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Moroccan Identity: An Arab or Amazigh?

By Nidal Chebbak

Morocco World News

Fez, April 20, 2012

Diversity is richness. I have always admired the diversity in the Moroccan culture. I love how everything is different and yet so much alike. What I don’t like are the divisions that are based on such differences that should not minimize or trivialize who we are or anyone else, but sometimes they do.

In Morocco, we can never speak of a pure race or ethnicity, everything is fused and intermingled. Even those who claim to be pure Amazigh or pure Arab are not only wrong but usually negligent of the fact that we live in a country that has a history of centuries of intercultural marriages.

“Are you an Arab or an Amazigh?” I really don’t like this question that I’ve been asked countless times by many people in direct and indirect ways. Does it really matter which one I am? If I’m an Arab or an Amazigh, what difference would that make? Would you treat me any different? better or worse?

I believe this categorization of people is ridiculous, and it distracts our sights from the beauty of us as diverse as we are; a fusion or a merge or whatever you would call it. We spend so much time spotting differences and putting barriers between “us” and “them”; whoever “us” and “them” are.

Since I was a child, I have always been categorized as an Arab and have been raised on “Arabic pride”. I never understood why I was referred to as a “pure” Arab though one of my grandmothers was a “pure” Riffian, which basically means Amazigh. That didn’t make any sense to me. In fact, if I’m a “quarter” Riffian then I am not purely an Arab, as alleged.

Among the indirect ways of inquiring about my ethnicity is when someone tells me that I look like a Riffian or that I look like an Arab and sometimes there is a huge confusion between the two. I noticed that if the one who asked considers himself/herself an Arab, they would be very glad, and sometimes relieved, if tell them I am an Arab too. When I am asked by an Amazigh, they always seem to get disappointed when I say I am an Arab, but once I mention my Riffian grandmother, a smile or a nice comment emerges as if that makes a huge difference of who I am to them. In both cases, the way they deal with me changes depending on which side I take or choose to refer to.

I understand that as human beings we need to belong to a specific community with specific characteristics that can determine who we are and that distinguish us from the rest. There is no problem in being an Arab or being an Amazigh, the problem is when we see the other as inferior to who we are. “Inferiorizing” and “othering” the other can lead to serious problems of stigmatization, essentialization and all forms of intolerance.

The last time I was asked that question: “Are you an Arab or an Amazigh?” I replied: “Well, in fact I’m a Moroccan.” That has become my answer ever since. I am an Arab and an Amazigh, and I do not necessarily have to speak Tamazight to be one. I love the diversity in my background and I am so proud of my Arab and Riffian origins. If only we can stop labeling and categorizing each other based on our ethnicity, and focus instead on what makes us closer and similar. We are all Moroccans, whether Arabs or Amazighs, “pure” or mixed (though I don’t believe in purism). Let us go beyond all this and work together for a better tomorrow, for a better Morocco.

 Nidal Chebbak is a Moroccan graduate student in Cultural Studies Master Program at Sidi Mohammed ben Abdellah University. She earned her Bachelor degree in English Studies in 2009 after completing a research paper on Advertising Moroccan Women in Moroccan Magazines. Currently, she’s working on her MA thesis entitled European Women through the Eyes of Moroccan Travelers 1612-1922. She is Morocco World News’ correspondent in Fez.

© Morocco World News

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