Rabat - Yet again, Western journalism goes sensational and culturally insensitive when dealing with the Muslim world. One wonders whether it is out of sheer ignorance or the calculated aim to inflict pain and cause panic.
Rabat – Yet again, Western journalism goes sensational and culturally insensitive when dealing with the Muslim world. One wonders whether it is out of sheer ignorance or the calculated aim to inflict pain and cause panic.
Being a native son of the Rif region of northern Morocco and a cultural anthropologist and linguist, who has worked on the culture of the area for over 40 years, I was truly flabbergasted by the sensational nature of a piece of journalism entitled “Morocco’s outlaw country is the heartland of global terrorism,” written by Leela Jacinto, published first by the very serious electronic journal Foreign Policy on April 7, 2016 and picked up later on by Chicago Tribune on April 8, 2016.
It is an established truth and a known fact that the press in general goes for catchy titles to attract readers and consequently sell its product. But, the truth of the matter is that the article in question goes beyond that to give false information through sensational language. The journalist unabashedly uses two wrong pieces of information:
- “Morocco’s outlaw country” in referring to the northern region known geographically and culturally as the Rif; and
- “Heartland of global terrorism” as if all known terrorism originates in this area.
These two phrases carefully chosen by the author and espoused by the editor of the FP journal open the floodgate to swamp the reader with a series of misconceptions and fallacies and encourage Islamophobic tendencies, already at their height in the West. Unfortunately, the journalist used Trump-like rhetoric to, unwillingly, perhaps, scare the readers and make them dislike Muslims further and, consequently, make the life of the latter, even more difficult in the West.
The unfortunate choice of the above-mentioned phrases not only strengthens existing stereotypes about Muslims in the Western world, but also spreads untrue information about a country like Morocco, a kingdom that has always been a faithful and reliable ally of the West for centuries, not to mention, of course, that it is, probably, the only stable political entity in the Arab World, today, in the aftermath of Arab uprisings.
I get the impression that the journalist whizzed through the Rif and Morocco and collected information from lay people and wrote her piece without taking the time to discuss the thorny issues she deals with, with Moroccan experts. The end result is a piece of journalism alarmist and false and, ultimately, noxious to the country, to be taken with a pinch of salt through and through.
However, one wonders why on earth Foreign Policy published such a piece without making the effort of checking the veracity of its content. Has this publication been contaminated by Trump-like ideology, fashionable these days in America and Europe, intent on demonizing overtly Islam and Muslims?
The Rif is not an outlaw region
The word Rif means margin and limit or edge. Indeed, it has always been a region in the periphery of Morocco, in the periphery of development and in the periphery of understanding. People are brought up in this region to believe that they are on the edge; or rather they come from a different planet mainly for two important reasons:
- They speak a different idiom which is a dialect of Tamazight (Tarifit) considered itself as a difficult to understand dialect among Berber speakers ;
- They dwell in a poor and rugged area where survival is the name of the game;
- They live isolated from the rest of the country because of natural barriers ; and
- Isolation, poverty, geography, difference have greatly influenced the salient traits of their character making out of them defiant human beings.
Today, the Riffians are the most stereotyped people in all of Morocco because of the above: they are considered very tough, rebellious and not trustworthy.
Because of this trait of behavior, two prominent American anthropologists have done extensive work on the tribes of this region i.e. Carleton S. Coon and David Montgomery Hart, [i] studying, in detail, their social organization, beliefs and material culture during the last century. They were both attracted by their toughness and courage.
A British historian, on the other hand, i.e. Richard C. Pennell, was attracted by the sense of resistance and military strategy of the Riffian icon Ben Abdelkarim khattabi[ii] (1882-1963), who managed to defeat colonial Spain with small groups of combatants, using guerrilla warfare, a pure invention of his own. His exploits continue to be celebrated today in oral poetry and stories of the Rif.[iii]
Throughout the history of Morocco, the Rif, prior to the French Protectorate of 1912, remained a land of dissidence blad siba, meaning the inhabitants accepted the religious authority of the Sultan but refused to pay taxes to the central government.
First, there was the famous time of Rifublik[iv] (1898-1921),[v] a period that was characterized by lawlessness fed by proliferation of firearms sold by European agents directly to the local population.
The Riffians, historically, had this high sense of freedom and independence from any central government. Belonging to a greater political entity was never of high priority to them, they always wanted to keep it to the minimum and the minimum is the defense of their sacred trinity: land (tammurt), language (Tamazight) and blood kinship (ddam/dhawmat). Probably the most important political entity for the Riffian is the clan and not the tribe that is the reason why there were periodical feuds between clans at the end of each agricultural cycle.
