Beard and Veil

By dissecting so-called “Moroccan values,” Zouzou comes to the conclusion that identity is often all about politics.

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Blogger & activist interested in public management & Sociology 2 comments

Sunday, April 18th, 2010


As much as I would love to take on the ‘moral defenders,’ I cannot help but feel like like Markus Brickstocke ranting against Ann Windcombe: a mixture of readiness to engage the conservative freaks (I mean no disrespect) and a sentiment of sympathy towards the meek, the simple-minded and the fool…That’s no intellectual-left-leaning arrogance: it’s merely the expression of my anger over what I consider to be a scam the silent majority is implicitly following a self-fulfilling norm.

The Moroccan moral majority-–so to speak–is quite diverse, just like any public opinion in the world, but they do share, for the most part, some common features that are partly the result of an imposed ignorance.

My attention has been drawn to the fact that I look up a bit too much contemporary or even ancient history to justify my own opinions, a method that is so obvious to me to understand the present world.

I still fail to understand, even after reading a bit about it, how the ‘public opinion’ quickly loses its memory, or, on the contrary, sticks to past facts, or what it was led to believe were past, definite facts. And in the case of the Moroccan conservative majority, the main argument used against any ‘too modernist’ speech is: “that’s our identity”, an explicit reference to traditions, and ergo, to a subconscious history. Perhaps that’s why Moroccans cling to traditions but have difficulties coping with factual and –shall we say- scientific history.

I don’t think the vast majority of Moroccans are ‘ideologically’ committed to the “moral revolution” (even all the al Adl activists are not wholly convinced of the Khilafa myth) and as long as there is no credible measurement of how many people are ideologically committed and ready to speak out loudly against the present system, I consider the whole thing merely as the natural result of a vicious islamization policy against a larger opposition in the 70’s and 80’s, but also, the anticipated reaction to the confusion that followed a brutal liberalization, the geopolitical changes that affected the world after the Berlin Wall came down

The second term doesn’t specifically encompass the sole Moroccan society, various studies in post-industrialized countries showed a steady rise in conservative values. Some even argued that the ideals of social progress and harmony are perhaps, out of date.

The politically-committed Islamists should be ruled out of the ‘traditional-values’ side, because their own political agenda is so much at odds with the present society that, if it wasn’t for their anti-western stand and the sneaky use of takya, could almost be part of the legal political spectrum (I am, of course, not referring to the PJD, that’s quite another matter.)

Now, let’s turn to the traditional/moral/bigots brigade: what can we make out of it? Before I start discussing their way of defining the ‘Moroccan Identity’ I wanted to venture an explanation why we, Moroccans, have so much trouble with history, as the majority of us was taught to cling to the past, because ‘it was much better then’

The traditions could be, with some extrapolation, construed as ‘Founding Myths’.

Timeline is quite out of touch here, as individuals, or rather, communities; tend to focus mainly on regenerating the ‘moment’, i.e. the founding myth time and again (no pun intended). In essence, there’s no time, or rather, any notion of time. Did you notice how people are usually longing for the pure Islamic period of Andalusia, the Arabic Peninsula, the invincible Islamic Umma etc…?

Few Islamic scholars stood up and contested this myth, save for Abdellah Ibrahim, a Sorbonne Graduate as well as an Ibn Youssef graduate Oulema, much like his colleague/classmate Yassine) And to be frank, this nostalgia for ‘spiritual uplift’ are partly the result of the policy I am ranting against (the one we are reaping its violent and intolerant fruits)

History, on the other hand, has a healthy obsession of recording, archiving and noting the facts. And as the baldy man once said: ’Facts are stubborn’.

See how little information one has on how many Muslims had a Harem or Jaryates… Do we have precise statistics and facts? Of course not.

Do we subsequently derive from it that the ancient Muslim society was pure and perfect? Of Course not. So it remains what it is: a relative truth in a relative set of truths.

One thing though: Morocco is indeed a Muslim country, or, to be precise, a majority of Muslim people. The whole business of religion and its mix with politics in Morocco is so complicated, so self-centered that the standard battle cry of Attajdid or Nini is, if not simplistic, is just pushing for a dark political agenda. I mean come on, when was it Sharia-compliant for the sultan to display his enemies’ heads on the walls of the Imperial cities? Or to enslave tribes for his army? Or to be self-serving with bayt al mal (the Islamic treasury office) ?

