New York – In reading the comments recently of several Moroccan intellectuals on the need to reform Morocco’s educational system, I was surprised to see that some blame the Arabic language and Islam for the problems that affect it.
In recent years, with the rise of terrorism in most Arab and Muslim countries, we are witnessing the emergence of a new narrative, according to which Arabic and Islam are the major catalysts pushing those who are left behind economically or politically in Morocco toward extremism and jihadism, and not ignorance, extreme poverty, neglect by politicians, corruption, nepotism, or even a catastrophic educational system.
The defenders of what I call “anti-Arabism” seek not only the disappearance of the Arabic language in the daily life of Moroccans, but, above all, in the long term to see Morocco adopt a secular educational system inspired by the French system. Underlying their arguments is their desire simply to replace the Arabic language with French in the Moroccan educational system. For them, the main cause of Morocco’s “backwardness” is Arabic; hence there is a need to replace it with French.
But the question that supporters of this agenda forget to ask is this: what benefit has the French language brought to the millions of Moroccans who for decades have been abandoned by an elite who live in an ivory tower, an elite who educate their children in foreign schools and do not care about the future of those left behind? As Professor Moha Ennaji eloquently put it in a comment on Facebook, the problem in Morocco is not the language of instruction, but the educational system itself, the training methods, the teaching staff, and the instructional content.
If the problem was merely linguistic, why then did a country like South Korea become an economic power based on its national language and not on a foreign language? The answer is simple: they have one of the best educational systems in the world.
It is truly lamentable to continue to say that Arabic is the source of the problem and to turn a blind eye to the real deficiencies that have destroyed the Moroccan educational system. To say that Arabic is the main cause of the problems that plague the Moroccan education system is dangerous, because such an assertion implies that this language is synonymous with ignorance and backwardness. Those who continue to demonize Arabic ignore the fact that this language was the vehicle of knowledge for centuries long before the romance languages such as French, Spanish or Italian became languages as we know them today. Perhaps the Muslim scholars of the golden age of Islam wrote in French?
It may be necessary to remind the detractors of Arabic that languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, and English borrowed thousands of words from Arabic during the golden age of the Arab-Muslim civilization. For example, Spanish, one of the most spoken languages in the world, borrowed 5,000 words from Arabic. More than 500 words that are used in French come from the Arabic language, which is the third most-borrowed-from language for French after English is Italian.
The detractors of Arabic also ignore the fact that without the contribution of this language, the Greek philosophy that the West has adopted as its intellectual foundation for more than six centuries could not have been preserved. It is thanks to the colossal translation and adaptation work undertaken by the Abbassids during the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries that the West, immersed in the dark period of the Middle Ages, was able to gain access to the Greek philosophy of Aristotle and Plato.
Should these anti-Arabists be reminded of the role Ibn Khaldun played in the birth of sociology, and that his book Al Moukaddima was written in Arabic? Should we remind them of the role that Al Kindi, an Arab born in Baghdad, played in the transmission of Greek philosophy, in astronomy, medicine and mathematics with the use of Arabic numerals? Should they be reminded that the works written by Al Khwarizmi, the founding father of algebra, were written in Arabic and that the scientific revolution that he brought about over 11 centuries ago was at the origin of all innovations in the field of information technology that the world enjoys today?
As long as Moroccans continue to ride this wave of anti-Arabism, nothing will change in this country, and those who pay the price are not the children of wealthy families, but the children of the people who struggle every day to make ends meet.
Those who strive to eliminate the Arabic language appear toll have the same goal: to restore and maintain the primacy of French in the Moroccan educational system, as if this language has a magic capable of transforming the masses of those left behind into geniuses.
Why do those who want less Arabic in Morocco ask for more French and not more English? Perhaps French is the most spoken language in the world? Maybe it’s the language of business and diplomacy? If these new preachers claim to look after the good of the people and defend their interests, why do they persist in seeking to impose an educational system based on the French for all Moroccans? If these anti-Arabists cared for future generations of Moroccans, they would not denigrate a component of their identity and common history, but fight to give them access to an education adapted to the demands of today’s world, to have the tools to flourish in their professional and social lives and to participate in building a better and prosperous Morocco. Yet to thrive in today’s world, young Moroccans, in addition to their mother tongues, must be fluent not only in French, but especially in English.
These detractors of Arabic should stand back and be objective. To say that the Arabic language pushes Moroccan students to become jihadists is a dishonest stance and is unworthy of those belonging to the academic community. Those who defend the French language and believe that the salvation of the Moroccan education system consists in the adoption and universalization of French in Moroccan schools without there being a major overhaul and reform of this system are mistaken in their diagnosis. Instead this view distorts the debate on the critical need to reform national education. And by distorting the debate, it prevents our country from making the right diagnosis and providing the right solutions.
The world is changing. France and the French language are no longer the panacea that can solve Morocco’s problems. Even the French themselves are aware of this. English has become the language of business in France, according to an article published in Le Figaro on July 25, 2017.
I am not calling for the elimination of the French language from the Moroccan education system, nor that any one language should be given primacy over another. I myself am multilingual, and I would like the majority of Moroccans to be too. In fact, I am in favor of further promoting other foreign languages such as Spanish and Chinese. As the late Mehdi El Manjra had said, a people who are not proud of their mother tongue can never move forward. It is deplorable to see intellectuals denigrate the Arabic language and claim that it is the source of all the problems that handicap the Moroccan educational system, instead of pleading for a profound reform to improve that system across the board.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis