Casablanca - The French colonialism and post-independent Moroccan state, until 1990s, marginalized the Amazigh aspect of Moroccan identity by means of “national interest “and “national unity.” They both use education as their primary tool to serve their agenda.
Casablanca – The French colonialism and post-independent Moroccan state, until 1990s, marginalized the Amazigh aspect of Moroccan identity by means of “national interest “and “national unity.” They both use education as their primary tool to serve their agenda.
I found an article written by Maurice Le Glay, a French military writer, as a revealing document from which one can deduce a conclusion: in the name of “national interest.” French culture and language were meant to be imposed on the Amazigh population. The article was written on August 23, 1921, under the title of “L’école française et la question berbère” or, “The French School and the Berber Issue.” Its importance lies in the fact that it came after the periodical of Genral Leuty on June 16, 1921; and most importantly, it simplified the vision of the general.1
Le Glay expresses his concern about a rapid increase in Moroccan population. He therefore calls for quick response through altering the interest of Moroccan people towards “national interest.” The means would be language and educational programs. He argues that there are huge differences between Berbers and Arabized Moroccans in terms of blood, culture, language, beliefs and traditions. He also adds, that they differ in their civilization, history and geography.
The Berbers, he argues, are difficult to conquer and many nations had failed to do so. The only way through which France could control them was through language and culture. Hence, he called for banning any use of Arabic in the Berber areas. Arabic, he claims, would lead the Berbers to be Muslims eternally, and this would create an unprecedented homogenous Islamic group. We have, he stresses, to develop people in the mountains through the medium of French language, which represented our ideology. The Berbers would be taught French, and governed in French. He suggests establishing schools and urges every French residing in Morocco to engage in this “national duty.” Soldiers, traders, and farmers were all encouraged to actively contribute to the accomplishment of the mission. 1
Le Glay was by no means voicing the colonial linguistic policy in Morocco, a policy that was based on “divide and rule.” He found in the Berber land a golden opportunity on which he could easily implement his proposal. It is significant that he recommends appointing twelve people to be in charge of the mission.
The number rings a bill in Christian religious terminology. It is exactly the number of the disciples of Jesus. Those disciples, according to Christian doctrine, were asked to tell people in the world about “the kingdom of God.” In this case, this kingdom may be embodied in the French language and culture. In fact, as previously stated, the article demonstrates an iron will of avoiding any use of Arabic in the sense that it is an essential tool for Islam to flourish in those areas.
The colonizer intended to force Imazighen, the natives, to speak his language in the belief that the weaker should speak the language of the stronger. Through dividing policy, France had the intention to shape a separate Berber identity, in its French version. Le Glay foreshadows this identity through the Berbers he met. He predicts that after a while of teaching French;
It would not be surprised if the shepherds of Ait Mjild said that their ancestors were from the land of Wales… Oulaydi, a chief of a Zayan tribe, has got a head and a rigid heart like people from Auvergne. His brother in law, Miami, looks very much like one of an active colonizer who works with us.1
After the independence of Morocco, a massive wave of Arabization took place. This policy aimed at enhancing “national unity.” Again, education is considered to be the instrument through which this goal can be achievable, “an education that is Moroccan in its thinking, Arabic in its language and Muslim in its spirit” (King’s speech from the throne, 1958, as quoted by Zartman 1964, 155–56).
Morocco’s constitutions, from 1962 to 1996, ignored the Amazigh component of Moroccan identity. The governments after the independence tended to preach “an outdated vision of national unity”2. This unity was based on one single identity, Arab-Muslim identity. The aim was to avoid ethnic conflicts and assure loyalty to the state. This approach came probably as a response to the rebellious tendency of some Amazigh tribes or regions both before and after the independence.
The notion of “unity in diversity” is not taken into consideration at all. This approach has done a lot of damage to the Amazigh aspect in the country in numerous ways. It has marginalized the culture and language of the natives. Tamazight was largely excluded from public schools, media and administration. As a result, a sense of cultural and linguistic alienation along with feelings of exclusion among the Amzigh population has grown. Amazigh activists struggled for decades demanding cultural and linguistic equality through mainly a constitutional recognition of both Amazigh language and identity. Salem Shaker sums up the situation:
In the Maghrib, the dominating (and official) Arab-Islamist ideology is globally hostile to the Berber language, the mere existence of which was perceived as a danger to national unity. The linguistic and cultural policy implemented after independence was that of Arabization, aiming to eradicate at the same time the French language, the language of the former colonial power, and Berber, the language of a “bothersome” minority. As a result, until the beginning of the 1990s, Berber was excluded from all official places, as well as from teaching, including at the university level.
In their attitudes towards the Amazigh culture and language, both the French colonialism and post- independent Moroccan state, until the 1990s, were two facets of the same coin. However, the era of King Mohammed VI has witnessed a positive shift towards the main components of Moroccan identity, including Amazigh aspect, especially after the last constitutional reforms.
1. Abdul Ali Oudrhiri, Francophony and linguistic policy, the Moroccan company for printing and publishing, Rabat, 1993
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