Rabat- If you dare to speak about the Amazigh issue, especially when you’re not an Amazigh-speaking person, you should be expecting to upset a lot of people. Many Amazigh Moroccans, mainly educated ones, are highly sensitive about the matter to the point they’re armed to the teeth and ready to attack whenever you scratch the subject’ surface.
Sometimes you don’t even need to talk about it to be under fire from people to whom you may sound too pan-Arabist, something which is totally against their liking.
The present article advocates that there’re serious problems with the nationalistic Amazigh discourse, and it’d try to shed light on some of the aspects of its deficiencies.
To begin with, there’s the question of Morocco’s being part of the Arab World or not? Some Amazigh people go even far and deny there’s such a thing as the Arab World.
Well, there’s an Arab World, and Morocco is certainly part of it. In crude terms, because some very passionate Amazigh people are too radical to engage in cool-headed conversations about it and start firing before your arguments are over or without taking the trouble to fully read them, saying so doesn’t mean denying Morocco’s Amazigh identity component.
What I’m about to say will sound too obvious or even silly because all people know it unless some choose to ignore it on purpose. Some Amazigh nationalists like to address the question in a very simplistic way that one needs to respond to them in simple words.
The Arab World is a geographical area which encompasses countries whose inhabitants mostly, or in large numbers, speak different dialects derived from classical Arabic. As political entities, those countries are members of the Arab League. As nations they have cultural similarities and their people can perfectly communicate through classical Arabic, or sometimes even through their respected dialects.
Not all citizens of those countries are Arabs, certainly. However what Amazigh nationalists in Morocco or elsewhere in the Maghreb forget, maybe on purpose, Amazigh and Arabs are not the only groups to live side by side in the Arab world. There’re Kurds in Syria and Iraq. There’re Armenians in Lebanon and Sub-Saharan Africans in Mauritania. This didn’t prevent those countries from being called “Arab” countries.
Furthermore, being Arab is not an ethnical distinction, it’s a cultural one. It’s not a chauvinist sentiment. It’s a sense of belonging. It manifests itself in the way you identify with the language, the poetry or the music. It’s a feeling of brotherhood you feel towards people with whom you share a common past and hopefully a collective future.
Of course neither Arab people nor regimes aren frequently on good terms. Still, there have been unifying moments of solidarity among people of the region at different periods of its history. We may cite the common battle for independence; the Arab-Israeli Wars, especially the 1973 one and the Oil Crisis that same year, and more recently the Arab Spring uprisings.
Now, what’s not understandable is why some Moroccan Amazigh nationalists deny a Moroccan Arab the right to identify with such aspects of his identity. What would they feel if Moroccan Arabs were to deny them the right to identify with the 1980 “Amazigh Spring” in Algeria or the Amazigh struggle to achieve basic rights in Libya?
The Amazigh nationalistic discourse in Morocco is taking on a chauvinist tone in many ways. One really can’t grasp why those people should be so offended that Morocco is considered part of the Arab World. If they feel so, they should be offended as well because our country is a member of “L’Organisation Internationale de La Francophonie”.
I really wish our country to form a sort of union or cooperation to promote Amazigh culture with its neighbors in Northern and sub-Saharan Africa because of the vast presence of Amazigh speaking populations. Maybe then Amazigh radicals will understand that many Arab speaking Moroccans hold no grudge against their culture, which they consider in many ways as their own, and have no problem seeing Amazigh people united.
The second point which Amazigh nationalists keep repeating constantly is the following, rather illogical, argument: is We’re Morocco’s first inhabitants. So what? Does that prove that they’re more Moroccan than Arabs or should receive special treatment? Does that make them the “original masterpieces of art” and Arabs “fake copies”?
How can some people maintain such a discourse after 12 centuries of Arab existence in Morocco? Now let’s be clear about something. I understand why people get frustrated when official history, whether it does it on purpose or not, focuses more on Morocco’s Muslim history and forgets about what came before. But that doesn’t give them the right to act as if Moroccan Arabs, after all those centuries, are strangers.
Let’s not forget another thing. How can many of us really prove if we’re “truly” Arab or Amazigh? And what’s even the use of such talk when what should define our relationships with each other is that we’re both Moroccans. If we have recourse to our being Amazigh or Arab, we shouldn’t do that to attack each other but to remind ourselves that we’re both contributing to the richness of our diverse Moroccan culture.
The third point has to do with the interpretations Amazigh nationalists give to some existing situations or incidents that happened in the past. For instance they tend to give a racial dimension to the poverty Amazigh regions in the Atlas are suffering from. They say the poorest areas are Amazigh speaking. Well, that might be true, but does it mean they’re impoverished on purpose. Will those people ask that these regions be taken care of by the state because its inhabitants are Amazigh or because they’re Moroccan citizens and deserve to be treated with dignity? Does it mean they don’t care about other poor areas since people who live there are Arab speaking?
Those people who hold such a discriminatory discourse should remember that when the Moroccan public heard of the misery of the inhabitants of Anfghou in the Atlas Mountains, where children died because of cold, people felt repulsed to see in what conditions some Moroccan citizens lived. For them it wasn’t a question of being Arab or Amazigh.
When it comes to things that happened in the past, nationalistic Amazigh discourse follows the same line. For instance, to them the Arabisation of Moroccan public education was directed against Amazigh people.
Now if you ask some Moroccan Marxist students at the university, they’d tell you Arabisation was a “plot” against students from underprivileged milieu to further weaken public education since the people who planned it were registering their children in French schools. And indeed public school students still live with the predicament of Arabisation, created since they have to study scientific subjects in high school in Arabic and then need to switch to French at college.
The fourth point is about the position some Amazigh activists take vis-à-vis the Palestinian cause. To them it’s a problem between Arabs and Israelis. As long as the latter express their “support” for Amazigh standpoints, they’re most welcome. This was an idea expressed by key figures in the Amazigh movement such as Ahmed Edgharni and Ahmed Asid. What’s most unfortunate is that the two men claim to be human and civil rights activists.
Such people try to defend themselves by advocating that Amazigh language and culture has been marginalized by the state andcondescendingly looked upon by Moroccan Arab elites for years. This all might be true. But to respond to such a rejection by a sometimes aggressive and hostile discourse against everything that’s Arab is dogmatic and discriminatory.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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