agricultural states and finally industrialized democracies and industrializing agricultural states of which the Arab world is one example, if not the classical example. Another way of describing these issues is to focus on what composes and is now perceived of as “ethnicity.’
For example Mudar Zahran is a Jordanian/ Palestinian politician who well understands the nature of ethnicity and who argues that Jordan is the Palestinian Arab state (and always has been), ethnically and historically speaking. Ethnographically the Arabs of what is now called Jordan were part and parcel of the Palestine Mandate as were those who migrated some kilometres from the West Bank or Israel proper to Eastern Palestine, during the many wars that the Arab League countries have waged against Israel. These people were and are all related by clan and marriage, or common descent as we call it.
The fact that T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill “imported” the families of the present Arabian rulers of Jordan from the Hejaz, when they were defeated by the Saudi Wahabis just ads colour to the story, as they were and remain a distinct, foreign import from the ethnic mosaic of Southwest Arabia, not Palestine.
The British severed this east of the Jordan connection and banned Jews from what is now called Jordan. Palestine, and its mandate were in this way treated to salami tactics by the British, the League of Nations, later the United Nations, the Arab League and almost everybody else.
Most of the rejection of Israel’s right to exist among today’s youth (and tomorrow’s vast North American voting majority) is therefore not based on UN precedents or resolutions, or legal arguments over rights to Area B, C or D in Judea and Samaria. Not at all. The average Israel basher rejects legality. They will only use it when convenient to practice lawfare. No, they are motivated by something deeper.
This is their mistaken anthropological argument that the Arabs are more “indigenous” than the Jews in the land of Israel. Film maker Gloria Greenfield does a good cinematic job of showing that this is not the case in her soon to be released documentary film, Body and Soul as did Ben Gurion (decades ago) in his now out of print (surprise!!!) book The Jews in Their Land. So bluntly put, the critics of Israel are now saying that the reason the Jews cannot have a state is Israel is that they are not, “indigenous.”
Those who read ethnography and history recognize that the Jews are indigenous to Palestine and the Land of Israel. The Arabs are not and until very recently were proud of their “invader from Arabia” status which I used to hear from Israeli Arabs very often in the 1970s when I worked on a Kibbutz and travelled through Israel and the “West Bank.”
Moroccan, Berber, Muslim Malika Mazan is able to say in passionate Arabic that the Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel and they have national rights there. Simple. In addition to the fact that ethnic Palestinians comprise a majority in the area of Mandated Palestine (Gaza, Jordan) the Jewish communities of North America have not made this their number one talking point. If they did, that would go a long way to answer the “fairness argument” of the ever-egalitarian left. If one can show that an independent Arab state has the greater number of citizens and a greater geographic piece of Mandated Palestine then by the left’s definition of equality this is unfair.
Our communities do not make these arguments because we do not study ethnography or the language of the left. And so, we have become accomplices to this new version of the “big lie,” especially in North America for we do not start the argument or set the terms of this issue in the language of our declared enemies.
We could begin to redress this by bringing Malika Mazan and other pro Israel writers such as Algerian novelist Boualem Sansal (His books The German Mujahid is remarkable) on speaking tours of North America, especially its college campuses.
As a performer of Moroccan music I could easily find Moroccan musicians who would join me to play the opening song before the speaker takes the podium. I guarantee they would include Berber pieces of music from Malika’s homeland.
Let us hope that day comes soon.