Sunday, March 13, 2011

The New Mass Media and the Shaping of Amazigh Identity by Amar Almasude

    Who are the Imazighen?
In 1000 B.C. the Imazighen people were already long established in North Africa (Shafiq, 1989). In Morocco for instance, they constitute at least 45% of the population distributed among three sub-ethnic groups and dialects (Sadiqi, 1997). Owing to their political and geographical position, the Imazighen have been invaded by Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, and Europeans. Eventually, they all left, except for the Arabs. The Arabs brought Islam, a universalizing religion, and stayed to become an integral part of North African population and heritage. Their language, however, changed and gave rise to what is known as Darija, Aammia, or Colloquial Moroccan. North African countries, including Morocco, are considered today to be an integral part of the Arab World. Constitutionally, these countries claim to be Arab-Islamic Nations. Today, most Moroccans claim Islam as their religion. Given that Arabic is required for the practice of Islam, most Imazighen feel they are Arabs as well, although those who claim to be Moslems are not necessarily Arabs nor do they have to know Arabic. This situation may have also a psychological impact on the self-perception of Imazighen. In June 1987, a missionary from the United States living in the province of Fes wrote to his colleagues in Melilla the following:
As I began to compare notes with others in our region I realized that Berbers in our key cities and even in my rural town were often apologetic about their "berberness." It is especially true of Mekness and Fes whose imperial Arab history causes Berbers to hide their ethnic roots. This is quite in contrast to some of the other Berber regions of the country. But to a certain degree, I feel that those of us living in urban areas will confront this same thing, maybe not as a rule but at least sporadically. (Gill, 1987, p. 3)
Gill articulates a problematic situation leading to confusion, which is actually a confusion in identity that creates obstacles for the researcher who expects people to be what they say they are. With the fear of punishment and intimidation and the dominance of an Arab-Islamic ideology, in addition to about 50% illiteracy, the situation is even more problematic.


The status of Thmazight and schooling
Grabe (1979) reports that one Amazigh high school student told how God sent the angel Gabriel to distribute languages on earth. As he was flying home, an Amazigh saw him and reminded him, "We haven't received any language yet." Gabriel apologized and explained that he had finished all the languages he had brought from heaven, but would try to look for one. The Imazighen waited and waited, but he never came back. Finally, they tried to make some words, but they could not understand each other. The boy concluded, "I don't think they speak [a language]" (Grabe, 1979, p. 12).
Politically, Imazighen are regarded as lowly and their language, Thmazight, is considered illegitimate. Standard Arabic is held in higher esteem than any other language. It is the language in which the "Qur'an" (Koran) is written, and since the Qur'an is a sacred text, told word for the word by Gabriel, Moslems do not hesitate to argue for the superiority of such a language. Thus Arabic became the official language of most Islamic countries. Standardized throughout the Islamic World, "Standard Arabic" is used as a first language in schools, for television broadcasts, newscasts, newspapers, magazines, and modern literature. For decades government and political leaders have invested tremendously in an effort to Arabize the masses. To stir up enthusiasm at a scholarly meeting, Abdel Hadi Tazi closed his speech with the following:
If I had to summarize the process of Arabization that took place during the last quarter of a century in the life of modern Morocco, I would say: what the Kingdom of Morocco has achieved since the return of King Mohammed V from exile [1955] is far more than what Morocco achieved in the long historical period since [689 A.D. and] the conquest of Ugbat Ben Nafia'. (Shafiq, 1989, p. 96)
Lying between Standard Arabic and Thmazight, Darija or Moroccan Colloquial Arabic is the most common language in Morocco. While it is seen as better than Thmazight, in comparison to Standard Arabic it is judged "impure," "aesthetically and expressively inferior," and deformed as a language (Abbassi, 1977, pp. 188 & 230). This language is primarily an amalgam of Standard Arabic, Thmazight, French, and Spanish. It is almost never written, and there appears to be no aspiration towards such a goal. Since it lacks an alphabet and a unique identity, it is considered simply a dialect of Standard Arabic. For such reasons, although it is the most popular language and spoken by most Moroccans, it has no chance to be either an official or a national language. Abbassi (1977) reports that 94% of the participants in a survey reject the idea of integrating Darija in education. This attitude towards the language is common throughout the region, including every sociopolitical class.
Schools, as agents of the State, dedicated their forces to homogenizing the populations of North Africa through the promotion of Islam and Arabic. They usually emphasize that, "We have one religion, which is Islam, and one language which is Arabic" (Khlief, 1991, p. 117). To make the slogan a reality, teachers who were mostly non-Thmazight speakers expressed their hostility towards the indigenous people in several ways. In Mountains Forgotten By God, an Amazigh author recalls his primary school teacher:
You are not even able to speak Arabic, he told us... "You are savages. How will I ever manage to civilize you when I have to start from scratch?' His words made us go cold and we suddenly felt lower than earthworms.... Only a few days after classes had started he smiled and seemed to have found a solution to our problems. "Come what may," he declared, "from now on I forbid you to speak even one word of Berber, either among yourselves or with your families...."
We Berber [sic] children greeted his lofty decision with the frozen silence he loved so much, with our heads bent, hands folded, eyes red and bright with sadness and humiliation.
I was already considering how I was going to tell my parents who were unable to understand the teacher's language. Should my parents see me suddenly deny the patrimony of my ancestors and my mother tongue? It would be far better to disappear along with that language. (Oussaid, 1989, pp. 48-49)
 From folklore to political discourse
Until the 1970s, the image of Imazighen was associated with folklore, traditional dance, and the entertaining women of the Atlas Mountains. The government of Morocco, benefiting from tourism, the fastest growing industry in the country, encouraged the display of the images of an Amazigh without dignity. Through RTM, Moroccan National Radio/Television, the State had the monopoly over the production of music and all the other media. When the heavy record players and the reel to reel decks became popular, RTM allowed certain independent producers to market the folk music. Alongside Egyptian music and some of the national modern songs, folk dance and folk music were for a longtime the predominant form of entertainment.
When cheap portable audiocassette recorders came on the market, they began to replace the reel to reel tape decks and the record players. Cassette recorders provided Moroccans not only with the option to record and play their favorite music, but also to utilize them as a form of communication on a mass scale. The illiterate emigrants in Europe found the audiocassette recorders useful in corresponding with their family members. Instead of paying a stranger to write for them a letter to their families in Morocco, emigrants could now simply push a button and talk to the audiocassette recorder. When finished, they sent the tape back home, and the family gathered around to listen and respond individually or as a group. The family members in Morocco could share with the emigrant in Europe their activities, including religious ceremonies and family celebrations.
Within Morocco cassette recorders facilitated communication between men and women who found themselves locked behind the doors of their homes. Couples who were in love with each other found cassette recorders very useful for the exchange of their secrets. Most importantly, with the availability of radio cassette recorders ("boom boxes") in 1970s and after, indigenous youth took the opportunity to express their everyday struggle with government, family, and self. They produced hundreds of poems and songs on domestic recorders and distributed them locally. The success of such productions led to the creation of a dozen influential associations with interest in educating the public about the existence of Imazighen. After these groups became popular, music producers became interested and began to market the revolutionary music.
The concerns of the young artists include injustice, poverty, immigration, values, and government corruption. In their political discourse, the poets and singers revolt against the oppressive traditions regarding women. They reject the new sociopolitical and economic system that reduced Imazighen culture to a commodity for the foreign and local tourists. They also demand justice for the national patrimony and the restoration of the Amazigh identity (Almasude, 1993