Interestingly enough in the rest of Morocco, Berber or Arabic-speaking lands, the summer and the fall seasons were time of thanksgiving to the local patron saints, characterized by the gathering of the tribes around the shrine of these venerated local Sufi religious symbols to thank them for their protection and for a good harvest. These celebrations lasted up to a week and comprised dance, music, food and fantasia, a game of gunpowder play and a show of courage and horsemanship.
This does not mean, in the least, that local saints were not celebrated in the Rif. They were, but, traditionally, feuds come first and it is almost considered a priority way of showing courage, synonymous of defense of the Riffian trinity and success in survival.
With the wide availability of the firearms during the Rifublic period, feuding was more fun and more paying. Enemies from the opposite side or clan can be easily liquidated. Often feuds could last the whole summer and would only end up with the first rainfall that would herald the beginning of the new agricultural cycle.
However, in case the death toll, during the feud, goes too high, the religious clan, imrabdhen (Sufi saints), would interfere to stop the bloodshed and resolve the conflict revolving either around water rights, land possessions, conjugal problems, or inter-clan business. The imrabdhen would bring out the flags of the saint and the colors of Islam and pitch a tent in the no man’s land of the two clans and mediate the conflict.
It is true that historically the Rif was a land of dissidence, bled as-Siba, in the past, but to argue that it is an “outlaw country” today is a total misconception stemming either from ignorance or willingness to inflict harm. It is true; also, that during the reign of the late King Hassan II, for reasons due to the armed dissidence of 1958 in the Rif, he personally did not hold the region in high esteem. King Mohammed VI, on the other hand, contrary to his father, has showed a continued interest in the development of the region both politically and economically. Indeed, today, many Riffians hold prominent position in the government and the establishment, and their birth places are being duly developed.
The Rif is a big geographical region, it is made up of central and eastern Rif that are basically Amazigh (Berber) and have since their Islamization in the 9th century been practicing a tolerant Sufi Islam, maraboutic in its approach and open and accepting of the other in its philosophy. However, since the 1970s of the last century there is a pronounced resurgence of Amazigh identity and culture, which in many ways is the antidote to religious radicalism.
In the eastern Rif area dwell the Jbala and Anjra tribes (they were originally Berber but were arabized around the 16th century,) located in and around such cities as Tetouan and Tangier, which are Arabic-speaking and have been easy prey to Wahabist ideology in the last three decades, made possible thanks to petrodollars and proselytizing Middle Eastern television channels.
In the Ketama area, situated in the western Rif, farmers have traditionally cultivated hashish for Moroccan consumption, bearing in mind that Kif, the local name for cannabis, has traditionally being, also, used as a plant with highly-prized medicinal properties and many countries today, including Morocco are legalizing it.
After the independence of Morocco in 1956, the European mafias encouraged and taught the locals the extraction of the oil from the plant, a substance highly harmful to health and noxious to good sense and they took charge of its exportation by private small airplanes or fast boats, and while the local farmers made very little income, the mafias go rich and richer out of this illicit business. However, in the last two decades the government enforced a law of alternative cultures and burned down fields of cannabis to stop the cultivation of hashish. But, nevertheless, the harm is done, Morocco is being, unfortunately, taxed as a big exporter of cannabis, but that can in no way make the Rif an outlaw country, as Jacinto argues quite wrongly.
As for the contraband trade, it is very active around the two Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla enabled by feminine labor: “the mule women” and benefits more the two Spanish-occupied cities than it does the poor illiterate and divorced Riffian women.
Morocco, land of stability and tolerance
Morocco is a country that has almost 4000 years of known history; it has been an established monarchy since the 8th century AD, of course with ups and downs and times of turmoil and strife like most countries of the world. It has been the home of Jews for 2000 years uninterrupted, in total tolerance and acceptance. It has over 8 centuries of diplomatic ties and exchange with Britain, over 2 centuries with the US and was the first country to recognize the independence of the young American republic in 1777 and insure the safety of its ships in the pirate-infested Mediterranean Sea, then.
Morocco has always been the soft belly of Europe; there was Operation Torch on November 8-16, 1942 which was a strategically important landing of Anglo-American forces in French-held Morocco and Algeria prior to the D-Day and the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.
After its independence from France and Spain in 1956, Morocco intensified its economic and political exchanges with Europe and, also, military and security cooperation. Today, it acts as a gendarme of Europe by stopping African illegal immigrants that use often the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla to access the European El Dorado. A work for which it has been criticized, on and off, by the European human rights organizations because Europe not only wants its cake but it want to eat it, too.