Let us turn now to the so-called national identity: I know, it’s the favorite right-wing theme, almost fascist, one might think.

I would like to define my terms, as one could easily get confused; even in social sciences, the concept is rather an umbrella for many close yet different subjects: what’s national identity? Red Fez and White Djellaba (considered to be our national accoutrement) are, to me for good reasons, complete alien items: the Fez is Turkish, and the Djellaba Arab. I indulge only to the Burnous to be part wholly Moroccan, if not North African.

Anyway; according to Cote & Levine (1987), “In the Social Identity Theory, a person has not one, “personal self”, but rather several selves that correspond to widening circles of group membership”. In other terms, Social Identity –a wider set that includes national identity- sort of absolves individuals, and rather glorifies the community or the bund, not very democratic, one could see.

In another paper, the authors boil down the behavior pattern in terms of individual interaction with identity, to 5 main types, among which the ‘Guardian’. It ‘Possesses clear personal values and attitudes, but also a deep fear of change’ and a ‘Sense of personal identity is almost exhausted by sense of social identity’ Oddly enough –and I can speak only for the individuals I interacted with- most Moroccans identify themselves to ‘guardians of morality and identity’

My point is, this so called national identity the Looney brigade boasts about, is basically a fear of change, my point exactly. The national identity, to sum up, is a concept waved about every time these people feel threatened when their Weltschauung is obsolete, and subsequently tend to distort the reality so that it could match their ideology. Regular anti-festival outcry every summer always summons the depravity our young people are being appealed to.

In a quite different, yet related matter, Smith (1993) talks about: ”myths of national identity typically refer to territory or ancestry (or both) as the basis of political community, and these differences furnish important, if often neglected, sources of instability and conflict in many parts of the world. It is no accident that many of the most bitter […] conflicts derive from competing claims and conceptions of national identity” Something quite similar happens in Morocco, although not so violently; The dynamic opposition between rural and urban areas, between well-to-do families and upstart individuals, between the tribe and the nuclear family, between the Makhzen and the ruled… all of them are distinct parts of our ‘identity’ and curiously enough, shunt.

It’s all political you see, as the self-promoted opinion leaders define what they perceive as ‘the right’ Moroccan identity, effectively ejecting their political rivals out of the game. As part of the ‘Umma’ ideal, the identity theme is always drawn in the religious field, a tactic well-proved in the struggle between the secularist left and the monarchy during the lead years.

Let us now turn to the facts. The only credible survey I can reasonably base my opinions is the one carried out for the 50 years independence anniversary, particularly, the ‘synthèse de l’enquête nationale sur les valeurs’ report is quite fair and balanced.

They noted that ‘some are feeling nostalgic about a period of traditional values, and are feeling sorry for the present…’ Strangely enough, the report weighs in more the ‘traditional’ part more than the ‘Islamic’ one. Indeed, the ideal groom should be ‘maâqul’ (devoted, committed, whatever have you) for 38% of the female sample, and financially stable (24%) a religious man, on the other hand, attracts only 13% of the sample.

The most interesting thing is about the youthful population. The report notes that: ‘[young people] are trying to demark themselves from the social norms, indeed, the young sample is more in favour of a nuclear family (60%), late marriage (58%) and dialogue in child education (64%)’; Well that’s good news!

One thing though: I am not considering the general set of value references as progressive or liberal. Far from it, but it just shows that the ‘Moroccan values’ don’t belong to anyone, and if anything, there’s a great leaning towards post-industrial society schemes. It looks as though Moroccans are perhaps more religious, but they care more about the ritual apparatus (Tozy) than the assumed spiritual underlying.

It just shows that values, rather than ‘identity’, values are part of a dynamic process and certainly not the sanctimonious speech that many take for granted. In essence, the transitory process the Moroccan society is getting through hopefully, -to a more tolerant and open-minded society- doesn’t suit many lobbies.

So, whenever you hear about ‘Our true values are conservatism and religious stringency’ or some such, ask yourself the question: ’says who?’ or even better ‘what political agenda behind this?’  Being paranoid in Moroccan politics, is, as far as I am concerned, a habit one should take on…

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Posted on Sunday, April 18th, 2010

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