Probably the most resounding and beneficial help Morocco grants to Europe is in the area of the global combat of terrorism and migration control. Indeed, it has been instrumental in helping countries like Spain, France, Belgium, Holland and Britain in foiling terrorist attacks. Lately, it has helped France locate and kill the mastermind of the ISIS-induced November 13, 2015 Paris terrorist attacks.
It is, also, a well-known fact that Morocco has one of the most performing and reliable security bodies and intelligence communities. Indeed, since the terrorist attacks of 2003 in Casablanca, it has been able to track Islamic radicals and dismantles their sleeping cells before they undertake their violent terrorist operations.
Since some time ago, the American administration has praised, now and then, Morocco for its incessant efforts and actions in fighting global terrorism:
“The US State Department’s new Country Reports on Terrorism for 2009 praises Morocco as a model for security, innovative efforts to curb extremism, and international cooperation to combat the transnational threat from al-Qaeda and affiliates such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in North Africa and the Sahel, which the report cites as one of al-Qaeda’s “most-active” worldwide.”
The report praises King Mohammed VI’s:
“significant efforts to reduce extremism and dissuade individuals from becoming radicalized,”
Including Morocco’s National Initiative for Human Development known as INDH, a $1.2 billion program launched in 2005:
“to generate employment, combat poverty, and improve infrastructure, with a special focus on rural areas.”
Very recently, the Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT), Jehangir Khan, told MAP (Moroccan press agency) on the sidelines of the 9th meeting of the Coordination Committee of the Global Forum for the Fight against Terrorism (GCTF), held in The Hague:
“I praise Morocco and HM King Mohammed VI for the leadership of the Kingdom in the global fight against terrorism”
This pioneering role has been:
“confirmed today by Morocco’s access to the co-chair of the Global Forum for the Fight against Terrorism (GCTF), an important platform that brings together many countries in different regions of the world to promote multilateral cooperation, in support of the UN efforts for the development of the global strategy against terrorism,”
stressed Khan, also, director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF).
Now, bearing this in mind, one wonders how a region of Morocco, mainly the Rif, can be a “heartland of global terrorism.” It does not make sense. It is either a gross misconception or a sensational journalistic cue to make the piece very successful.
European Muslim terrorists are homespun
Following the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in 2015 the French government and the French media were referring to the terrorists as Algerian terrorists and the Algerian authorities, incensed, quite rightly, pointed out that when French Algerians are successful in their careers, like the footballer Zineddine Zidane, they are French, but when they are terrorists they are Algerian: an unacceptable double standards reaction.
Ms Jacinto throughout her piece is relating all the terrorists to their Riffian origins, as if it is their origin that is responsible of their misgivings and outlaw behavior. She overlooks, in a gross manner or probably she did not research undertake serious research to come to the fact that most of these people do not speak Darija (Moroccan Arabic) nor Tarifit (the Berber local dialect). Furthermore, many of them have never been to the Rif, or if they did it was briefly during the summer vacations. So, in perspective they have no working links with the land of their parents and grand-parents.
Following the American Marshall Plan[vii] of 1948, Europe launched a massive program for reconstruction in the aftermath of WWII, but it had a conspicuous shortage of labor force. To circumvent that obstacle, it sent recruiters in the North African countries to fetch sturdy menial workers and their choice fell on mountain people, mainly Berbers; strong, hard-working and straightforward fellows and droves of them came to Europe.
Souss, Middle Atlas, Mzab, Chawiya and Kabyle Bebers went to France whereas Riffians went to Belgium and Holland. Most of them, using, at times, the same passport, as long as they had the same family name. In the 1970, they were allowed to bring their families and settle down for good. Most of these people were dreaming of going back to the bled (homeland) with enough money to build a house and buy a piece of land for agriculture, but they never did because they had offspring that was brought and bred in Europe and had no ties with the homeland and no wish to go back.
Most of these migrants lived in ghettos and developed ghetto mentality. In Marseille, second, third and fourth generation migrants, rejected by French society, in spite of their being French, recycled themselves in drug-dealing and illicit activities, making out of this city, the capital of crime in France and probably in the whole of Western Europe.
The first generation of migrants suffered from European racism, but managed to take refuge in religion, which allowed them to congregate with other Muslim migrants especially from their area, if not tribe and language while keeping a low profile and being thankful to the host country and respectful of its laws.
However, as for second, third and subsequent generations born on European soil, the story was totally different. They were nationals of the countries they were born in, spoke the language fluently and moved into the culture with ease and a tinge of defiance being aware of their rights and obligations and, unlike their parents, living in a democracy and not encapsulated in the fear of the undemocratic ruler and the overwhelming establishment and restrictive culture.
These nationals of migrant origin, though they felt different and acted differently, yet they were subjected like their parents to daily racism, mockery and hatred, but unlike their progenitors they defended themselves through some sort of open rebellion that manifested itself, initially in petty theft and crime and, later on, in drug-dealing leading them straight to prison.
Throughout Europe, the native Europeans made use of the labor of the migrant population, but disdained them and despised their culture and, as a result, the migrants lived with their own in urban periphery dwellings known as cités in France like in Paris and other cities, or ghettoized areas in Belgium like Molenbeek, and Britain like Tower Hamlets or North Kensington. These ghettos were kind of small republics where migrant youth ruled and expressed their independence through rejection of the laws of the land or sometimes sheer use of gang delinquency and violence.
In Paris, migrant youth would come on weekends on the metro underground to central Paris for entertainment, food and drague (picking up French girls) with a pronounced show of macho attitude, originating in the culture of their parents or grandparents who came from the bled. The anger of the cité kids manifests itself through verbal violence amounting to making taunting and derisive remarks to downtown French public to show their rejection of the country’s culture and law and order.
In many ways, it is the Europeans and their attitude towards the migrants expressed by passive racism of the public at large, or by political bodies and their racist platform, such as the Front National in France, or pan-European associations like Pegida, who decry openly migrants that is responsible for migrant youth deviance. Children of migrants are not only looked down upon by Europeans, in general, but they are also discriminated against when it comes to employment, housing, education and other things.
The sum of all these negative attitudes of Europe towards its sons has created a serious identity problem among them. In Europe they are considered “alien” or coming from an “alien culture” and in Morocco and elsewhere in North Africa, they are called derogatorily zmagri meaning “migrant.” So, technically they feel they belong nowhere and that is a very dangerous and suicidal state of mind. In this dead end situation, a lot of these children and young adults sought refuge in the soothing side of religion bearing in mind that Islam advocates in its scripture a pan-religious identity inscribed in the ummah concept. So, after being delinquent, many of them “converted” to Islam and frequented mosques for collective prayers and gatherings, but such a practice did not offer them the personal satisfaction: there was still something crucial missing.
This “missing something” was satisfied when the radicals came about preaching revenge on the salibiyun “the crusaders”, who emasculated Islam and Muslims since the 16th century through colonialism, imperialism, subliminal culture and subjugation. So, these radicals offered the youth the possibility to take revenge on the “crusaders” through strong iman faith in Islam, by expressing explicitly solidarity with the Muslim world.
The solidarity professed is not a one-way street among the radicals; it is expressed through religious coaching, social assistance and even financial help in dire conditions. The youth, besides, are invited to social functions, religious celebrations and are made to take total ownership of their life and that of their Muslim community.
The third level of the radical conditioning is when the youth are called upon to take responsibility to change the status quo of the nation of Islam taghyir al-umur, through specific actions that will inspire respect from friends and instill fear in the foes. They are informed that these actions are violent and involve death for a good cause istishhad, but in return they are promised everlasting happiness in paradise and all related joy and merriment.
Europe is not inclusive
Europeans politicians have always preached multiculturalism and integration, but, alas, this was just empty talk because Muslims all over Europe have felt marginalized on the grounds of their culture and creed and, consequently, Muslim youth became easy prey for religious radicals such as al-Qaeda or ISIS.
The existence, today, of the French cités, Molenbeek and various ghettos throughout Europe and the recent unfortunate terrorist attacks in Belgium is sound proof that Europe has failed miserably its melting pot test.
Realizing that the French policy on the integration of Muslims has been a total fiasco, French Prime Minster Valls accompanied by 11 ministers of his cabinet visited Vaulx-en-Velin in Rhones, where in 1990 riots erupted as a result of discrimination and following that the French government created the “ministère de la Ville” to bring economic relief to the ghettos. But almost three decades later, unemployment is still high among the youth, indeed half of the 25 years old young people are jobless, which means that the apartheid system denounced by Prime Minister Valls on January 2015, following, the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, in such strong words as: ”l’apartheid territorial, social et ethnique,” is still very strong
To fight discrimination, Valls announced publicly 20 actions (mésures) in the framework of the administrative structure created earlier to combat social exclusion i.e.: “Comité interministériel à l’égalité et à la citoyenneté (Ciec).” He, also, called upon the state and the private sector to offer high-level jobs to meriting youth from these disadvantaged areas:
…il faut renverser la table. Il faut que les élites de notre pays, dans les secteurs public comme privé, soient à l’image de notre pays. (…) L’état et la fonction publique doivent être exemplaires et ils ne le sont pas.
However, in spite of this positive move on the part of the French government to fight the apartheid, yet on a different register, it is fighting a ridiculous and inconclusive war on the wearing of Hijab in educational institutions such as the University and what is more is that the government is divided on the issue.
On the one hand, Prime Minister Valls wants Hijab outlawed on campus, whereas his Moroccan-born minister of education Najat Vallaud-Belkacem does not, but rather in a very indirect way while defending her boss’s attitude:
On connaît ses convictions. Le voile lui est désagréable. Il souhaiterait qu’il puisse être interdit dans bien des lieux, y compris à l’université, mais il reconnaît lui-même que c’est compliqué, car à l’université, le principe de la liberté de conviction l’emporte
On the other hand, President Holland does not share, either, the opinion of his Prime Minister on this issue. Indeed, on a television program entitled “Dialogues citoyens,” on France 2 television station, he stated quite clearly that:
Il n’y aura pas de loi sur le voile, et il n’y a aucune règle constitutionnelle qui d’ailleurs ne le permettrait.
This positive attitude comes in the footsteps of the French highly-praised attitude of the abandonment of the controversial draft law on nationality deprivation “décheance de nationalité” that was considered by the French government in the wake of the despicable terrorist attacks in Paris on December 18, 2015.
Does it mean that France is abandoning its sacrosanct laicité and adopting a realpolitik stance that has proved to be more gratifying in Anglo-Saxon countries like the US, the UK, Germany, etc. and generating healthier and better race relations and cultural sensitivity?
In a nutshell
Radical Islamist terrorism inflicted on Europe since the Madrid 2004 events is homegrown and the countries of origin of fathers and grandfathers of the perpetrators cannot in no way be made responsible directly or indirectly for their condemnable and ignoble acts.
This misbehavior on the part of Muslim youth is the result of their marginalization in their countries of birth and non-adoption because of their culture, creed and color and it is the responsibility of European governments to have a more inclusive policies vis-à-vis their citizens, whoever they are.
These terrible terrorist attacks are a wake-up call to heed with attention and responsibility and act, consequently, upon, at once.
As for the arguments and assertions of the journalist Leela Jacinto, they are an unacceptable way and approach for explaining migrants’ offspring violence for they duly sweep the problem under the rug and blame the others for own incapacity to solve own structural problems, rather than looking for the real roots of the malaise.
[i] Hart, Montgomery D. 1927-2011 The Aith Waryaghar of the Moroccan Rif: An Ethnography and History.( Viking Fund publications in anthropology # 55); Tucson : Published for the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research [by] University of Arizona Press, 1976.
[ii] Pennell, C.R. Country With a Government and a Flag: The Rif War in Morocco, 1921-1926. Lynne Rienner Publications. 1986.
[iii] Chtatou, M. 1991. “Bin –Abd Al-Karim Al-Khattabi in the Rifi Oral Tradition ofGzenneya,” in Tribe and State: Essays in Honour of David Montgomery Hart, ed. E. G. H. Joffe and C. R.Pennell (Cambridgeshire, U.K.: Middle East and North Africa Studies Press, 1991), p 182–212.
[iv] Cf The Aith Waryaghar of the Moroccan Rif pp. 356-368, op.cit.
[v] The Rifublic is a corruption of the word Republic meaning both that the Rif has become, somewhat, independent from the Sultanship and can take care of itself and also that law and order has ceased and that the region has entered into an era of inter-clan and inter-tribal feuds. The daily newspaper El Telegrama del Rif since its creation in 1902 has had a daily coverage of the in-fighting.
“On November 8, 1942, the military forces of the United States and the United Kingdom launched an amphibious operation against French North Africa, in particular the French-held territories of Algeria and Morocco. That landing, code-named ‘Torch,’ reflected the results of long and contentious arguments between British and American planners about the future course of Allied strategy — arguments that were finally stilled by the intervention of the American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In both a direct and an indirect sense, Torch’s impact was enormous on the course of Anglo-American strategy during the remainder of the war. It may have been the most important strategic decision that Allied leaders would make. In fact, this amphibious operation inevitably postponed the landing in France until 1944, but at the same time it allowed the United States to complete mobilization of its immense industrial and manpower resources for the titanic air and ground battles that characterized the Allied campaigns of 1944. “
[vi] Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) was an American initiative to aid Western Europe, in which the United States gave $13 billion (approximately $130 billion in current dollar value as of March 2016) in economic support to help rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War.
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